The Johns Hopkins Gazette: May 12, 2003
May 12, 2003
VOL. 32, NO. 34


Obituary: Philip Hartman, Pioneer in Microbial Genetics, Dies at 76

By Michael Purdy

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

Philip E. Hartman, professor emeritus of biology in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and a pioneer in microbial genetics and mutagenesis, a process essential to understanding the development of cancer, has died.

Philip Hartman

Hartman, who was 76, died on May 4 of cancer. Colleagues and former students remembered him as an outstanding researcher and mentor who was dedicated to a variety of causes outside the classroom, including environmental protection and cleanup, increased enrollment of minority students at Johns Hopkins, and the Johns Hopkins Tutorial Project, a program that brings Baltimore City students together with Johns Hopkins students for tutoring.

"His commitment to quality education for all was more than just words--he demonstrated it in deeds as well," said James Wyche, vice provost and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Miami. Wyche, who is African-American, obtained his doctorate at Johns Hopkins in 1972 under Hartman's mentorship.

Wyche fondly remembered meeting his future mentor in 1966 at a workshop at Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory in New York. Milislav Demerec, the director of the laboratory and Hartman's father-in-law, had recently died, and Hartman was working to connect Demerec's students with new mentors. Hartman, whom Wyche did not know, quizzed him on his post-baccalaureate plans: Where would he ideally like to do graduate study, and with whom? Wyche reluctantly admitted that he would ideally love to go to Johns Hopkins to study with Phil Hartman.

Hartman came back the next day and gave Wyche a graduate school application that he had signed, introducing himself to his future student.

With Hartman's encouragement, Wyche would later lead a group of Johns Hopkins minority students who traveled to Southern universities to interest more minority students in coming to graduate school at Johns Hopkins. "We did that four or five times, and he went out on the road every time with us, driving his vehicle around with us to places helping us to recruit," Wyche said.

Hartman was born on Nov. 23, 1926, in Baltimore. He served as a radioman in the U.S. Navy during World War II and earned his Ph.D. in microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania in 1953. He came to Johns Hopkins in 1957 as an assistant professor of biology after fellowships with the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society.

"He was a fabulous collaborator, just tremendous in terms of the work he did for the department," said Saul Roseman, professor of biology. "You wouldn't know he'd done it. He would never, ever seek credit for the things he was doing."

Hartman became a professor of biology in 1965 and was named to the William D. Gill Professorship in Biology in 1975.

Speaking about Hartman's research, Maurice Bessman, professor of biology, said, "He was noted for seminal work he did on a metabolic pathway involving the histidine operon. His early collaboration with Bruce Ames helped lead to the development of the Ames test, which is one of the most prominent tests for the screening of potential carcinogens."

Andrew Hoyt, professor of biology, said, "Phil was a wonderful teacher, human being and guy to talk science with. He could express to a class in three words what would take me 300. He was great in making complicated concepts very simple."

Gene Action, a 1965 textbook written by Hartman and fellow faculty member Sigmund Suskind, became popular as a basic college-level genetics textbook.

Hartman published more than 200 scientific papers and was a member of many presitigious scientific organizations.

Active in the environmental movement, he was frequently involved in stream clearance projects, served on the Maryland Conservation Council and was a co-founder of the Assateague Coastal Trust, dedicated to the preservation of Assateague Island.

Chester Wickwire, a former chaplain at Johns Hopkins who retired in 1984, said, "He had a great social conscience, and he quietly did a lot of great things."

Wickwire and Hartman were involved in the creation in 1958 of the JHU Tutorial Project, a program still active today.

"In trying to relate the campus to the city, Phil was really there with us all the way," Wickwire said.

Hartman retired in 1996 but continued to come to Hopkins regularly for research and work with students until physical disability prevented him from doing so.

Private services will be held in June.

Hartman is survived by his wife of 48 years, Zlata Hartman; two sons; a daughter; and seven grandchildren. The family encourages memorial donations to the JHU Tutorial Project, attention: Bill Tiefenwerth, c/o Center for Community Relations and Volunteer Services, 200 Levering, 3400 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.