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The ABRF lost one of its most active, dedicated, and generous members this summer. Ken Mitchelhill lost his battle with metastatic melanoma 15 years after losing an eye to primary ocular melanoma. To those of us in the ABRF, Ken was known for his constant good humor and his selfless generosity. He will be sorely missed.
Ken was very active in ABRF activities for more than ten years. Among his many significant contributions to the ABRF, we must consider the creation of the Delta Mass web site as one of his most important efforts. He personally started and maintained the Delta Mass utility (http://www.abrf.org/index.cfm/dm.home) that so many protein chemists use frequently. Ken designed the first ABRF web site and was responsible for our early presence on the internet. He nursed along the first site on a shoestring budget yet was able to produce an excellent resource that directly benefited the society. His efforts led ultimately to the development of our outstanding, often cited, ABRF.org site that is such an important part of the society.
Ken was a tireless volunteer for the ABRF. He was a member of the Education, Membership, Travel and Web Site committees over a span of ten years. In 1997, Ken represented the ABRF at the meeting of the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in San Francisco. His presentation on the role of the internet in biochemistry and molecular biology played to a standing-room-only audience. Computing activities that we all take for granted today—such as email, remote database searches, and sequence alignments—were made simple with Ken’s no-nonsense instructions. He was a pioneer in the application of network tools and resources to scientific endeavors.
A dedicated protein chemist, Ken worked at a number of leading medical research institutes including the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, St. Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research, the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, and the Howard Florey Institute. He also worked briefly in private industry but returned to the excitement of academic research. After many years working as a practicing protein chemist, Ken completed his Ph.D. in 2000. At that time, he already had an international reputation for his skill in using mass spectrometry and other tools to identify proteins. Ken’s positive attitude about life, his popularity and, perhaps most relevant to the ABRF, his willingness to help others with his extensive laboratory skills will be remembered long after his passing.
Perhaps unknown by many of his ABRF colleagues, Ken was an ardent paraglider. He was among the early participants in this sport in Victoria, Australia. Ken met his wife, Susan Hannehan, through participation in paragliding. Susan says that Ken would like to be remembered with a smile so she noted that he did have some bad luck with his efforts to fly like a bird. On one occasion he broke his collarbone and consequently had to cut his ponytail when he couldn’t care for his hair one-handedly. Ken was involved in competitive events and even established one of the important paragliding competitions that aimed at enabling less experienced paraglider pilots to improve their safety and navigation skills. Ken served as the president of the Sky High Paragliding club, the most influential club for this sport in Australia, and helped to set up the Australian Paragliding News. Lately, Ken had taken up the art of winemaking. He and Susan bought land and were planning to grow grapes. Ken’s first batch of wine was bottled, and his second is aging in vats. Ken was an adventurous spirit who was constantly seeking new challenges.
The ABRF will truly miss Ken Mitchelhill. Perhaps the majority of those of us who knew him during his ABRF years will be surprised to know that he has had the cloud of melanoma hanging over his head since long before he met us. His irrepressible enthusiasm for science and for life fueled his determination to live each day well. Toward the end when it was clear that his remaining days were few, he was fond of saying, “That was a good day.” The next time you use the Delta Mass website to help identify a protein modification, think of the paraglider–scientist who conceived that site and made it accessible to each of us.
Mark Lively, Wake Forest University, with help from Laurey Steinke. Portions adapted from a death announcement written by Colin House and Richard Pearson that appeared on September 24, 2004, in The Age, Melbourne, Australia.