Main content
Campus remembers Donald McCormick, former chair of biochemistry
Donald B. McCormick

Donald B. McCormick, PhD, was an Emory professor emeritus and former chair of the Department of Biochemistry.

Donald B. McCormick, PhD, professor emeritus and former chair of the Department of Biochemistry, passed away on April 21, 2022.

McCormick helped organize and build Emory’s basic biomedical research departments at a time of rapid growth. He served as chairman of the Department of Biochemistry from 1979 to 1994 and as executive associate dean for science within the School of Medicine from 1985 to 1989. In retirement, he was a driver behind the creation of Emory’s Emeritus College.

“Don was one of the most powerful forces in Emory’s transition from an outstanding teaching and training institution to one that similarly embraced excellence in research,” says Dean P. Jones, PhD, whom McCormick recruited to Emory as an assistant professor of biochemistry and is now professor of medicine and head of Emory’s Clinical Biomarkers Laboratory. 

“We used to always laugh at the way Don greeted PhD students,” Jones adds. “As soon as students entered their second year, he would say when he saw them: ‘Are you still here?’ This was his way of reminding them to stay focused and work hard; PhD training is not an end, but rather a beginning.”

“He was always pushing people to do their best,” says Barbara Bowman, who trained in McCormick’s laboratory in the 1980s and went on to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Georgia State University. “At the same time, he had a real collaborative spirit. Don was a mentor for me for my entire career.”

McCormick’s research focused on the water-soluble vitamins — such as niacin, riboflavin and biotin and vitamin cofactors and associated enzymes. He published more than 350 papers and received many awards throughout his career. To honor his research in biochemistry and molecular biology, the Department of Biochemistry held annual Donald B. McCormick lectures for several years.

“For essentially his entire career, Don was the go-to guy for any knowledge about vitamins,” says Al Merrill, a biologist and professor emeritus at Georgia Institute of Technology, who earned his doctorate with McCormick.

One measure of McCormick’s prominence in his field is that he led or co-led several committees of experts on human nutritional requirements, organized by the Institute of Medicine, National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the United Nations in the 1980s and 1990s.

McCormick was born in Virginia in 1932. His interest in chemistry first emerged when he was 8 years old, when his parents gave him a Chemcraft chemistry set. His father, who taught high school biology and chemistry, would often take him out to the woods to explore biology firsthand.

“I raised frogs, snakes, opossums, raccoons and other critters not fast enough to escape a curious kid,” McCormick wrote in an autobiographical article published in the Annual Review of Nutrition, which he edited for several years.

McCormick attended high school in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where he won the National Westinghouse Science Talent Search (now sponsored by Regeneron) with research on goldenrod gall flies. The award enabled him to attend Vanderbilt, where he earned his bachelor’s degree and his doctorate. He began his academic career in 1960 at Cornell, where he eventually became the Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry.

According to his family, McCormick loved nature and wildlife, and was an enthusiastic basketball fan and amateur student of ancient Egypt. He liked to share Pogo and Peanuts comic strips with his daughter and enjoyed giving snacks to his dogs. In retirement, he and his wife Jean spent most of their time at their home in Scaly Mountain, North Carolina.

Recent News