Benjamin Downs Hall
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Benjamin Downs Hall

Dr. Benjamin Downs Hall, Professor Emeritus of Biology and Genome Sciences at the University of Washington, died April 2, 2019 at Overlake Hospital in Bellevue, Washington with his family at his side.

He was born December 9th, 1932 to Dr. Eugene Raymond and Mary Frances (Harkey) Hall in Berkeley, California. He moved to Lawrence, Kansas with his family in 1944. In 7th grade science class, he sat next to Margaret Ann Black, who little did he know would become his life-long companion. Upon graduating from the University of Kansas in 1954, he and Margaret married before setting off for Munich, Germany with the support of his Fulbright Scholarship. They returned to the US in 1955 and he earned his doctorate in Biophysical Chemistry in 1959 at Harvard University.

Dr. Hall joined the faculty at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana in 1958. He found early success developing nucleic acid hybridization methods, techniques key to future genetic research. He was recognized as a Guggenheim fellow in 1961.

In 1963, he joined the University of Washington (UW) Genetics Department. He remained on the UW faculty until his retirement in 2007. As an emeritus professor, he continued his research until the last months of his life. His primary work in genetics explored RNA transcription, the first step in accessing the genetic information necessary for making proteins. Mid-career, he participated in two research collaborations that invented methods for producing vaccines and other bio-pharmaceuticals in yeast. Later, he shifted his research to botany to focus on the genetic evolution of rhododendrons. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2014.

The patents of Dr. Hall and his co-inventors directly benefited the UW and enabled him to become a philanthropist. He took great pleasure in donating to the UW and University of Kansas. He understood that without the benefit of his public education, fellowships, grants, students, colleagues (international, faculty, laboratory and Washington Research Foundation) and the greater UW community; he wouldn't have been able to accomplish his life's work. In return, he focused his giving on supporting scientists early in their careers.

While Dr. Hall had a reserved manner, his enthusiasm for collaborative scientific inquiry was unbounded. He appreciated having students and colleagues of varied backgrounds. For him, good science was a border-less enterprise best practiced by pairing the researchers in his lab with collaborators across the campus, country or globe.

He was a lifelong gardener, traveler, and devoted husband, father and grandfather. He is survived by his brother, Dr. William J. Hall; his wife, Margaret; his children, Anne and Charles; his daughter-in-law, Stephanie Connor; and his granddaughters, Julia and Maya.

In lieu of flowers or gifts, donations to the Seattle Public Library Foundation are encouraged.

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in The Seattle Times on Apr. 28, 2019.
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September 6, 2019
Kristy Schuster
May 5, 2019
Salam Shaaban
May 1, 2019
I am very sorry to hear of the passing of a man I greatly admired. It is one of my life regrets that Ben and I did not get acqainted when we were in chemistry at the U of Illinois in the early '60s - he as a young professor, I as a doctoral candidate under Ken Rinehart. Our careers did overlap as the technology of genetic engineering evolved and Ben played a major role in the field. I was impressed by his generosity to the UW and other institutions as the fundamental contributions which he had made were rewarded as biotechnology became an important business and source of medical benefits. He and I shared interests in rhododendrons, and the people who love them, over the past four decades. We will all miss Ben and treasure having known him.
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