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Hagler Institute announces death of Richard Holm, Class of 2015-16

Richard Hadley Holm, professor emeritus of chemistry at Harvard University and a member of Texas A&M University’s 2015-16 class of the Hagler Institute for Advanced Study, passed away on February 15, 2021, after a short illness, at Care Dimensions Hospice House in Lincoln. He was 87 years old. Holm completed his Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was an assistant professor at Harvard and later served on the faculties of the University of Wisconsin, MIT, and Stanford University. From 1980, Holm worked at Harvard University, where he was chair of the Department of Chemistry (1983-86) and the Higgins Professor of Chemistry (1983), before becoming the Higgins Emeritus Professor of Chemistry in 2013.

His groundbreaking research helped establish the field of bioinorganic chemistry (or metallobiochemistry), now a fundamental discipline in the biological sciences. Through the study of low molecular-weight analogues of metal-containing sites in proteins and enzymes, he and his coworkers created the chemical, detailed framework for understanding the function of metal ions in biological systems. Incisive studies of iron-sulfur-containing proteins, important in respiration, or of the molybdenum or tungsten centers in certain enzymes involved in oxygen atom transfer, were activities characteristic of the years 1972-2015. Though original synthesis was his main effort, molecular cluster excision solids was a parallel activity in the later years. Besides iron, molybdenum and tungsten, he explored the biologically related chemistry of vanadium and nickel. Throughout his distinguished career, Dick, as he was known to colleagues and friends, published over 500 research papers in inorganic and bioinorganic chemistry and delivered over 90 named lectureships and plenary lectures, both in the U.S. and abroad.

Aside from research and teaching, he served his profession as a member of many editorial boards, advisory panels, and visiting committees. He was elected to membership in both the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 2012 became an honorary member of the Society of Biological Inorganic Chemistry. Recognitions include American Chemical Society awards at local and national levels, notably the ACS Awards in Bioinorganic or Bioorganic Chemistry and for Distinguished Service in Inorganic Chemistry, the Bailar, Cotton, Howe, Pauling, and Richards Awards from local ACS sections, the Polyhedron (Wilkinson) Prize, the Centenary Medal of the Royal Society of Chemistry, and the National Academy of Sciences Award in the Chemical Sciences.

In 2016, Holm and he (along with Stephen J. Lippard received the prestigious Welch Award in Chemistry for research described as having provided the intellectual and chemical framework that is leading to important discoveries in the diagnosis and treatment of disease. In his last few years, Holm led a quieter life. A Belmont resident for forty years, he continued work from his much-loved home, corresponded with fellow scientists, read history books, listened to the radio, and most of all enjoyed time with his wife and beloved dog. Among the highlights of those years were the visits of his children and grandchildren, which were precious to a man who valued family above all else. He leaves behind his devoted wife, Florence, as well as his children and their spouses/ partners: Sharon Holm (and Kevin Killeen) of York, England; Eric (and Reiko) Holm of Kamakura, Japan; Christian Holm of Waltham; and Marg (and Michael) Short of Palm Harbor, Florida. He is also survived by five grandchildren and many nieces and nephews.