Dr. Jeremiah (Jere) Mead had a thirty seven year career at HSPH, retiring in 1987. He died on July 4, 2009. Jere shaped the culture and science of lung biology, especially respiratory mechanics, in a way that endures. How we measure pulmonary function in humans is dominated by his ideas and technologies. He made major scientific contributions to the control, prevention, and treatment of lung disease, and was instrumental in developing the present field of respiratory mechanics. Working with researcher Mary Ellen Avery, Jere showed that often fatal respiratory distress syndrome in newborns was caused by abnormal surface tension in the lungs. This led to the discovery of pulmonary surfactant and to surfactant replacement therapy, a treatment that continues to save lives.
Jere Mead was the first Cecil K. and Phillip Drinker Professor of Environmental Physiology at Harvard. Especially, he is remembered as a generous spirit who actively encouraged challenge and debate from his juniors. He was an influential mentor internationally. Individuals who came to Harvard returned to countries throughout the world to establish strong, vigorous programs in lung biology in the Mead tradition. His research was driven by curiosity, and animated by strong collaborations with scientists in other disciplines.
Jere’s career reflected his values, and in fact constitutes an enduring definition of
scholarship in MIPS. He believed that:
Fundamental inquiry provides the long term basis for scientific advances. Application of basic science to health problems will decrease human
disease and suffering. Career growth of junior colleagues is a necessary component of any academic program.
Jere did what he liked. He believed in freedom of thought and freedom of action. He asked questions that he thought were interesting. He didn’t worry about what was hot or fundable or even clinically relevant. But oh, what a difference his “play” made. He never climbed on a moving bandwagon; rather, his persistence and creativity built the wagon and launched it at a speed and in a direction destined to have profound consequences.