Ken Paigen Memorial
March 10, 2021 -- The Jackson Laboratory (JAX) has established a $1 million fund in honor of (1927 – 2020) and Beverly “Bev” Paigen, Ph.D. (1938 – 2020) for the benefit of the Laboratory’s postdoctoral program. Ken Paigen served as the Laboratory’s director (the role now designated president and CEO) from 1989 to 2003, and Beverly Paigen was a professor at JAX from 1989 to 2020. The Drs. Ken and Bev Paigen Endowment will support the Paigen Endowed Fellows - postdoctoral associates at JAX - in perpetuity.
“Ken and Bev Paigen were brilliant scientists, treasured colleagues and mentors, and important figures in the Laboratory’s history,” said , president and CEO of the Laboratory. “The Paigens served as mentors to so many individuals, and that support for early-career scientists now extends beyond their lifetimes. We are honored to share the news of the Drs. Ken and Bev Paigen Endowment.”
At the age of 76, after retiring as director, Ken Paigen moved back to the research bench as a JAX professor and published research until finally stepping into a role as professor emeritus in 2019. “During that time, he was doing the most exciting work of his career,” said his daughter, Gina Paigen.
When Bev Paigen joined the JAX faculty in 1989, she was already pioneering the use of mouse models to study human diseases and was an early adopter of computational biology and statistical genetics, areas she continued to focus on until her death.
Ken died on Feb. 15, 2020, at the age of 92, and Bev died shortly afterwards on June 26, 2020 at the age of 81. The Paigens have five children: Susan, Gina, Mark, David, and Jennifer.
“My father was a remarkable man in so many ways,” said Gina. “He had three qualities in particular that I think were key to his exceptional scientific mind. The first was immeasurable patience. Whether waiting for a pot to boil or finding the process he needed to conduct an experiment, he never seemed to be in a hurry.
“The second was resilience. He saw every setback as an opportunity to assess, learn, and evaluate where to go next. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, he was infinitely curious. He was always asking, ‘What does this mean? What more do we want to know? What else might we try?’ But above all else, to me, he was Dad. The man who taught me what it means to live my dreams, to never stop growing, and the meaning of unconditional love.”
A (postdoc) is a trainee position for Ph.D. scientists. A postdoc's primary aim is to gain mentored research and professional experience before moving into an independent position. As they complete training on the path to launching their careers, postdocs often manage their own projects in the lab, gain teaching experience, and write both grant applications and publication manuscripts.
“Both Ken and Bev were considered cherished mentors in the JAX community, and the Drs. Ken and Bev Paigen Endowment will continue that legacy,” said , senior vice president for research at JAX. “They were phenomenal teachers and mentors: they took postdocs and other young scientists under their wings, and they were never afraid to ask the challenging questions.”
Ken was born in New York City in 1927 and discovered a passion for science and research early in life. He received his A.B. in biology with honors from Johns Hopkins University in 1946, where he was elected to the academic honor society Phi Beta Kappa. Four years later he earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), where he was elected to Sigma Xi, the scientific honor society. Ken completed postdoctoral work at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Harvard Medical School and its affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and at UC-Berkeley, where he was a U.S. Public Health Service Fellow.
Following his postdoctoral research, Ken joined the Roswell Park Memorial Institute (part of SUNY-Buffalo) as a cancer researcher in 1958, spending nearly 30 years there and rising to the rank of professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Biology, a role he held from 1972 until 1982, when he returned to UC-Berkeley as professor and chair of the Department of Genetics.
In 1989, Ken joined The Jackson Laboratory as director and senior staff scientist. Famously, he was at the airport in Bangor, about to return to California after visiting JAX and accepting the role of director, when he received word that a fire had broken out at the Laboratory. He returned to JAX immediately and led the recovery effort, galvanizing the support of both the local community and the worldwide scientific community in the process.
Bev was born in 1938 in Chicago. She received her B.S. in zoology (magna cum Laude) from Wheaton College (Illinois) in 1960 and her Ph.D. in biology from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1967.
Her obituary in the Bangor Daily News details her scientific achievements and her dedication to advocacy throughout her career:
Bev was a prolific scientist, publishing 241 scientific papers over the course of her career and mentoring generations of young scientists, particularly women. She revolutionized the study of heart disease and pioneered the promotion of the mouse for cardiovascular research. Over her career, Bev received numerous awards and accolades. She held postdoctoral and research scientist positions at Roswell Park Memorial Institute in Buffalo and Rachel Carson College at SUNY Buffalo from 1967 to 1982, after which she became research biochemist and then senior research biochemist at Children's Hospital in Oakland, California. In 1989, she moved to JAX as professor. Bev is the recipient of awards from the National Institutes of Health, the Jackson Laboratory, and The Center for Health, Environment and Justice and the People's Action Institute among others.
Bev was a pioneer in the environmental movement, providing crucial scientific expertise on the health effects of hazardous waste on the community, especially children. Her scientific activism during the Love Canal controversy of the late 1970s advocated for citizens in the face of government inaction. In 1978, she began gathering scientific evidence exposing the adverse human health impacts of the Love Canal toxic waste dump in New York state. With great courage and at personal and professional sacrifice, Bev spoke out about the human suffering at Love Canal. As a result of her scientific work and moral convictions, the entire affected community received relocation benefits. Her work served as a catalyst for the EPA's Superfund program, which cleans up the nation's worst hazardous waste sites.
A humanistic spirit
In the past, Ken Paigen reflected on the Laboratory as having an “almost human” personality: “The Lab almost has – it does have – a soul. It has a sense of ethics. It has a sense of community. It has a sense of responsibility. It has a sense of its role in society, its role in the research world. I think it’s a very admirable personality that it has.”
“I’ve been at other institutions, worked at other places, visited other places. I’ve never found anywhere that I thought had quite the humanistic, ethical, collaborative, intellectual spirit that I’ve found here. And that’s what I would hope we would just go on doing historically.”