‘A wonderful and generous mentor’: UC Berkeley professor Richard Calendar dies at age 80

Richard Calendar

Richard Calendar, a UC Berkeley professor in the department of molecular and cell biology, or MCB, died Oct. 10 at the age of 80.

According to campus professor Daniel Portnoy, Calendar will be remembered as a world leader in bacteriophages, or bacterial viruses. Calendar created the first molecular biology course at UC Berkeley and helped establish a major in the field, according to a memoriam from the MCB department.

The memoriam added that Calendar joined the faculty as a professor of molecular biology in 1968, then became a professor of biochemistry, biophysics and structural biology in 1989 and finally, a professor in the graduate school in 2009.

“He taught me how to be a rigorous and ethical investigator. He was a wonderful and generous mentor,” Susan Forsburg, University of Southern California professor, said in an email. “He had a dry sense of humor and quick wit. I am lucky to count him as a friend, and mentor.”

Forsburg, who worked in Calendar’s lab as an undergraduate student in 1984, said in the email that Calendar explained complexities such as grants and funding to students, was welcoming and included undergraduates in much of his work.

According to Steven Finkel, American Society for Microbiology president-elect, Calendar was dedicated to teaching students and helping faculty whenever possible.

“I will remember him for his incredible kindness and patience and his thoughtful and subtle way of giving really good advice,” Finkel said. “I would not be where I am today without him.”

Gail Christie, former campus postdoctoral research fellow in Calendar’s lab, said in an email that Calendar’s work included studying how bacteriophages manipulated each other and other bacterial hosts.

Christie emphasized that Calendar was a kind and compassionate person in a competitive scientific community. She added that Calendar welcomed her to his lab and never questioned her commitment to science despite being a mother, something Christie described as uncommon for the 1980s.

“He would write – or find – songs for his biochemistry students and accompany them on guitar,” Christie said in the email. “Rich had a low tolerance for departmental politics and dealt with it by making jokes.”

Vivek Mutalik, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory research scientist who worked with Calendar, recounted the importance of Calendar’s work, including writing an important textbook on bacteriophages. According to Mutalik, Calendar’s lab still contains many bacteriophage samples that must be taken care of for future generations to use.

Mutalik described Calendar as a quiet, gentle person, recounting how Calendar would be at Yali’s Cafe every day around 10 a.m., sitting alone to think.

“He was really rigorous and very kind in sharing information and knowledge,” Mutalik said. “We lost a giant in the field and a great collaborator.”

Contact Leon Chen at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @leonwchen.