Dr. Koelle was a world figure in pharmacology, a Ph.D.-M.D. who in the earliest years of his career began to seek out new investigative techniques that were to influence the development of pharmacology as a research discipline. One of the best-known of these, the development of the Koelle stain as an indicator for locating cholinesterase, established his reputation in research and led to his winning the prestigious John J. Abel Prize at the age of 32. Despite taking five years out of academia to serve in World War II, he was a full professor by the age of 33.
Dr. Koelle was to publish over 200 papers during his career, and to win numerous other honors including election to the National Academy of Sciences; a Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching and the Outstanding Teaching Award of the Undergraduate Medical Association; honorary degrees from the University of Zurich and from his alma mater, the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science; and medals from the University of Helsinki and the University of Turku. On becoming emeritus professor in 1989 he entered on a new round of honors for lifetime achievement including the Torald Sallman Award and the creation of the Koelle Lectureship by the Mid-Atlantic Pharmacological Society.
George Brampton Koelle was born in Philadelphia and graduated from West Philadelphia High School. After taking his baccalaureate degree in biology at the College of Pharmacy in 1939, he served as an instructor there while studying toward his Ph.D. in pharmacology at Penn. In 1942 he set aside his degree plans to volunteer for service in the U.S. Army, where he rose through the ranks to lieutenant. Late in the War he was assigned to the Army Chemical Corps' Edgewood Arsenal, in Maryland--an event that his wife and longtime research partner, Dr. Winifred Koelle, cites as a factor in his choice of neurohumeral transmission as his primary research interest.
At Johns Hopkins University he was a Chalfant Fellow in ophthalmology from 1946 to 1950, working with the late Dr. Jonas Fried-enwald to develop the histochemical method for localizing acetylcholinesterase, the enzyme responsible for the destruction of neurohumeral liberated acetylcholine, which functions in the central nervous system and is also the transmitter of impulses between nerves and muscles. Eventually he was to develop a refined technique to demonstrate the enzyme by electron microscopy, and to apply similar techniques to other areas of investigation.
He left Johns Hopkins to spend two years as an assistant professor at Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons, and in 1952 he joined the faculty at Penn as full professor in the Graduate School of Medicine. Serving as dean and department chairman of physiology and pharmacology in the Graduate School, 1957-59, he moved to the School of Medicine as chair of pharmacology in 1959 and continued in that post until 1981. He took the first of his two endowed chairs, the Elmer Holmes Bobst Professorship, in 1963 and was named also Distinguished Professor in 1981. On his retirement in 1989 he became Distinguished Professor Emeritus.
Active in over two dozen scholarly societies in the U.S. and abroad, and serving as an editor on some 20 journals or publishing projects, Dr. Koelle was a witty and lucid speaker who was in lifelong demand as a visiting lecturer throughout the world.
At home, he was also a Master Beech Smith in the Sons of the Copper Beeches--the Philadelphia scion society of New York's Baker Street Irregulars, in which devotees of Sherlock Holmes meet periodically to ponder the "canon" from the special point of view of their specialties. In this capacity Dr. Koelle wrote "The Poisons of the Canon" for the society's publication Leaves from the Copper Beeches. His analyses are also cited in the William S. Baring-Gould's two-volume Annotated Sherlock Holmes.
Dr. Koelle is survived by his wife and colleague, Dr. Winifred Jean Angenent Koelle; three sons, Dr. Peter B., William A. and Dr. Jonathan S.; a brother, John, and two granddaughters. A memorial service is to be scheduled at a future date at the University.
As president the National Tropical Botanical Garden headquartered in Hawaii, he was in Coral Gables, Florida, for meetings of one of its units, The Kampong, when he collapsed during early-morning exercises that he had made his habit since major bypass surgery in 1989.
Dr. Klein is recalled by friends and former colleagues as the director who set in motion the Morris Arboretum's Master Plan and transformed a neglected estate garden into a showplace and leader in the horticultural world.
"Bill Klein came in like a breath of fresh air," said a long-time board member, Susie Walker, of his arrival in 1977. He was to remain until 1991, when he became director of the Fairchild Tropical Garden in Miami.
Adds Paul Meyer, Dr. Klein's successor as the F. Otto Haas Director of the Arboretum, "Bill had the firm belief that gardens are an effective instrument for teaching environmental values and enriching people's lives. He laid the foundation for the internship program, and encouraged me to develop the plant exploration program." After leaving Penn he also became something of a legend for restoring and reopening gardens that had been destroyed by hurricanes--one in Florida, and four in Hawaii.
He was the author of The Vascular Flora of Pennylvania: Annotated Checklist and Atlas (with Ann Rhoads. published by the American Philosophical Society, 1989) and Gardens of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, with photographs by Derek Fell (Temple University Press 1995).
He is survived by his wife and partner, artist Janet Klein; a son, Darin; and three daughters, Jennifer Morrison, Melissa and Erica.
A memorial service is being planned for May. The family ask contributions in his memory to the National Tropical Botanical Garden (PO Box 340, Lawai, HI 96765), or to Morris Arboretum, 9414 Meandowbrook Avenue, Philadelphia PA 19118.
University Archives photograph by Steven Goldblatt
Volume 43 Number 22
February 18, 1997
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