Purnell Choppin, 91, Died; Researcher Lays Foundation for Pandemic


His wife, Joan, as well as his daughter, survived him.

After taking over the Hughes Institute, Dr. Choppin loved to tell his colleagues a story about meeting his reclusive famous philanthropist. In 1938, Hughes, a successful aviator and also an industrialist, was stopping in Baton Rouge to refuel, and Arthur Choppin took 9-year-old Purnell and his brother Arthur Jr. to see him. They shook hands, but he said his primary memory was that Hughes was “too tall.”

Choppin graduated from high school at the age of 16 and entered LSU, where he also went to medical school. He received his doctorate in 1953 and completed his residency at the University of Washington. He served in the Air Force in Japan from 1954 to 1955.

He began as a postdoctoral fellow at Rockefeller University and became a professor in 1959. He later took over the management and was vice president and dean of graduate studies when the Howard Hughes Medical Institute recruited him.

Howard Hughes had founded the institute in 1953 and later transferred all of his shares in Hughes Aircraft Company to this institute for tax purposes, creating a strange arrangement in which a medical research nonprofit nonprofit owns one of the nation’s largest defense contractors.

Dr. Just weeks before Choppin’s arrival, the institute sold the company to General Motors for $5.2 billion, immediately making it one of the richest charities in the country.

In 1987, the head of the institute was forced to resign after a financial scandal and was replaced by Dr. Choppin was appointed. Over the next decade, it made it a leading source of funding for biomedical research, donating $4.5 billion to hundreds of scientists alongside undergraduate and high school science education.


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