George J. Jakab, educator

George J. Jakab, emeritus professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, died on Aug. 27 at his home in Baltimore. He was 76.

George J. Jakab, an accomplished faculty member who taught at the Johns Hopkins University for 24 years, died at his Baltimore home on Aug. 27 as a result of melanoma. He was 76.

Dr. Jakab was born in Budapest, Hungary, on April 7, 1939. He was the oldest child of George Joseph Jakab Sr., a pilot in the Hungarian Air Force, and Irene Kludak.


When Dr. Jakab was six, his family fled to Austria during the last days of World War II. The family then fled to Germany to avoid the advancing Russian army. In Germany, he lived in a displaced persons camp with his mother, father and younger brother, Arpad.

In 1951, the Westminster Presbyterian Church sponsored the family's move from Germany to Madison, Wis. There, he graduated from high school and attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In 1960, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was sent to Germany.


He returned to Madison in 1963 with his bride, Edda Riemann. The two were married for 44 years until her death in 2007. They had two daughters, Audrey Elizabeth Jakab, who now lives in Philadelphia, and Christine Jordana Jakab, who lives in Chicago.

Dr. Jakab met his second wife, Susan Abrams Jakab, through his first wife. The two women met in a watercolor class at Towson University in 1995, and became fast friends. When Edda Jakab died, Susan Abrams, who had just retired as an editor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, helped Dr. Jakab write a book in her memory. During the year it took to complete the book, the two fell in love. They married in 2011.

"It was lovely for every member of the family," Mrs. Abrams Jakab said in reference to their marriage.

Dr. Jakab was extremely dedicated to academia. He received his bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees from the University of Wisconsin. He earned his doctorate in 1970 in medical microbiology.

He was a postdoctoral fellow and research associate at the University of Vermont until 1977, when he became associate professor of environmental health sciences at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health. In 1986, he was promoted to professor. He was associate chairman of the department from 1990 to 1993.

While at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Jakab also worked as the associate director for science of the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins, from 2000 to 2002. He was also the dean of faculty at the American University of Armenia in Yerevan from 2002 to 2005. While in the post, he helped to establish and support schools of public health in Yerevan, Armenia; Almaty, Kazakhstan; Cracow and Lodz, Poland; several cities in Germany; and Islamabad, Pakistan.

After 24 years working for the university, he retired in 2010.

"It was his life," Mrs. Abrams Jakab said. "It enabled him to travel as well. … He was just a born teacher. He would often tell me about the classes he taught and the students and teachers. He really enjoyed it all — the students at Hopkins and his colleagues."


Mrs. Abrams Jakab said she's been flooded with messages and calls from all over the world from former students and colleagues of her late husband.

"They all have vivid memories of what a mentor he was," she said.

Brian S. Schwartz, a professor of environmental health sciences, epidemiology, and medicine at Johns Hopkins, knew Dr. Jakab for 25 years — both professionally and as a friend.

Mr. Schwartz fondly remembers Dr. Jakab providing him with daily morning emails with links to articles relevant to the environmental and health.

"I would have a regular source of articles, prescreened by an eminent authority in environmental health, that I could then use to update my own lectures," he recalled. "I will miss our daily early morning communications."

After Dr. Jakab retired, the two continued to stay in contact. The two were part of a group of five that would gather two to four times a year at Dr. Jakab's home to taste wines and cheeses from around the world. The gatherings also would feature spirited discussions about current events.


"We all cherished this and will miss our discussions as we tried to figure out how our work efforts could try to make a difference," said Mr. Schwartz.

Dr. Jakab was also an avid photographer. It was after his retirement, that the longtime fan of photography pursued the craft.

"He was very accomplished," Mrs. Abrams Jakab said. "He really had an artist's eye. He could discern difference in tone, color and value that I couldn't see. He had a very acute eye. He could see photographs that nobody else would see. He was always with a camera or several cameras. Every circumstance he thought of as an opportunity."

For her 70th birthday, Dr. Jakab made his wife two albums filled with 600 pictures he took of the couple's life together.

"He spent three months in his office saying 'Don't come in,'" said Mrs. Abrams Jakab as she recalled the project.

Dr. Jakab enjoyed spending time with family — especially his grandchildren.

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"He even taught his 9-year-old grandson, Jacob, the concept of essential services, giving him a Post-it note that still sticks to the family's kitchen cabinet," Mrs. Abrams Jakab said. "He and Jake had many spirited discussions about the merits of an exposition center and a facility for human waste removal (Dr. Jakab's contributions) versus a deluxe donut shop (Jake's idea of an essential service). It was Dr. Jakab's hope that all four grandchildren would pursue careers in essential services."

Dr. Jakab was also quite fond of Baltimore.

"All our friends are here," Mrs. Abrams Jakab said. "This is where his life was. There wasn't a question of moving anywhere else."

At his request, Dr. Jakab will not have a funeral or memorial service. Instead, the family will have a party, according to his wife.

"He put money in his will for a party with good wine and good food," she said, adding that a date for the party has not been determined.

In addition to his wife, daughters, and brother, Arpad Jakab, who lives in Madison, survivors include: two stepsons, Michael Abrams, who lives in Bala Cynwnd, Pa., and Daniel Abrams, who lives in Menlo Park, Calif.; and four step-grandchildren, Jacob, Max, Jonathan and Leah.