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Jack Kirsch


1934 - 2018 Obituary Condolences
Jack Kirsch Obituary
Jack F. Kirsch

Aug. 14, 1934 - Nov. 12, 2018

Jack F. Kirsch passed away on November 12, 2018 at home in El Cerrito, surrounded by his family. Jack was born on August 14, 1934 in Detroit, Michigan, the elder son of Louis and Laura Kirsch. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1956 with a degree in Physics and then pursued graduate studies in biochemistry at the Rockefeller Institute in New York (including periods studying abroad at Cambridge University, England and the Carlsberg Laboratory in Copenhagen, Denmark), obtaining his Ph.D. from Rockefeller Institute in 1961. While doing postdoctoral work at Brandeis University in Boston, Jack met his wife, Birthe, and they were married in 1962. Jack and Birthe then spent a year in Israel during 1963-64, where he did postdoctoral research at the Weizmann Institute.
In 1964, Jack accepted a faculty position in the Department of Biochemistry at UC Berkeley, becoming a full tenured professor in 1974. The main focus of Jack's research was in the areas of enzymology, directed evolution of proteins, and drug discovery.
Upon their arrival in the Bay Area, Jack and Birthe settled in Kensington, where they raised their sons, Gorm and Joshua. From 1971-72, Jack took a sabbatical year at the University of Goettingen, Germany, during which he commuted biweekly to nearby Denmark, Birthe's native country, where she and the boys spent the year. The family also enjoyed a fantastic sabbatical year in Basel, Switzerland, in 1979-80. While delighting in his life's work in biochemistry, Jack was a man of diverse passions and interests. First and foremost, he cared for his family, entertaining them with puns and jokes of varying quality, while emphasizing the values of education, hard work, honesty and integrity. Jack's other passions included birdwatching, Apple computers (proudly proclaiming his status as a "power user"), running (he completed three marathons), literature, theater and classical music.
After Jack "retired" from UCB and took emeritus status, he remained active with his scientific pursuits well into 2018. He continued his love of mentoring students and following the progress of their ongoing academic and professional careers. Jack also ventured into a new academic arena, teaching a course in performing arts appreciation, with the goal of exposing non-arts students to the performing arts world, taking them to plays, concerts, and dance performances. He was enormously proud of this innovative course and it enriched his later life.
In 2004, Jack and Birthe moved from Kensington to El Cerrito, where they lived just down the street from Joshua, his wife Lucy, and grandsons Nicolas and Lukas. Jack and Birthe both volunteered at their grandsons' elementary school during this period and were actively involved in helping to raise the boys. Jack and Birthe supported numerous worthy causes over the years, including groups dedicated to environmental protection, local theater, education and feeding the hungry, as well as political candidates and organizations who shared these values.
Jack touched the lives of so many people during his 84 years, and will be sorely missed. He is survived by his wife, Birthe, sons Gorm (Geoff) and Joshua (Lucy), grandsons Nicolas and Lukas, brother Sheldon, and numerous nephews, nieces, cousins, and their extended families. The family suggests donations in lieu of flowers may be made to the Sierra Club, Hospice East Bay, Altarena Playhouse of Alameda, Contra Costa Civic Theater, or Sonoma Land Trust.

Published in San Francisco Chronicle from Nov. 22 to Nov. 24, 2018
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