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Roger W. Jeanloz, Harvard professor who traveled the world; at 89


An inveterate traveler to the end, Dr. Roger W. Jeanloz was an ocean away from the Newton house where he had lived for 53 years when he died a few weeks shy of his 90th birthday.

A professor for more than half a century at Harvard University, he spoke three languages, had lived in three countries, and had taught students from about as many nations as he had visited, a total difficult to tally in either category.

"He truly lived each day as if it was the last," said his daughter, Danielle Jeanloz of Chatham. "Spending his final days in Europe was not unusual. He could have been in France. He could have been in Nepal. He could have been anywhere in his final days. He wasn't one to sit still."

After a lengthy career at Harvard Medical School as a researcher and professor of biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology, Dr. Jeanloz became a tutor with the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, retiring in June. He died of pneumonia Sept. 12 in a hospital in Cagnes-sur-Mer, France, where he had been traveling with his wife along the Mediterranean.

"He would run through passports," his daughter said. "At one point during the Cold War, the American government was wondering, 'Why is he traveling to all these places?' At a time when not many people were going to Russia, Czechoslovakia, and Poland, he would be going behind the Iron Curtain. You name it, he'd be there. His teaching connections would allow him to go places where most people wouldn't go."

Dr. Jeanloz came by his traveling instincts early. He was born in Bern, Switzerland, to a French mother and a father from a German-speaking part of Switzerland. As a teenager he began traveling into the Alps to climb mountains and ski. He also played basketball and coached the sport.

At the University of Geneva, where he did his undergraduate and doctoral work, he was president of the sports association.

"He was an excellent teacher," said his wife, Dorothea, who met Dr. Jeanloz when she was a student at the university. "What captured me was that he was extremely polite, and the university community was not particularly polite. He never used a slang word. This is one thing that really quite amazed me. In the biochemistry lab, you wouldn't believe the language."

As a professor in Geneva and through his career to his last weeks at Harvard earlier this year, Dr. Jeanloz "was very interested in his students," she said. "Not just the biochemistry, but their background and the way of their thinking."

The couple married in Basel, where she had grown up, and "we never thought we would leave Switzerland," his wife said.

Then, in 1946, Dr. Jeanloz was offered a chance to set up new laboratories at the University of Montreal. From there they moved to research postings in Bethesda, Md., and in Worcester, before he was recruited to serve on the faculty at Harvard and become chief of the lab for carbohydrate research at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Living in the Boston area had its allure. "They liked that it was American, but it was also very closely tied to the European lifestyle," their daughter said.

But Dr. Jeanloz missed the Alps.

"The most difficult thing for him was not to find mountains," his wife said. "People would say, 'You can go to Sunapee,' and he said, 'No, I mean mountains.' "

So that the family could keep in touch with their European heritage, "we spoke French at home," his daughter said. "He brought us up with the best of both worlds."

At Harvard and Mass. General, Dr. Jeanloz led teams of scientists from all over the world in carbohydrate research, edited a scientific journal, coauthored books, and published hundreds of articles. He also kept his family on the move.

"My father's attitude was, he worked hard and he played hard," his daughter said. "He was skiing, he was mountaineering, he was constantly organizing people to go out and do things."

Among those people were his wife and children, whom he took on domestic and international journeys, including trips across North America.

"We saw the whole country by car and by camping," his daughter said. "My parents just really believed in having a lot of fun. And he would take us back to Europe to the mountains he had climbed. He would teach us how to use pickaxes and we would go on multiday hikes."

Always close to his Swiss heritage, Dr. Jeanloz was a member of the Swiss Society of Boston and the Friends of Switzerland in Boston.

For his research, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Paris, awards from societies and foundations in Geneva, Belgium, and Germany, and was honored in this country by the American Chemical Society, his family said.

Dr. Jeanloz had been a member of a ski organization for those over 70. He had trekked with his wife and children in Nepal to celebrate the couple's 50th anniversary and had played tennis into his 80s, but his health prompted him to slow down a bit in recent years. The mind, however, was still very willing.

"He had a passion for travel," his daughter said. "He'd traveled all over the world and seen more countries than anyone I know. Even a couple of years ago he was saying, 'Can we go to Cambodia? Can we go to Vietnam?' He was always ready for another trip."

In addition to his wife and daughter, Dr. Jeanloz leaves two sons, Claude of Montague and Raymond of San Francisco; a daughter, Sylvie of Paris; four granddaughters; two grandsons; and two great-grandsons.

A memorial service is being planned.

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