With great sadness, I write to inform you of the sudden passing of Dr. James Champoux, professor and former chair of the UW School of Medicine Department of Microbiology. He died on Monday [May 13, 2019], a week after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, at the age of 76.
Dr. Champoux was appointed department chair in October 2007, after serving twice before as interim chair, and he continued in that role until earlier this year. He was dedicated to his colleagues, truly generous in his service to the School of Medicine, and justifiably proud to lead one of the premier biological science departments in the country.
The Department of Microbiology has a national reputation for high-quality teaching and an international reputation for excellence in research. In the most recent U.S. News & World Report rankings, the department is No. 2 in the nation for best graduate programs in microbiology and No. 4 in the world among global universities.
A Seattle native, Dr. Champoux was part of the first group of students admitted to the University of Washington Honors Program when it was founded in 1961. After graduating with a major in chemistry, he completed his doctorate degree in biochemistry at Stanford University in 1970.
Dr. Champoux’s early career coincided with the biology revolution that began in the 1970s — a time when rapid advances in microbiology and the development of biotechnology were starting to increase our understanding of all living systems. He made his first contribution to this revolution during a postdoctoral fellowship at the Salk Institute in San Diego when he discovered an enzyme called DNA topoisomerase I while working with Nobel Prize recipient Renato Dulbecco.
When Dr. Champoux returned home to join the UW Department of Microbiology faculty in 1972, he embarked on an illustrious academic career that continued for the next 47 years. During this time, he made major contributions to our understanding of oncogenesis and viral infections through his research on enzymes and retroviruses.
Dr. Champoux published more than 125 papers, and he was recognized with numerous honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship (1980-81) and the prestigious NIH Merit Award (1998). He was elected by his peers to be a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology (2005) and a member of the Washington State Academy of Sciences (2010). More recently, he was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2017).
As department chair, Dr. Champoux recruited six new faculty members and worked to increase diversity among our faculty and graduate students. He was committed to excellence in education and exemplified this important faculty role as a wonderful teacher of undergraduate and graduate students. In 1985, he won the UW Distinguished Teaching Award.
The news of Dr. Champoux’s unexpected passing has been received by all of his colleagues with shock and sadness. On their behalf, I want to extend our deepest sympathies to his wife, Sharon, and daughter, Katie, on their profound loss. We are very fortunate that Dr. Champoux chose to spend his faculty career in the Department of Microbiology. He will be greatly missed.
Paul G. Ramsey, M.D.
CEO, UW Medicine
Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs and
Dean of the School of Medicine,
University of Washington