Memorial Resolution of the Faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison on the Death of Professor Rex George Risser

Professor Rex George Risser was born on December 4, 1947 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and died suddenly and unexpectedly in Madison, Wisconsin on September 27, 1990. He received a B.S. degree from Iowa State University in 1970 and a Ph.D. degree in 1974 from Harvard University, where he worked with Dr. James Watson. He then did postdoctoral research at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Cold Spring Harbor, New York, for one year, followed by one year with Dr. Wally Rowe in the Laboratory of Viral Diseases, National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland. He joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1976 and had been a professor of Oncology at the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research since 1987. He is survived by his parents George and Pauline Risser of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Throughout his career, Professor Risser did creative work that provided original elucidations of complex biological problems. He first worked with Ron Davies and Nancy Hopkins in Mark Ptashne's laboratory at Harvard to construct a restriction enzyme map of the small DNA virus, simian virus 40, using the PI restriction enzyme. He then went down to Bob Pollack's lab at Cold Spring Harbor where he defined some of the fundamental properties of transformed cells in a beautiful series of experiments with different types of partial transformants. Professor Risser switched to RNA tumor viruses after the spectacular discovery of reverse transcriptase. He was captivated by the beautiful work that Wally Rowe and Jan Hartley were doing with mouse retroviruses and became a postdoctoral fellow of Wally Rowe in Washington, D.C. Both at the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases and with numerous graduate students and postdoctoral fellows at McArdle Laboratory, he elucidated the mechanism of oncogenesis by the Abelson murine leukemia virus. In addition, he and his students described a key step in the formation of the coat of murine leukemia and human immunodeficiency viruses.

Just before his death, Professor Risser and his laboratory discovered an amazing new technique that promises to make easily available a particular type of specific molecular reagent to isolate cells and proteins. Risser also had just established himself as an important researcher with the AIDS virus, especially in defining the properties of the viral envelope glycoprotein.

For his work Professor Risser was the first winner of the prestigious Wallace P. Rowe Award from the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, and he was designated a Scholar of the Leukemia Society of America. His creative insights will be sorely missed by the cancer research community.

Professor Risser shared an unusual rapport with his students and other coworkers. In many respects, they were his extended family, with him providing paternal warmth for all.

Rex Risser had a rare joy in life; his zeal and the twinkle in his eye will be missed. His gourmet dinners at his carefully restored Madison house, his cookouts at his cottage on the Wisconsin River, and his travels with family and friends will remain valued personal memories.

Memorial Committee

  • Howard M. Temin, Chair
  • Henry C. Pitot
  • Bill Sugden

UW-Madison Fac Doc 879 – 4 March 1991