Obituary — Irwin J. Goldstein


On forest walks in the 1970s, Irwin J. Goldstein would enlist his young sons in collecting seeds or flowers that struck him as possible sources of lectins — carbohydrate-binding proteins that were the focus of his pioneering research as a biochemistry professor at the University of Michigan.

Irwin J. Goldstein
Irwin J. Goldstein

He once told his boys he was so excited about his work that he could barely wait to get out of bed in the morning — an unflagging energy and enthusiasm that fueled a scientific career spanning 60 years. Goldstein, a professor emeritus of biological chemistry and longtime Ann Arbor resident, died Dec. 26 in Chelsea, Michigan. He was 91.

A Guggenheim Scholar at the Lister Institute in London, he also did research at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and Stockholm University, and lectured around the world. His half-century at U-M included 12 years as associate dean of research and graduate studies at the Medical School. He received the Claude S. Hudson Award in Carbohydrate Chemistry from the American Chemical Society in 1993, and the university’s biochemistry department holds an annual glycobiology lectureship in his name.

Irwin’s passion and drive were evident in everything from art to athletics. He and his wife, Martha Mayo, amassed a lithograph collection focusing on 20th-century American masters, and also focused on local artists. A lifelong distance runner, he later passed his joy of running on to his two sons. He was also a zealous Michigan football fan.

In the 1960s, he protested against the House Un-American Activities Committee at SUNY-Buffalo, and later helped lead teach-ins at U-M against the Vietnam War.

A gourmet who relished everything from caviar to corned-beef sandwiches, Irwin and Martha ate and hiked their way around the world. Closer to home, he was a fiercely loyal customer of Zingerman’s Deli, even getting a sandwich named after him — “Irwin’s Inspiration.”

Born in Newark on Sept. 8, 1929, he graduated from Weequahic High School in 1947 and Syracuse University in 1951. He completed his Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of Minnesota in 1956, and served several years there as a postdoctoral fellow. He published 300 scientific papers and three books analyzing the structure, functioning and biomedical applications of lectins.

He married his first wife, Jone Rymer, now of Ann Arbor, in 1959. He was an assistant professor at SUNY-Buffalo before joining the U-M faculty in 1965. Irwin married Martha Mayo in 1986.  

In addition to Martha, Irwin is survived by his sons, Garth Goldstein of Somerville, Massachusetts, and Brandt Goldstein of New York City; daughters-in-law, Ona Ferguson and Angella So; grandsons, Bjorn, Soren and Lars Goldstein; stepdaughter, Mira Hinman, and her husband, Todd McDermott, of Libertyville, Illinois; and their daughters, Annika and Celia McDermott-Hinman. His younger sister, Judith, died in 1989.

There will be an online memorial service soon and an in-person celebration of Goldstein’s life later this year. Details are available at

Donations may be made in his memory to the Irwin J. Goldstein Lectureship in Glycobiology at or by mail to the Department of Biological Chemistry, Goldstein Lecture, c/o Amanda Howard, 1150 W. Medical Center Drive, 5301 MSRB III, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-5606. Write “Fund 571808/Goldstein Lecture” on the memo line. Donations may also be made to the Judith Goldberg Memorial Fund for Modern Dance — Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, 301 N. Main St., Suite 300, Ann Arbor, MI 48104.

— Submitted by the Goldstein family


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