DR. DONALD G. COMB
1927 - 2020
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COMB, Dr. Donald G. Scientist, Environmentalist and founder of New England Biolabs, Inc. Dr. Donald G. Comb, a passionate scientist, environmentalist and visionary best known for developing recombinant DNA tools that revolutionized the field of molecular biology and founder of New England Biolabs, has died peacefully at his home in Gloucester, MA, surrounded by family on October 4th at age 93.   Don Comb was many things – but normal or ordinary he was not. Born in 1927, he grew up in Detroit, MI, the second of three boys, to a mother who was social and outgoing and a father who was a successful lawyer. As a child, Don spent summers in northern MI, where he was introduced to the outdoors and to Michigan's great trout rivers. He loved to fish and was fascinated by insects and their life cycles. Later, in graduate school at the University of Michigan, he would spend time at the university's biological station learning entomology and collecting insects.   After graduating from the University of Michigan with a Ph.D. in Biochemistry, Don started a family and accepted a faculty position at Harvard Medical School in the Biochemistry Department, where he worked on the function of sugars and small RNAs. He spent summers at the Bermuda Biological Station collecting sea urchins and studying their early development.  After leaving Harvard, Don established New England Biolabs (NEB) as a cooperative of scientists dedicated to providing research tools for molecular biologists. NEB was one of the first companies to commercialize restriction enzymes, which cleave DNA at specific sequences and are essential tools for recombinant DNA technology. Don's principles of prioritizing people and passion over process and profit and supplying high-quality reagents at a fair price advanced the field of molecular biology and built a world-class reputation for NEB as a leader in life science research tools.  His vision of a company that used commercial revenue to fund its own basic research was unprecedented at the time. Basic and applied research functions were established to support and complement one another; and to this day, NEB maintains an active research program that has published over 1,300 scientific publications. At NEB, Don established a parasitology research group to study and help cure parasitic diseases that were found in developing countries and were often overlooked by large pharmaceutical companies. This work continues to this day. Early on, Don recognized that the planet was being abused by reckless development and big industry polluters. He sought to change that by supporting environmental education and helping to build awareness of the environmental crisis. He became an early member of the Sierra Club and supported the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Conservation Law Foundation. In Saint Barthelemy, Don observed that the reefs surrounding the island had been overfished. To address this, he founded a marine sanctuary, one of the first of its kind in the Caribbean. He was also involved in protecting the West Branch of the Penobscot River in northern Maine. He helped establish the Ocean Genome Legacy, a nonprofit marine research facility dedicated to exploring and preserving the threatened biological diversity of the sea. Don created the NEB Foundation to support and fund communities and environmental activists in developing countries. By providing small grants to organizations and communities in biodiversity-rich areas he helped empower the work they were already doing fighting to preserve their land, livelihoods and the biodiversity he cared so deeply about. He supported many environmental groups and was also an enthusiastic supporter of the arts, especially local artists and the Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, MA. Don loved exploring the planet, having outdoor adventures and taking risks. He enjoyed fishing, and this became a passion in his life, fishing in the ocean for jacks and tuna and in rivers for trout and salmon. He especially enjoyed being alongside a trout stream during a massive caddis fly hatch, and he later became alarmed that these insects were disappearing.  He loved to sail and had many adventures teaching himself, his children and grandkids how to sail and navigate, first in New England and then in the warmer waters of the Caribbean. He cherished time spent in the forest identifying and collecting mushrooms, and he also enjoyed playing poker and bridge with his family and friends. His passion for life and his booming, uninhibited laugh would bring life to any room. Don was everything except normal. He was an outlier - his curiosity for how life works, his fairness and respect for others, and his generosity to his employees, the community, and the environment made him a true visionary and a natural leader.  Don taught us to embrace life to the fullest and be humbled and fascinated by its many mysteries, to take risks and never miss a chance for an adventure in life, love or business. He is survived by his loving wife Linda Comb; his three children, Michael, Dave (Coleen) and Janis Comb; and his twelve grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and his former wife Marilyn Comb.  Services will be held privately on Oct. 15. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Ocean Genome Legacy. https://www.northeastern.edu/ogl/

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Published in Boston Globe from Oct. 9 to Oct. 11, 2020.
Memories & Condolences
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10 entries
October 19, 2020
In loving memory of an extraordinary Man who changed the approach to genetic research. I will miss you, the researchers' community will miss you, the world will miss you.
Dr. Eric Aigbogun (Jr.)
Significant Other
October 15, 2020
You have always been larger than life. Sending thanks out to the universe and in to the earth, which now hold your energy, for the opportunity of knowing you. Thanks for all you have given.
Kelly Lively
Family
October 15, 2020
My deepest condolences for Don's family! As a member of NEB family I was lucky to meet Don in person and I will always admire him as an extraordinary person and scientist. He will always be in our hearts.
Anetta Nowosielska-Vecchietti
Coworker
October 13, 2020
Donald Comb has been and always will be my best friend and has been for 73 yrs. our first meeting Don was when he started dating my sister Marilyn and there are so many stories- one was we moved to an upper flat and it was 2:OOAM when we heard this loud pounding on our front door and a loud voice saying “open up FBI” we were so afraid and opening door was Don and Marilyn returning home from their honeymoon. When Don and Ken were both attending U of M they played many tricks on each other’s car. We lived on Silver Lake with Marilyn and Don when the guys came across a worm bed. They got the bright idea that they could sell them to bait shops. So on opening day they put a trough in Dons car filled with thousands of worms he would drive up north (Michigan) Bad news it turned out to be hottest opening day ever. Needless to say the worms all died and Dons car really smelled bad. He took to junk yard and they gave him 10.00. They flew to Finland to pick up Don’s new sailboat and sail home. They had many sea stories to share and they made many trips to St. Barts . Always with tall tales to relate. We both love Don and are so saddened by his passing. We shall never forget this wild, smart , loyal, fun loving man.
Shirley & Ken Hurlin
Family
October 12, 2020
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Markku Harmala
October 11, 2020
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CHRISTOPHER PROVOST
October 11, 2020
Please except my deepest sympathies to you and your family at this time of grieving. May God bless you and your family in this time of sorrow.
Simone Taylor
October 11, 2020
We love you and RIP!
Guoping
Coworker
October 11, 2020
Don, we love you and will miss you especially your wonderful "laugh". It was beautiful, loud, and outstanding. The McKinlay family sends our love to your family and will always remember that you have made Mother Earth a better place for all of us.
Betsy Mckinlay
Family
October 11, 2020
I love this man and will miss him greatly. He was truly special and so generous. He made so many have a better life and will continue to do so going forward. I was blessed to have him in my life from the first meeting in Sierra Club 47 years ago. I enjoyed working side by side with him from the early days at NEB and learned so much from him. May God bless all his family and all who knew him and were touched by this great man. Ann Flynn First employee for NEB 1975 .
Ann E Flynn
Friend
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