February 9, 2022

Obituaries 2/9/22

Jacques Robert Fresco

Jacques Robert Fresco, professor emeritus at Princeton University who was a pioneer of nucleic acid biochemistry and structure and a major figure in the birth of modern molecular biology, passed away surrounded by his family on December 5, 2021, from complications of heart disease. The son of Sephardic Jewish immigrants Robert Fresco from Istanbul and Lucie Asséo Fresco from Edirne, Turkey, Jacques was born in the Bronx, NY, in 1928, the first of three children. His first language was Ladino, a 15th century Judeo-Spanish dialect of Sephardic Jews, that he spoke with family throughout his life. Having skipped three grades, he gained admission to Bronx High School of Science, graduating at age 16 in June 1944, months before losing his father, and then from NYU in the Bronx as a biology major at age 18 in January 1947. He then joined the Biochemistry Department at NYU Medical School as a graduate student in the laboratory of Robert Warner and in June 1952 received a Ph.D. in biochemistry based upon research representing his first of many efforts to understand the structure and function of nucleic acids.

After two years as an NIH postdoctoral fellow at the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, he was appointed an Instructor in Pharmacology at NYU Medical School. His research accomplishments there brought him an invitation in 1956 to join the research laboratory of Paul Doty in the Chemistry Department at Harvard as a senior fellow. In this lab he performed the first experiments in thermal melting of DNA, RNA, and RNA:DNA hybrids using UV absorbance, work that much later earned him Nobel Prize nominations along with Julius Marmur and Paul Doty. Having discovered the acidic pH-driven formation of a poly [A] helix, he was invited by Francis Crick to the MRC Laboratory in Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England to address their discrepancy. Solving the problem in weeks instead of months, he continued to Paris to do research in the laboratory of Marianne Grunberg-Manago at Institut de Biologie Physico-Chimique.

It was while there, after an experiment had been knocked over, that he left the lab for a walk to cool down and met his future wife Rosalie Burns (née Bernstein) from south Wales with her parents lost on the street on the Place Saint-Michel. He offered to guide them through the streets of Paris and this chance encounter led to a romance and loving marriage of nearly 64 years, bringing them three daughters and much happiness.

On returning to Harvard, Fresco continued research on the structure and function of DNA, leading to an assistant professorship in the Department of Chemistry at Princeton. He then cofounded, with Art Pardee, the Department of Biochemical Sciences at Princeton that eventually became the Department of Molecular Biology. Over the years his lab extended his research on RNA and DNA structure and function: providing the first evidence that tRNAs are endowed with tertiary structure and that RNAs can misfold; then discovering RNA chaperone activities of so-called RNA helix-destabilizing proteins; later elucidating a binding code for triple helix formation of polynucleotides; and also mechanisms of mutagenesis. His 1976 paper predicting the mechanism of transition and transversion point mutations (Topal-Fresco model) is considered seminal in the field of mutagenesis, as was his discovery much later in his career of a novel mutagenic mechanism: site-specific self-catalytic DNA depurination, a spontaneous source of genome sequence diversity of wide evolutionary significance and consequence to human diseases. His most recent course at Princeton, MOL 458, “Chemistry, Structure, and Structure-Function Relations of Nucleic Acids” relayed all these topics expertly.

Fresco served as chairman of the Department of Biochemical Sciences from 1974-1980, worked closely with architect Lew Davis to design the Hoyt Laboratory building at Princeton, and in 1977 was awarded the endowed chair, the Damon B. Pfeiffer Professor in the Life Sciences. He received the American Scientist Writing Award in 1962, a Guggenheim fellowship to the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England where the family spent a wonderful year on sabbatical in 1969-1970, and a visiting professorship at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1973. In 1979 Fresco was awarded an Honorary Doctorate (MDhc [M.D. honoris causa]) from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. He was a visiting scientist at the Weizmann Institute in 1994, and at several institutions in 2006. After training scores of technicians, undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows, including future Nobel Laureate Tomas Lindahl, he retired in 2013. In retirement, he continued bioinformatics research on the biological significance of the DNA self-depurination mechanism to molecular evolution and to the occurrence of disease-causing germline and somatic mutations till the end, leaving several unfinished papers.

Jacques was a liberal thinker with a creative mind and a strong sense of tradition and obligation, out-spoken and detail-oriented, a devoted family man and friend who promoted the careers of mentees in his lab and courses, maintained lifelong close contacts with extended family, in-laws, and friends, and a nurturing and dedicated tutor who strove to inspire his children and grandchildren. He was a humanitarian who spoke out against antisemitism and other forms of prejudice, a staunch defender of the theory of evolution and stem cell research, a champion for animals and the less fortunate, all of these convictions shared by his like-minded, devoted wife, Rosalie. Always the last to leave a party, he thrived in social settings as this provided an opportunity for deep conversations. He enjoyed reading biographies, playing his violin and mandolin, and tinkering at his lakeside house in Cape Cod, where he was captivated by the starry night sky. He was a lifelong student of history, including the history of science, art, and architecture, and a lover of opera, symphonies, and musicals. 

Jacques is predeceased by his beloved parents, sisters and brothers-in-law Stella and Bill Liebesman and Renée and Harry Bahr. He leaves his loving wife Rosalie Sarah Burns Fresco; their three daughters and husbands: Lucille “Lulu” Fresco-Cohen and Moshe Cohen, Suzette “Suzi” Fresco Johnson and Dave Johnson, and Linda Fresco and Craig Comiter; eight grandchildren: Erik (and Jaclyn) Johnson, Nicole Johnson, Mikaela Johnson, Jacqueline Comiter, Golan Cohen, Galil Cohen, Laurel Comiter, and Hayley Cohen; and two great-grandchildren: Ben Johnson and Tommy Johnson.

Contributions in Jacques’ memory may be made to Southern Poverty Law Center, World Jewish Congress, or Disabled American Veterans.


Hale Freeman Trotter

Hale Freeman Trotter (born May 30, 1931, in Kingston, Ontario) died at 91 on January 17, 2022 at his home in Princeton, New Jersey. Predeceased by his beloved wife Kay, his dear brother Bernard, and parents Reginald George Trotter and Prudence Hale (née Fisher). He will be remembered and greatly missed by his devoted stepson Stephen Pallrand (Rachel), stepdaughter Nannette, grandson Eli and granddaughter Cora, his sister-in-law Jean and his brother-in-law John (Helen). Hale was also the much-loved uncle of Rex (Eliza) and Tory (Tibor Vaghy); grand uncle of John, Thomas (Stephanie), Andrew (Annemarie), Marie, Philip, Claire, Martin; and great-grand uncle of James, Damien, Felix, and Lily.

Hale grew up in Kingston and became fascinated with mathematics, graduating with degrees in his chosen field from Queen’s (BA ’52, MA ’53) and Princeton (PhD ’56) where he studied under William Feller. Feller was part of a wave of European intellectuals who had fled the Nazis and settled in the United States. Princeton attracted a number of these refugees, including Albert Einstein, who had an office in the mathematics building. It was in this rich and exciting atmosphere that Hale matured as a mathematician.

Joe Kohn, a fellow graduate student with Hale at Princeton and colleague in the math department for almost 40 years, recalled the first day of their graduate program at Princeton in 1953. Head of the mathematics department, Solomon Lefschetz, told the group of 13 mathematics PhD students that they should congratulate themselves for the hard work it took to gain acceptance but that it was likely that only one of them, maybe two, would become actual mathematicians. Hale not only became a world class mathematician but made vital original contributions to the field. 

Hale began his career as the Fine Instructor for Mathematics at Princeton from 1956-58. After teaching at Queen’s University as an assistant professor from 1958-60, he returned to Princeton as a visiting associate professor. Hale was appointed lecturer at Princeton in 1962, associate professor in 1963, and full professor in 1969. He was a highly respected administrator fulfilling duties as Chairman of the Mathematics Department from 1979-82 and associate director of Princeton University’s Data Center from 1962-86. He was a much-beloved teacher, instructing both graduate and undergraduate students in a wide range of mathematical concepts. Hale was always willing to take on a higher teaching load when a gap needed to be filled, such as teaching game theory for many years until a replacement could be hired. Additionally, Hale supervised graduate students and wrote several textbooks on calculus in higher dimensions.

As a mathematician Hale had a broad range of interests and impacts, starting with his thesis and work in probability and including significant contributions to group theory, knot theory, and number theory.  One of his outstanding accomplishments, the Trotter Product Formula, has had a major impact on mathematical physics and on functional analysis. The Johnson-Trotter Algorithm is another powerful and useful tool he developed, a technique for generating complete lists of permutations that had considerable significance. He developed an interest in knot theory and was the first to show that there are non-invertible pretzel knots, thereby solving a long-standing topological problem. Hale had a later interest in some of the calculational aspects of number theory, developing the Lang-Trotter conjecture through his joint work with Yale mathematician Serge Lang.

Hale’s bright, serene, humorous, and cheerful spirit will be remembered with great affection by his extended family, with whom he and Kay enjoyed many memorable visits during his summer holidays in Canada at their cottage on Lake Cecebe. Hale and Kay had a deep love of the arts and opera that they cheerfully shared with all. We are so grateful to his caregivers Joyce and her husband Joe, Antoinette, as well as his neighbor Bob, and to all who enabled Hale to stay in his Princeton home since Kay’s passing in 2021. 

A memorial will be held at the Mather-Hodge Funeral Home in Princeton on Tuesday, May 31 between 3 and 5 p.m. with an informal service at 4 p.m. Interment will take place prior to the memorial on Sunday, May 29 at the Evergreen Cemetery in Salem, New York.  In lieu of flowers please make donations to the “Kay & Hale Trotter Gynecologic Oncology Fund” at giving.temple.edu/trotterfund.


Helene Therese McCurdie Strother

Long-time Princeton resident Helene “Terry” Strother died at home at age 92 on January 23 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease, from which she had suffered for more than a decade. She had been holding her own until a fall in late November which led ultimately to irretrievable brain damage.

Terry had been a resident of the Princeton area since 1952 when her husband John entered graduate school at the University. She was born in 1929 in Somerville, Massachusetts. Her childhood home followed the Coast Guard career of her father as he was transferred from the Boston area first to Greenport, Long Island, and then to New London, Connecticut. She met her husband when both of them worked at the U.S. Navy’s Underwater Sound Laboratory in New London. They married in 1951 and celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary last June.

Terry was a graduate of Mitchell College in New London. She worked at Princeton University’s Departments of Civil Engineering, Astronomy, Buildings and Grounds, and Food Services from 1952 until her retirement in 1992, with extended time off to have and to raise her three daughters: Kathleen (Kate) Louise, Jean Marie, and Nancy Ann.

Terry is survived by her loving husband John, her three devoted daughters and their spouses, Jean’s husband Dick Tushingham and Nancy’s husband Larry Kelly. She also leaves four heartbroken grandchildren: Jean’s two daughters, Teresa Kim Harrold and Bonnie Lee Marlow, and Nancy’s son and daughter, Christopher Laurence and Jennifer Christina Kelly, and four great-grandchildren: Nolan Eugene Harrold, Violet Paige and Ashton Paul Kelly, and Riley Elizabeth Marlow.

Self-taught at virtually all the skills demanded of a young married woman of the fifties, Terry became an excellent cook, baker, hostess, bridge-player, car-pooler, and activities director. More formally, she volunteered and served as Brownie and Girl Scout troop leader, cookie-sale chairperson, and Sunday school teacher. She was deeply involved in the lives of her four grandchildren as babysitter, chauffeur, and chef.

Terry was that rare mother and grandmother who was happier in the summer when the kids were out of school than she was during the school year. Summers were for day trips to the shore and afternoons at the pool, for guiding and directing her daughters in such summertime activities as organizing neighborhood fairs and camping out in the backyard, and usually for family vacations to the mountains and lakes and woods.

During the school year, late afternoons were for listening to her children describe their days at school and providing advice and encouragement. When weather was appropriate, winter afternoons could also be for projects and games in the snow or ice skating on Lake Carnegie, where she taught all three daughters to skate.

This loving and giving lady was laid to rest in Princeton Cemetery on February 1 near the graves of her mother and father. Friends wishing to honor her memory are encouraged to make gifts in her name to charities of their choice.