Passing of Michael Menaker

It is with great sadness that I report the passing of my Ph.D. mentor and close friend, Michael Menaker, on Sunday February 14, 2021. “Mike” or “Menaker” as he was known to us, needs no introduction to the circadian community. Mike was a giant in the field and one of the pioneers in the physiological analysis and identification circadian pacemakers in the vertebrate nervous and endocrine systems. His laboratory discovered: nonretinal photoreceptors for entrainment in birds and reptiles; the first circadian structure, the pineal gland of birds, controlling behavior in vertebrates; the first single‐gene circadian mutation in mammals (hamster tau mutation) that affected period length; and, the existence of widespread circadian oscillators in peripheral tissues in mammals.
Born on May 19, 1934 in Vienna, Austria ﴾US Citizen by birth﴿, Mike received his B.A. in Biology from Swarthmore College in 1955. On June 4th of that year, he married his Swarthmore sweetheart, Shirley Lasch Menaker. Their profound partnership fueled his professional and personal life. For graduate school, Mike studied with Colin S. Pittendrigh at Princeton University and received his Ph.D. in 1960. He was a postdoctoral Fellow with Donald Griffin at Harvard University from 1959‐1962. Mike then began his academic career as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Zoology at the University of Texas, Austin and rose through the ranks to Professor. In 1979, Mike was recruited to the University of Oregon, Eugene, where he served as Director of the Institute of Neuroscience. In 1987, Mike was recruited as Chairman of Biology at the University of Virginia, where he remained as Professor of Biology, until his retirement in 2020.
Among his awards were: Guggenheim Fellowship, Univ. Montpellier, France, 1971‐72; Fellow of the Am. Assoc. Adv. Sci. in 1983; Commonwealth Professor of Biology, University of Virginia, 1987; Fellow, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, 1992; Fellow, American Academy of Arts & Sciences, 1999; American Society of Photobiology, Lifetime Achievement Award, 2002; Virginia’s Outstanding Scientists: Life Achievement in Science Award, 2003; Peter C. Farrell Prize in Sleep Medicine, 2007.

In closing, Mike was an exceptional individual who had an unusual talent for innovative discovery and insight in biology. During his career, he was able to stimulate and foster the research careers of a substantial number of individuals who have gone on to contribute significantly to the fields of neuroscience and biology. Menaker was a profound thinker, listener and integrator of knowledge. He was charismatic and a delight to be around. He was very open and readily shared both his intellectual and political experience and opinions with his students and peers. All of these qualities contributed greatly to his success. But perhaps his most important talent was his belief in his own judgment and his ‘nose’ for interesting biological questions. He was a rare and precious leader and pioneer. Mike will truly be missed by all of his friends, colleagues and family. Mike is survived by his daughter, Ellen Briones, his son, Nicholas Menaker, and his grandchildren, Demetris, Nikkita and Izzy. I feel extremely fortunate and grateful for Mike’s unwavering support and friendship all these years. It is truly an honor to be part of the Menaker family.

Joe Takahashi
Past President SRBR