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Colleagues, Friends Mourn Microbiologist
September 6, 1999

J.A. Cameron, professor emeritus of molecular and cell biology, died August 26, after a long illness. He was 69.

He and his wife Betsy came to Mansfield in 1959 when he was appointed instructor at UConn. He rose through the academic ranks, becoming a full professor in 1973.

From 1987, he served as co-director of the Fermentation and Separation Facility of the UConn Biotechnology Center. He also was active in the Institute of Materials Science Polymer Program.

He retired in 1995 but remained an active member of the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology until his death.

Friends and colleagues at UConn remember J.A. - J.A. was his name, not his initials - for his research on biodegradable polymers and microbial fermentation and for his years of teaching pathogenic microbiology.

Throughout his career, Cameron was involved in bacteriology. "His early work was seminal in terms of understanding the reproduction of a particular bacterial virus. It was far ahead of its time," says Edward Leadbetter, a professor of molecular and cell biology. At UConn, for a long time, he was interested in a class of chemicals on the surface of many bacterial cells that induce the fever response in humans.

More recently, says Leadbetter, he became interested in the ability of certain types of plastics to undergo degradation, as a result of the activities of bacteria and particular fungi. Together with Samuel Huang, a professor in the Institute of Materials Science, he made several very important contributions to the study of recycling certain types of plastic materials.

"As a teacher, he cared deeply about making certain that the undergraduates who came out of his course were able to function once they got out in the world," says Leadbetter.

"J.A.'s meticulous approach to all aspects of his life were just invaluable," says Judy Kelly, professor and former head of the molecular and cell biology department. "When doing work trying to identify pathogens in clinical settings, such as the students are going on to, you have to be absolutely sure procedures are being done correctly. J.A. was able to impress on students the importance of this sort of work."

"J.A. was extremely dedicated to both his teaching and his research," says Kelly. "It was interesting to watch in these last years, even after his retirement, the way he pursued new ideas. He just continued to grow as a scientist."

That intellectual curiosity continued during his illness, she adds, as he continued to read extensively about possible new treatments.

Cameron also is remembered for his daily runs on campus, until prevented by ill health.

"Many people much younger than he would go out for a run with him and be left far behind," says Leadbetter. "This was typical of his outlook - if you're going to do it, do it very well."

"He was a wonderful individual, very caring, very much a gentleman in an old-fashioned way," says Bob Vieth, one of Cameron's former students who later worked for him in the fermentation facility. "You don't find many people like J.A. any more."

Cameron, a native of Oklahoma, earned a bachelor's degree at Maryville College, and served in the U.S. Marine Corps. He remained active in the Marine reserves and retired with the rank of colonel. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee in bacteriology.

A memorial service in Cameron's honor was held August 31 at the Storrs Congregational Church.

Gifts in his memory may be sent to the Storrs Congregational Church or the Connecticut Cancer Institute at the UConn Health Center.