Dr. Paul Theodore Englund, a Johns Hopkins teacher and scientist who studied African sleeping sickness, died of Parkinson’s disease Jan. 12 at his Roland Park home. He was 80.
Born in Worcester, Mass., he was the son of Theodore Englund, a mechanical engineer, and his wife, Mildred Elizabeth Anderson, a homemaker. He earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Hamilton College in New York in 1960 and his doctorate in biochemistry at Rockefeller University.
He studied DNA at Stanford University with Nobel laureate Dr. Arthur Kornberg before being recruited to join the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine faculty. He moved to Baltimore in 1968 and retired in 2010 as a professor in the department of biological chemistry.
For many years he lived on Roundhill Road in Original Northwood and raised his family there.
“He was like a mother and father all in one,” said his daughter, Suzanne Elizabeth Pykosh, a Gaithersburg resident. “He was the perfect father. He was compassionate and always helpful, helpful with homework. He believed that school came first, before sports and social life. After he remarried, he raised two more children, Jen and Peter, in a similar manner.”
Dr. Englund wrote more than 160 scholarly articles. He also taught numerous student scientists and trainees at his laboratory.
Dr. Peter Agre, a Hopkins colleague who shared the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, said, “Paul lectured to my first-year med school class at Johns Hopkins 49 years ago. Having arrived a year earlier from Arthur Kornberg’s lab at Stanford, Paul’s elegant presentations on DNA and RNA stimulated several of us to careers in science.”
He also said, “I got to know Paul personally. … I recall Paul’s booming laugh when his lab sang ‘Paul Englund with his shirttail hanging out’ at his birthday party. He was remarkably beloved by his team and everyone else in the department. Paul was always a gentleman – even when I complained to him about water flooding from his lab into my lab directly below. It happened more than once.
“When I developed Parkinson’s disease seven years ago, Paul reassured me and made really helpful recommendations,” said Dr. Agre. “Paul Englund enriched our careers and our lives.”
Hopkins co-workers said he was known for studying genetic material in the parasitic organisms that cause African sleeping sickness, a condition for which there is no cure. They said the potentially lethal disease is spread by the tsetse fly in sub-Saharan parts of Africa and gets its name from disrupting victims’ sleep patterns.
Dr. Englund made numerous trips to Africa in the course of his research. He also held a visiting scientist position at the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases in Kenya.
“Paul was the consummate scientist, mentor, colleague and human being,” Dr. Michael Caterina, a Hopkins Medical School colleague, said in a statement. “He had an uncanny knack for identifying interesting biological problems and providing his trainees with the guidance, encouragement and freedom to tackle these questions in a creative, rigorous manner. Everyone in our department sought out and respected his wisdom, and he delivered that wisdom with exceptional warmth and humor. We were very fortunate to have him as a colleague and friend.”
In 2016 Dr. Englund’s former students contributed funds toward an endowed professorship in his name at Johns Hopkins.
"Paul was a brilliant and creative scientist whose excitement and enthusiasm for research never flagged,” said Dr. Tamara Doering, who trained with him. “He was also an inspiring and supportive mentor, who taught generations of trainees to do rigorous and collegial science. He was a wonderful person — engaging, funny, articulate, caring, and devoted to his family, his trainees and his colleagues.”
Dr. Englund was named to the National Academy of Sciences in 2012 and was a member of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Dr. Englund collected rare maps of Africa and Europe and had a friendship with map historian Richard L. Betz.
“He filled the walls of his home with them,” said his wife, Dr. Christine Schneyer Englund. “And he researched every one of them too.”
He also filled his basement with woodworking tools. He made his kitchen table and turned salad bowls from wood sections.
A memorial service will be held at 11:30 a.m. April 13 at the Turner Auditorium of the Hopkins School of Medicine, 720 Rutland Ave.
In addition to his wife of 30 years, a Johns Hopkins physician, and daughter, he is survived by a son, Peter Insley of Paris; two other daughters, Maria Jean Englund of Amsterdam and Jennifer Insley-Pruitt of New York City; two brothers, Robert J. Englund of New Hampshire and Donald R. Englund, also of New York City; and six grandchildren.