Jeanette Snyder Brown
March 6, 1925 — August 16, 2014
Jan (Jeanette) was a retired Staff Member (the title of the independent principal investigators at Carnegie). She started work at the Department as an assistant to the then Director Stacey French in 1953 while still a student at Stanford University. She was made a full Staff Member in 1960 and retired 29 years later. However, she never really retired; coming into the lab frequently. In the last several years she helped with the newsletter and interacted most closely with our colleagues at the Department of Global Ecology, often coming to seminars and asking insightful questions. She was a pioneer in photosynthesis research working on the arrangement of chlorophyll and other pigments in the chloroplast membranes of plants and algae. She used the unique derivative spectrophotometers developed by Stacey to examine the spectral properties of pigment-protein complexes associated with Photosystems I and II and with the help of the famous French Press, she was able to purify and characterize some of these pigment-protein complexes. This work was fundamental for the development of our current understanding of light harvesting by photosynthetic organisms.
Jeanette B. Snyder was born in Rochester, NY, the only daughter of James and Lottie Snyder. She graduated from Rochester’s West High School in 1942 leaving that same year to enter the N.Y. State College of Agriculture at Cornell University where she received her B.S. degree in June 1945, specializing in bacteriology.
After spending two semesters as a teaching assistant at the University of Wisconsin graduate school, Jan began a year in the chemistry department of the N.Y. State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva learning valuable skills in laboratory research.
In the summer of 1947, Jan worked for Cornell professor, Otto Rahn, doing research for the Electronic Medical Foundation (EMF) in San Francisco. This experience led Jan to graduate studies at Cornell and her MS degree in 1948. Following the completion of her masters degree, Jan returned to EMF in California to help set up a new laboratory to explore the effects of low-energy radiation. That venture was unsuccessful but serendipitously led to Jan’s enrollment in the PhD program in Microbiology at Stanford University.
It was during her studies at Stanford that Jan met and in 1950 married fellow Stanford graduate student Walter C. Brown becoming officially known as Jeanette Snyder Brown. The new couple left Stanford in 1950 in route to Walter’s new faculty position at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
Two of the Brown’s three children, Pam and James, were born during this time at Northwestern. Jan would also use part of those years at Northwestern to complete work on her Stanford PhD research focused on the reversal of ultraviolet-induced cell damage by visible light called Photo-reactivation.
In 1952 the Brown family returned to California where Walter next became an assistant professor at Menlo School and College and Jan was awarded her now completed PhD degree from Stanford. Shortly thereafter, Walter was awarded a Fulbright grant to become a Visiting Professor for 1954-55 at Silliman University in the Philippines. Jan, who had begun working part-time at the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Plant Biology on the Stanford campus, left her research work to accompany him. In the Philippines, the family of four lived on the campus of Silliman University located on Negros Oriental Island. Jan was also fortunate to spend many hours on the beaches where she learned to snorkel and began her passion for observing life under the sea.
Following their Philippine assignment, the Brown family returned to live in faculty housing on the Menlo School and College campus where Walter would continue his career as a professor and dean over the next 25 years. Three months after their return to Menlo College in 1955 the fifth member of the Brown family, daughter Julie, was born at the old Stanford campus hospital. Several years following Julie’s birth, Jan returned to work as a researcher at the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Plant Biology. Her subsequent distinguished career at Carnegie involved studying chlorophyll, the life sustaining pigment in all green plants and algae that absorbs sunlight as the first step in its conversion into chemical energy.
In 1963 the Brown family now five would embark on another major overseas odyssey. This trip would involve professional work by both Jan and Walter in route from the U.S. to Silliman University in the Philippines. Jan was able to spend five months visiting and working in various European and Israeli laboratories connected with her research. While Walter was doing research at Silliman, Jan was able to further her research interests by studying the pigments in algae from local hot springs. She also taught microbiology to nurses attending pre-nursing courses at Silliman. The family returned from the Philippines to California by ocean liner adding to the unique learning experience that combined their social life and travel with their respective career interests.
Along with her direct scientific accomplishments in the lab over the course of her thirty-year career at Carnegie, Jan published some fifty scientific papers. She was also a woman scientist at a time when organizations and science in general were significantly more patriarchal and difficult for women than today. Adding to her career commitment were the added responsibilities as a wife and mother of three children at a time when dual careers were only beginning.
Walter retired as Emeritus Professor from Menlo College in 1978. Some nine years later in 1987 Jan retired from the Carnegie Institution. That year they relocated to their retirement home in the small town of Murphys in California’s Gold Country. Jan, who had become adept at using her Mac computer, became secretary and newsletter editor of several local organizations such as the AAUW, Murphys Community Club, Congregational Church, and a Director on the Ebbetts Pass Veterans Memorial District Board. When she retired from the latter in 2001, she was given a placard in recognition of her exemplary eleven years of service to the Community.
In Murphys Jan cared for her husband, Walter, for almost eight years until he finally succumbed to cancer in 2002. Shortly thereafter Jan sold their Murphy’s home and moved back to Menlo Park. She volunteered to write an internet News Page for the newly created Carnegie Department of Global Ecology. Interacting with the faculty and students conducting exciting Climate Change studies was a great joy for her. In March 2004 Jan underwent successful double knee replacement surgery at Stanford Hospital but was soon back riding her bicycle to reach her volunteer position at the Carnegie Stanford Campus. Jan took up residence at Vi Living in Palo Alto in 2005. She enjoyed the many stimulating activities offered at Vi and at the nearby Stanford campus. Her bicycle commute to Carnegie became too difficult as she began to suffer difficulties with her balance leading to her retirement from her Carnegie volunteer work at the end of 2011. Jan’s health continued to deteriorate over the next several years and she finally passed away on August 16, 2014 at her Vi Living residence at the age of 89.
Three children, Pamela Brown Lanigan of San Francisco, James C. Brown of Portland, and Julie Creighton of San Anselmo; four grandchildren; one great-grand child; and a brother, Ted Snyder of Naples, Florida, survive her.
There will be a private family memorial and scattering of her cremains. Memorial donations on Jan’s behalf may be made online to the California Coalition for Compassionate Care (http://coalitionccc.org/get-involved/donate/) or the Carnegie Department of Global Ecology ( https://carnegiescience.edu/support/giving/one-time-gift).