June 26, 1995 San Diego Daily Transcript


LA JOLLA - Friends of Dr. Jonas Salk describe him as a humble man who befriended everyone from renowned scientists to the janitors at the Salk Institute.

Salk died Friday of congestive heart failure at the Green Hospital of Scripps Clinic in La Jolla at 12:23 p.m. He had been admitted to the hospital that morning.

"He was a paterfamilias for me," said San Diego City Councilwoman Valerie Stallings, who worked with Salk for 20 years at the Salk Institute as a research technician.

"He always had an open door," Stallings said. "I always felt I could walk into his office. He always had time. He was a very gracious man."

Others echoed her sentiments Friday in recalling the life and essence of the scientist known worldwide for the development of the polio vaccine.

"He was such a vital, active and alive person," said Dr. Lewis Judd, head of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego.

Salk served as an adjunct professor in the psychiatry department.

"His death saddens all of us in the scientific community," Judd said. "He was unusual in that he had a broad interest in a number of societal issues. He was not focused on his area and always was enormously insightful."

Prominent San Diegan Sally Thornton called him "the kindest, most gentle man I've ever known."

"He had great empathy and concern for everyone as reflected by his exciting discoveries," Thornton said. "He continued with this passionate pursuit for answers to benefit mankind. There was a real warm humanistic side of him that was a wonderful and rare quality."

Thornton has known Salk for more than 15 years, she said, having met his wife, Francois Gilot, a painter, while Gilot was lecturing at the San Diego Museum of Art. Salk and Gilot also were "generous contributors" to the Museum of Contemporary Art, said a museum representative.

The renowned scientist was one of only two recipients of the San Diego-based Women's International Center Jehan Sadat Peace awards, named for the former first lady of Egypt who is the center's honorary president.

"Jonas was a great supporter of the Women's International Center and of women for as long as I have known him," said Gloria Lane, president and founder of the center. "When he received the Jehan Sadat award, he said, "Women know more than they think they know and in due course, they will know they know more than they think.'|"

Gov. Pete Wilson remembered Salk with these words: "It is with a great sense of loss that I learned ... of the passing of Dr. Jonas Salk. His work not only saved the lives of children all over the world, but helped inspire generations of researchers that will one day put an end to the diseases of our day."

"Dr. Salk's contributions to humanity will not be overlooked by those who chronicle the history of the 20th century and he will live in the memory of generations to come," Wilson said through his spokesman, Jesus Arredondo.

Richard Atkinson, UCSD chancellor, called Salk "one of the great figures of this century."

"More than 30 years ago, he arrived here to found the Salk Institute, a cornerstone in the research mecca that has been created in San Diego," Atkinson said. "He helped develop outstanding programs in research and graduate education that joined our two great institutions."

Besides the Salk Institute, which he founded, Salk also was co-founder of Immune Response Corp., a biotechnology company based in Carlsbad.

"Not only did Dr. Salk play an integral part in the development of our HIV immunotherapeutic, he was also a great friend and mentor and I will miss him deeply," said Dennis Carlo, president and chief executive officer of the company. "His thoughtful and original approach to major problems of infectious disease in public health will long be remembered."

Catherine Campbell, an attorney who worked on the patent applications for Immune Response, said she felt honored to have worked with Salk. "Jonas' inventive discoveries relating to the treatment of HIV will remain as an important legacy," Campbell said. April Logan, associate patent counsel at The Scripps Research Institute, called Salk "a walking historical marker."
"Losing Jonas Salk is like losing a page of history," Logan said. "I'm not sure there is anyone over the age of 20 who doesn't know his name."

Salk celebrated his 80th birthday in November at a special screening of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," at the La Jolla Playhouse. He was toasted by three Nobel laureates, including Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of DNA and president of the Salk Institute. The inventor of the first vaccine to prevent polio's crippling rampage never received the honor himself.

But Salk spent a lifetime stubbornly pursuing his ideas - first for a polio vaccine and later for a vaccine-like AIDS treatment - even when they drew skepticism from other researchers.

"There have to be people who are ahead of their time," Salk once said. "And that is my fate."

Working at the University of Pittsburgh in the 1950s, Salk became a hero to millions of Americans when he ignored scientific doubters and used killed virus to develop the first polio vaccine.

During the first half of the 20th century, epidemics of paralytic poliomyelitis repeatedly swept the United States. Polio viruses infected thousands of Americans annually, causing widespread fear, killing some young victims and condemning many others to iron lungs, leg braces and years of rehabilitation.

Salk's injectable vaccine was declared effective in 1955, and polio's toll plunged. "What had the most profound effect was the freedom from fear," Salk said in 1995, as he prepared to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the announcement.

Dr. Albert Sabin's live-virus vaccine - swallowed on a sugar cube - was approved in 1961. Many experts believe it is more effective, and it ultimately gained favor, although Salk's vaccine is still used.

Because of Salk's vaccine, "a generation learned to view health as a birthright, assuming that doctors could provide a cure for any ailment if it were attacked with enough boldness and enough money," Jane S. Smith wrote in a magazine adaptation of her book, "Patenting the Sun: Polio, the Salk Vaccine and the Children of the Baby Boom."

Polio "was the AIDS of the '50s. And then ... one man delivered us," Life magazine said in 1990. Salk "won the undying love of a generation and more credit than he wanted - more, some said, than he deserved. Hounded by a hero-hungry press and criticized by many of his colleagues, he withdrew."

Salk moved to California, where in 1963 he established The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla.
The institute became a leading biomedical research center, although over the years it was beset by money troubles, acrimonious internal rifts and the departures of some topnotch scientists.

Salk conducted research on multiple sclerosis and cancer before retiring from his own laboratory in 1984. He continued to maintain offices at the institute and, in 1986, co-founded Immune Response Corp. to search for an AIDS vaccine. The vaccine really was a treatment to prevent or delay development of AIDS symptoms in people already infected by the AIDS virus. Salk also hoped to eventually develop a true vaccine to prevent uninfected people from contracting the deadly virus.

Again, there were doubters. Salk modeled his AIDS vaccine after his polio vaccine, using killed AIDS virus. Skeptics argued the approach wouldn't work or carried a risk of making patients develop AIDS symptoms.

"At the beginning, it was believed, well, not worthy of any attention," Salk said later.

Early tests seemed to support Salk's approach, although years of research were expected before its effectiveness could be established or disproved.

Salk promised to be among the first uninfected people to receive his AIDS vaccine, just as he injected himself with experimental influenza vaccine in 1942 and his polio vaccine in 1952.

In recent decades, Salk often awoke at night and wrote thousands of pages of philosophical musings. Published accounts said he believed the voice of evolution was speaking through him. He published three books of his philosophy: "Man Unfolding" in 1972, "The Survival of the Wisest" with his son Jonathan in 1973 and "Anatomy of Reality" in 1983.

Jonas Edward Salk was born in New York City on Oct. 28, 1914, the oldest of three sons of a garment industry worker.
Salk worked after school and garnered scholarships to pay for his education, earning an undergraduate degree at City College of New York in 1934 and a medical degree at New York University in 1939.

Salk married Donna Lindsay the same year. They had three sons, but were divorced in 1968. In 1970, he married painter Francoise Gilot, the longtime companion of late painter Pablo Picasso.

After a 1939-1940 internship at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital, Salk took his first research position at the University of Michigan, where he helped develop flu vaccines. Salk moved the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in 1947, and two years later became director of the virus research laboratory, where he searched for a polio vaccine.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt's battle with polio had focused attention on the disease. One of the president's associates headed the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, known as the March of Dimes, which helped finance Salk's research.
The nation's worst polio epidemic happened in 1952. The next year, Salk announced development of an experimental vaccine.
Salk, his wife and their sons were among the first to receive injections. In 1954, more than 1.8 million school children - nicknamed Polio Pioneers - participated in a nationwide test of the vaccine during history's largest medical experiment.
Salk's name became a household world, splashed across magazine covers and newspaper front pages.

Salk won many awards, but many scientists considered his contribution overrated. The only Nobel Prize for polio research went to Harvard virologist John Enders and colleagues who made vaccine development possible by showing the polio virus could be grown in culture.

Salk's work "was pure kitchen chemistry," longtime rival Sabin said in 1990. "Salk didn't discover anything."
Salk blamed professional jealousy for criticism, saying, "Albert Sabin was out for me from the very beginning."

Many experts favor Sabin's vaccine, saying it is more effective at providing lifelong immunity and also spreads immunity to contacts of vaccinated people. Yet it carries a minute risk of causing polio, and produces the only known U.S. polio cases today.

Salk said his vaccine was safer. But only weeks after it was declared effective, officials discovered one manufacturer produced some vaccine tainted by live polio virus that infected 204 people, paralyzing three-quarters and killing 11. The government ordered manufacturers to filter the vaccine, a step Salk said reduced its effectiveness.

In January, Mayor Susan Golding called for the creation of a Hall of Fame to recognize great San Diegans. She said Salk should be its first inductee.

"I count myself so very fortunate to have had the honor and pleasure to have known this great gentleman and humanitarian and to have called him a friend," Golding said Friday through her spokeswoman, MaryAnne Pintar. "I will miss him dearly, as will all of San Diego."