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De Hoffmann, Salk Institute's Savior, Dies at 65

October 06, 1989|NORA ZAMICHOW | Times Staff Writer

Frederic de Hoffmann, the physicist credited with rescuing the floundering Salk Institute, died Wednesday of AIDS complications. De Hoffmann, who also helped start General Atomics, was 65.

He retired as president 11 months ago, after learning he had received AIDS-contaminated blood during heart surgery in 1984--one year before blood supplies in the United States began to undergo screening.

"The institute was his life for 18 years--it was like a child to him," said Dr. Jonas Salk, developer of the polio vaccine that bears his name and the founder of the Salk Institute.

Under De Hoffmann's watchful eye from 1970 to 1988, the biomedical facility flourished. He guided the Salk Institute from its small beginnings with a $4.5-million budget in 1970 to where it stands today in the scientific community as a renowned facility boasting a $33-million annual budget and four Nobel laureates among its 500 staff members.

"He was the man who saved the Salk Institute and put it on the path of prosperity and great effectiveness," said Roger Revelle, professor of science and public policy at UC San Diego.

But the man who could wrest an institute from the brink of financial disaster was powerless against the onslaught of AIDS. Since 1982 in San Diego County, 43 people contracted AIDS through blood contaminated with the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Wylie Vale, chairman of the faculty at the Salk Institute, said: "Fred was a scientist, so he never said that he was going to beat the disease because the data wouldn't support that notion, but he did hope to defeat it as long as he could and remain productive as long as he could.

"For most of us, who grew up under his leadership, we're really upset. We know much of what the institute is today is because of his work and his vision. We're all very appreciative."

Worked at Los Alamos

After studying physics at Harvard, De Hoffmann worked on thermonuclear fusion at the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, N.M., in 1944. The native Austrian joined General Dynamics in San Diego in 1955 and persuaded its president to create General Atomics. As president of General Atomics, De Hoffmann developed nuclear power stations and research reactors.

He left industrial research to become president of the Salk Institute.

"Without Dr. de Hoffmann, the entire high-tech research and development effort in Torrey Pines would be a mere shadow of its real existence," said Neal Blue, chairman of General Atomics, in a statement, referring to institutions such as Scripps Clinic and the La Jolla Cancer Research Foundation drawn to the area.

De Hoffmann is survived by his wife, Patricia.

The funeral will be private, but memorial contributions can be sent to the Frederic de Hoffmann Research Fund, the Salk Institute, P.O. Box 85800, San Diego 92138.

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