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Hopkins biology professor Dr. James D. Ebert, 79, wife, Alma, 78, die in crash


Dr. James D. Ebert, a distinguished Johns Hopkins University embryologist, and his wife, Alma Goodwin Ebert, died yesterday of injuries they suffered when their car collided with another vehicle on northbound Interstate 95 near Joppa in Harford County.

State police at the John F. Kennedy Barracks said Dr. Ebert was a passenger in a Toyota Camry being driven by his wife. Police said their car was in the fast lane about 7:40 a.m. when it abruptly crossed three lanes of traffic and collided with a Chevrolet van.

Dr. Ebert, who was 79, died a short time later at Franklin Square Hospital Center, police said.

Mrs. Ebert, who was 78, died about six hours later at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, police said.

They said Paul Rowe, 28, of Glen Burnie, the driver of the van, was in serious condition at Bayview. Two other vehicles were involved in the crash and their four occupants were not seriously injured, police said.

Dr. Ebert had been professor of biology at Hopkins from 1956 to 1978 and professor of embryology at the university's School of Medicine during those years.

He was director of the Department of Embryology at the Carnegie Institution of Washington (founded by steel maker and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie) from 1956 to 1976 and president of the research center from 1978 to 1987. He was a trustee at his death.

From 1960 to 1962, he oversaw the Carnegie Embryology Department's move from Hopkins' East Baltimore campus to a new building facing University Parkway at San Martin Drive on the Homewood campus.

He was president of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., from 1970 to 1978. He and his wife, who was a volunteer there, spent summers at the lab, which attracts many of the country's top marine and environmental scientists.

"He was knowledgeable about science and savvy about fund raising. He was instrumental in bringing funding to the lab," said Pamela Hinkle, the lab's director of communications.

Dr. Ebert wrote, co-edited and contributed to several books and was author of more than 195 professional articles.

His research included cell differentiation, protein synthesis and interactions in development, heart development and graft vs. host reactions.

"Unlike most of his colleagues at that time [the 1950s], his mind was firmly focused on genes in controlling the events of development," said Dr. Eric Davidson, professor of cell biology at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "He was an early pioneer in understanding the role of genes in organizing the functional properties of cells."

"He had a tremendous impact on all areas of science," said Dr. Donald Brown, former director of Carnegie's embryology department. "When he arrived at Hopkins, he came with the notion that embryology had to change. He led that change and hired scientists with modern skills. His vision was you hire the best young people and let them go free to study."

"Jim was an outstanding embryologist," said Gary K. Ostrander, a Hopkins associate dean and biologist. "He was very astute and a critical observer in general. He had the ability to rapidly assess and cut to the quick of a problem."

Friends remembered Dr. Ebert as an engaging conversationalist.He enjoyed opera, jazz and bluegrass music.

Dr. Ebert, who had honorary degrees from Yale University, Moravian College, Indiana University and Washington and Jefferson College, was named vice president of the National Academy of Sciences in 1981.

Born in Bentleyville, Pa., he was a 1942 graduate of Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pa. He received a doctorate in experimental embryology from Hopkins in 1950.

He taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Indiana University before moving to Baltimore in 1956.

During World War II, he served in the Navy as a lieutenant. Stationed aboard a destroyer in the Pacific, he was wounded and burned after a kamikaze pilot struck his ship. While recuperating from skin burns, he became interested in the study of cells.

It was during this period that he met Alma Goodwin, a Navy WAVE who was born in Ellenboro, W. Va. They were married April 19, 1946.

Mrs. Ebert, who was trained as a secretary, was a volunteer tutor in public schools and volunteered for charitable causes.

The couple lived in the 4100 block of N. Charles St. in Guilford.

The Eberts are survived by a son, David Brian Ebert of Cape Coral, Fla.; two daughters, Frances Diane Schwartz of Dublin, Harford County, and Rebecca Susan Coyle of Owings Mills; seven grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

Dr. Ebert also is survived by a brother, Chuck Ebert of Vienna, Va.

Mrs. Ebert also is survived by a brother, Paul Goodwin of Ellenboro, and a sister, Eva Goodwin of Belbre, Ohio.

A memorial service is pending.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Alma and James Ebert Memorial Fund, Marine Biological Laboratory, Water Street, Woods Hole, Mass. 02543.

Sun staff writers Tim Craig and Richard Irwin contributed to this article.

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