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William F. Trager, Ph.D: In Remembrance

By Dean Emeritus Sid Nelson

Professor and Chair Emeritus of Medicinal Chemistry William “Bill” Trager lost his short battle to cancer last month. He was 72 years old.

Bill Trager, UW graduation photo, 1965

Bill received his Ph.D. in medicinal chemistry — focusing on conformational analysis and nuclear magnetic resonance — from the University of Washington in 1965 under the supervision of the recently deceased Professor Alain Huitric. Bill went on to do his postdoctoral studies at the Chelsea School of Science and Technology in London, studying alkaloid structures with Sir Arnold Beckett.

In 1967, he joined the faculty of the University of California-San Francisco School of Pharmacy as an assistant professor of medicinal chemistry. While at UCSF, he acted as director of the high-resolution mass spectrometry center. That is where his interest in drug metabolism — which would be the focus of his life’s research — began.

In 1972, Bill was recruited back to the UW School of Pharmacy to be a professor of medicinal chemistry. He was the chair of the department from 1980 to 1983. He also served as an adjunct professor in the UW Department of Chemistry.

Photo courtesy of Trager family

Bill was an outstanding, encouraging mentor to 22 graduate students and 12 postdoctoral fellows. I was one of his first graduate students, and I found him to have a quick wit and to be one of the most insightful and enthusiastic scientists I had ever met. He served as my mentor throughout my career. I might have been his administrative boss when I was Dean of the School of Pharmacy, but I continued to seek his sage advice throughout those years.

During his career, Bill published more than 200 research papers and was a co-author of two books. He was internationally renowned for his work on warfarin metabolism and mechanisms of warfarin drug interactions. He also was the principal investigator for nearly 20 years of a National Institutes of Health Program Project Grant for investigating drug interactions. Bill received the Alumnus of the Year Award from the UW School of Pharmacy in 2001, and he remained with the University of Washington until his retirement in 2004.

As an alumnus and emeritus faculty member, Bill stayed active with the School of Pharmacy, its faculty and staff. He and his wife, Caryl, recently created a fund that supports graduate students in medicinal chemistry, and his former graduate students and friends created the Drug Metabolism Endowed Graduate Fellowship in his honor.

As a man who was known for his sense of humor, collegial nature and keen intellect, it is hard to measure the impact he had on all those who worked with him and who had him as an adviser.

Bill was responsible for recruiting Dean Thomas Baillie when he first joined the UW faculty in 1981.

As Tom and I reminisced about Bill recently, Tom shared that when he first met Bill, he was immediately impressed by Bill’s personal warmth and sincerity, and he says he “soon came to know him as an outstanding scientist, a wonderful colleague, a valued mentor, and a kind and compassionate human being.”

He also fondly remembers Bill’s perennially cluttered office and his propensity to dress in casual attire. In fact, he spent much of the 1980s wearing his favorite pale blue sweater.

“Yet,” said Tom, “underlying his casual appearance was an ultra-sharp scientific mind that invariably came up with the key questions that needed to be answered.“

That scientific prowess opened the door for many scholarly appointments throughout his career. Among them, Bill acted as the American editor of the journal Chirality, science adviser to the Sfeattle district of the Food and Drug Administration, and committee member of the Pharmacological Sciences Review Committee of the National Institutes of General Medical Sciences.

If I were to sum up Bill Trager in a single word, it would be “genuine.” He greeted people with a wonderful smile, and I always felt genuinely welcomed by him no matter what the circumstances. He always spoke of his family, friends, colleagues and students with genuine pride and love.

The School of Pharmacy and the wider research community have lost a brilliant mind and a kind soul. He will be sorely missed.

He is survived by his loving wife of 25 years, Caryl, and seven children from his blended family.

Gifts can be made in Dr. Trager’s honor to the Bill Trager Drug Metabolism Endowed Graduate Fellowship Fund. To make a gift, click here or contact the School of Pharmacy Office of Advancement at (206) 616-3217 or Checks can be made out to the UW Foundation and sent to Claire Forster at UW School of Pharmacy, 4225 Roosevelt Way, Box 354699, Seattle, WA 98195.

~December 3, 2009