Obituary: Minor Jesser “Jud” Coon


Minor Jesser “Jud” Coon, retired Victor C. Vaughan Distinguished Professor who worked in the University of Michigan Department of Biological Chemistry, died Sept. 5.

Coon was born in Englewood, Colorado, on July 29,1921, the son of Minor Dillon Coon and Mary Margaret Jesser Coon. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, from the University of Colorado and his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois. His research at the University of Illinois in the 1950’s led to the discovery of HMG-CoA, the precursor to cholesterol synthesis.

At Illinois, he met Mary Louise Newburn, who became his wife of 52 years. After several years at the University of Pennsylvania, including a sabbatical year in New York City, in 1955 the family moved to Ann Arbor, where he began his career at U-M, serving as chair of the Department of Biological Chemistry for 20 years. Coon is best known for his pioneering work with the cytochrome P450 system, initially isolating this compound which has now become known as the metabolism system for medications, hormones, toxins, and other substances. His work on P450 is featured as a Journal of Biological Chemistry Classic. He retired in 2002.

Coon was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1983, a society of distinguished scholars charged with providing independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology. He received the State of Michigan Scientist of the Year Award in 1988, among numerous other awards. Jud was editor-in-chief of Biochemical Preparations and Microsomes, Drug Oxidations and Chemical Carcinogenesis. He also served on the editorial boards of Biochemistry, Molecular Pharmacology, and the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

The Minor J. Coon Professorship in Biological Chemistry was established at U-M in 1991, the highest academic award that a university can bestow, which lasts as long as the university exists. He was especially humbled by his honorary degree as Doctor of Medicine, which was awarded by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. The International Conference on Cytochrome P450 was held in France in his honor on the occasion of his 80th birthday.

Coon served as president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from 1991-92. In the course of his productive career he published more than 350 papers with colleagues and students.

He and his family spent a sabbatical year in 1961 in Zürich at the Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule, which was a seminal experience.

He was a generous mentor to many rising scientists over the years. Coon was ahead of his time with his support for women in the sciences and biochemistry in particular, a leader in true equality. The Minor J. and Mary Lou Coon Award was established by Jud and Mary Lou and is now and will continue to be presented annually to the student at U-M in biochemistry who best exhibits excellence in research, teaching and service. Of particular mention was Coon’s willingness to openly share his research internationally in collaboration for the enrichment of science and betterment of humanity.

He was a gentle, kind and wise father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

An avid photographer and gardener, Jud also enjoyed camping with his family around the country, especially in his beloved Colorado. The entire family appreciated the frequent slide shows of their childhoods and their travels. He picked up the nickname Jud when he was doing his Ph.D. research, using himself and fellow graduate students as research subjects, because of the song “Pore Jud is daid” from the musical “Oklahoma!” He was well known for his great sense of humor.

Coon joined the First Unitarian Church of Ann Arbor in 1955, an outgrowth of which was an Investment Club lasting 50 years.

Both his wife, Mary Lou, and his son, Lawrence Richard Coon, died in October 2000 of unrelated causes. He is survived by a daughter Susan Louise Coon (Conrad Weiser,) and a daughter-in-law, Linda Wilkins Coon; four grandchildren: Jon Robert Svoboda (Margaret), and Jessica Ashley Preston (Craig), Sarah Weiser Davis (John), and Philip Konrad Richard Weiser (Elisabeth); four great-grandchildren: Kaitlyn Marie Preston, Robert Lawrence Preston, Camille Grace Svoboda, and William Jesser Davis, who carries on a family name.

Coon’s last few years were in the company of close friends and family, and with attentive loving care from his daughter-in-law, Linda.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the University of Michigan Minor J. and Mary Lou Coon Award or the University Music Society (UMS).

— Submitted by Amanda Howard

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