Roger L. McMacken Jr., Hopkins public health scientist, dies

Dr. Roger L. McMacken Jr., the former chair of biochemistry and molecular biology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who was an expert on DNA replication, died of a brain tumor Dec. 7 at his Brooklandville home. He was 76.

Born in Spokane, Washington, he was the son of Roger McMacken Sr., an Air Force lieutenant colonel and his wife, Ethel. After graduating from North Central High School, he earned a degree in chemistry at the University of Washington. In 1970 he received a doctorate in biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin. He did additional studies at Yale University and the University of Florida.


From 1974 to 1976 he studied at Stanford University with Nobel laureate Arthur Kornberg.

While a graduate student, he met his future wife, Maria Vigo, at a party for the residents of an apartment building near the University of Wisconsin. They married in 1968.


“They discovered that they were taking some of the same biochemistry classes, and the rest is history,” said his daughter, Marisol Renner of Baltimore.

Dr. Roger L. McMacken Jr. was the former chair of biochemistry and molecular biology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He was an expert on DNA replication.

Dr. McMacken joined the Hopkins public health school in 1976. He became the E.V. McCollum professor and chair of the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at Bloomberg School of Public Health. He served the university for 42 years.

He had his own laboratory and managed his department’s National Institutes of Health-funded graduate training program for more than 20 years.

He mentored 20 students and fellows and oversaw the training of more than 100 doctoral candidates.

Dr. Ellen J. MacKenzie, the dean of the public health school, said in a statement, that his colleagues would miss “his brilliance, his leadership, and his kind touch.”

She said he also recruited more than 15 new faculty members and strengthened departmental expertise in molecular and cell biology.

“Roger’s visionary leadership in this area led to renaming the Department Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 2000 to reflect a broadened research mission that included his own seminal work on the bacteriophage lambda, a virus that infects the E. coli bacterium,” Dr. MacKenzie said.

He served on the steering committee of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Biophysical Research since its founding in 1990.


Dr. Ashani Weeraratna, who is the current McCollum professor, said in a statement: “His kindness and brilliance struck me immediately. The memory of his influence, presence, and mentorship will continue to guide us all.”

Another colleague, Dr. Michael Matunis, said “Roger [built] a department that was well managed, collegial and welcoming to everyone. ... He was always generous with his time, eager and happy to discuss science, sports, or politics with faculty and students alike.”

He said Dr. McMacken gave students and the freedom to grow as research scientists.

“He loved to interact and talk with people. I remember my second visit with him. He had a contagious enthusiasm about Baltimore and Johns Hopkins. It was his job to recruit and sell all the positive things about being here. He touched so many people about their careers.

Dr. Roger L. McMacken Jr. wrote more than 70 scientific articles and book chapters and was elected a fellow of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 1982.

“When you saw him in the hallways he enjoyed his conversations with students and would give advice about their careers,” Dr. Matunis said.

His Hopkins colleagues said Dr. McMacken was the author of more than 70 scientific articles and book chapters.


He was elected a fellow of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 1982.

In 2018 his former students and trainees established the Roger McMacken Fellowship Fund to "recognize his deep commitment to graduate education."

Dr. McMacken was a gardener who raised vegetables and dahlias. He was interested in astronomy and sports. He also followed politics and enjoyed music.

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“While helping raise three daughters and pursuing his scientific career, Roger also made the time to enjoy many hobbies. He discovered skiing in his early 40s and fell in love with the sport. He made up for lost time by taking the family on ski trips out West almost every year thereafter, always trying to get in the last possible run before the ski lifts closed (and sometimes jeopardizing his safety for the thrill of a fast, daredevil run),” his family said in a statement prepared by his wife and three daughters.

They said he also liked bodysurfing in strong waves and competing with his brothers and other family members to see who could pick the most wild huckleberries on trips to the state of Washington.

“Roger also had a special interest in nature and astronomy,” his family said. “He hiked in the woods daily, and planned special gatherings every few years with his brothers and their wives to appreciate the wonders of the universe,”


In August 2017 he organized a trip to Stanley, Idaho, in the Sawtooth Mountains for the total solar eclipse.

“We will forever be inspired by Roger’s kind and humble spirit, his integrity and resilience, and the passionate way he lived his life,” his wife said.

A memorial service will be held Jan. 3 from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Cylburn Arboretum’s Vollmer Center on Greenspring Avenue.

In addition to his wife of nearly 52 years, a health coach and fitness expert, and daughter, survivors include two other daughters, Michelle McMacken of Brooklyn, New York, and Melissa McMacken of Baltimore; two brothers, Steven McMacken of Taos, New Mexico, and Paul McMacken of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; and four grandchildren.