Leon Wofsy – scientist, activist, author, and cherished husband, father, grandfather and friend – died on August 25, 2019, peacefully and surrounded by family two days after a stroke. Leon was born in Stamford, CT in 1921. He was raised by parents who, as Leon described them, were deeply committed to building “a gentler world where wars and exploitation would be unthinkable”. Leon shared their hopes and values throughout his life. As a young man, he was leader of the Labor Youth League, which made him a target during the McCarthy period. During that time, and throughout the remainder of his life, Leon demonstrated uncommon courage, honesty, and a willingness to sacrifice in pursuit of the ideals of democracy, racial equality, social justice, and peace.
After almost two decades devoted primarily to radical political activism, Leon returned to school in 1958, received a PhD in chemistry at Yale, and joined the faculty at the University of California in Berkeley in 1964. During his years at Berkeley, he distinguished himself as a scientist through pioneering research on the use of antibodies to deliver effective therapies directly and specifically to the site of disease. His work proved to be visionary in helping to lay the foundation for the later development of ‘precision’ therapies that are now widely used in the treatment of cancer, immunologic diseases, and many other disorders. Also while at Berkeley, Leon was a leader among the faculty in supporting students during the Free Speech Movement, opposing war, fighting apartheid, supporting progressive movements in Latin America, and increasing the representation of women and minorities in the sciences and the broader academic community.
After his retirement from UC Berkeley, Leon wrote extensively on topics related to domestic and foreign policy, including two books, numerous articles, and a blog that was still active in the final month of his life. He never ceased hoping for, and fighting for, a better world. When he could march, he marched. When he could lead, he led. When he could teach, he taught. And when age took him off the front lines, he wrote and continued to inspire.
Leon was the most loyal of friends. He loved music and sports and nature and especially family. He was predeceased by his wife of 67 years, Rosalind Wofsy, and by his daughter Carla. He is survived by his wife, Gail Weininger, his son David, and grandchildren Danielle, Kevin, Susan, and Grace. A memorial gathering will be planned soon. For those who are so inclined, donations in Leon’s honor may be directed to Partners in Health or to the charity of your choice.
Published in San Francisco Chronicle on Aug. 30, 2019