LEAGUE CITY, TEXAS and OTTER CREEK — Dr. John Joseph Sharp, 71, passed away unexpectedly but peacefully at his home in League City, Texas, Dec. 25, 2012. He was born Jan. 8, 1941, in Oakland, Calif., son of Joseph and Beatrice Sharp.
John was a man of diverse interests and talents and had an immense enthusiasm for life. In 1958, he graduated from North Hollywood High School with a football scholarship to the University of Washington. He graduated from UW with a BS in microbiology in 1963 and continued his education at the University of California San Diego, where he received his Ph.D. in biochemistry/chemistry in 1971. As a graduate student he performed the first solid phase synthesis of a polypeptide with lysozyme activity. He continued his postdoctoral research under Dr. Russell Doolittle at UCSD before taking a position as assistant professor of biochemistry at Dartmouth Medical School.
John was a brilliant and accomplished research scientist, skilled mentor and leader. He was the director of comparative medicine (CCM) at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) in Houston, Texas, from 2003-2011, where he was also a professor of human and molecular genetics. During his eight years with BCM, John transformed the CCM program to a nationally recognized leader for excellence in comparative medicine. Although he retired as director in 2011, he stayed close to science at BCM with his involvement in the most recent phase of the internationally recognized Knockout Mouse Project.
Prior to his tenure at BCM he held the position of deputy director of the Laboratory Animal Science Program at the National Cancer Institute (NCI)-Frederick from 2000-2003, where he established the Mouse Models of Human Cancers repository. From 1992-2000 he worked at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, where he became the first director of the induced mutant resource. He also served as the director of genetic quality control and director of the technology division of Jax Research Systems. During this time he taught science courses through Eastern Maine Technical College and was a mentor for students at The Jackson Lab.
John spoke and published widely on genetically engineered mice and their distribution repositories, rodent genetic quality control and cryopreservation. He served as a manuscript reviewer for many scientific journals and as a grant reviewer for the National Center for Research Resources. He was a member of AAAS and AALAS and served on the Editorial Review Boards of Comparative Medicine and JAALAS.
Science was just one of John’s passions. He was a gifted musician and played the banjo, fiddle, mandolin, auto-harp, bagpipe chanter, and hammer dulcimer. Not only did he play these instruments, he built and repaired many of them. His love of music began as 1st violinist of his junior high orchestra. He was a member of the bluegrass and old time music band Green Mountain Railway, performing on MDI for many years at various gigs, contra dances, parades, and at family occasions. He would play his violin for his family at birthdays and weddings and his banjo accompanied many impromptu singing and dancing festivities at home. The highlight of his musical career was in a Galway Pub in Ireland, where he was invited to play fiddle with the group playing that night. Despite his initial intimidation, they let him take the lead a few times and he never played better in his life.
His greatest passions were in the natural world, however. He was most at home on the land, drawn to the unconditional essence of nature. He and his family were part of the self-sustaining “back to the land” movement of the 1970s in “Downeast” Maine, where he grew organic strawberries and vegetables, raised farm animals and tended bees. He built a log cabin home, without electricity or running water, from trees he felled and prepared on his land.
Many will remember John for his landscaping skills as a manager of Donald Smith & Son’s nursery in Otter Creek. He worked alongside Don designing and planting estate gardens on Mount Desert Island for 14 years, taking particular care to keep native plants as the showcase of the gardens. He took horticultural courses to improve his knowledge of landscape design, native plants, greenhouse production, and business management.
John enjoyed many sporting activities, including hiking the 100 mile wilderness on the Appalachian Trail, all of the mountains of Acadia, and the huts of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. He loved running, organizing the first Dartmouth Marathon and the Otter Creek Creep 10K and competing in the Boston Marathon. He played college football at the University of Washington. He bicycled across Maine for the American Lung Association and around MDI for the American Diabetic Association. He downhill skied with his family and friends in Maine and Canada and cross-country skied on the trails of MDI. He loved the water and spent time in his younger years scuba diving for abalone and mastering underwater photography. He loved swimming in the lakes and ponds of MDI. He spent time canoeing, trolling on lakes and ponds with his motorboat, taking trips to islands, fishing for mackerel, and recreational lobstering with his family on his small lobster boat and ice fishing in the winter months.
In recent years he became an avid birder and a certified Texas Master Naturalist in the Galveston Bay Area, where he monitored prairie chickens, oystercatchers, monarch butterflies, water quality, and worked to restore the Texas City Prairie Preserve. He received a Chapter Service Award in 2011 for his contributions, and recently received an award for 1,000 hours of volunteer service. He was a member of the Houston Audubon Society, where he took multiple bird identification classes. He shared his knowledge of birding with family and friends, luring them in with various bird-oriented gifts. He even convinced his daughter to take a 10-day birding trip to Costa Rica with a bunch of “old birds” in 2010. He was a member of the Raven Maniacs, a treasured group of birding friends.
He traveled extensively and documented his journeys with professional quality photography, another of his serious hobbies. He had a natural eye for photography and this passion complemented his birding efforts. Many of his trips were combined birding and photo-journal expeditions to such locations as the Galapagos Islands, Alaska, Bosque del Apache, Trinidad & Tobago, Ecuador and Costa Rica.
He was a generous father, grandfather, and loyal friend. John touched so many with his boyish charm, quick wit and infectious laugh. He was adept at telling fascinating stories. All who knew him referred to him as the absent-minded professor. We will honor his legacy every time we are kind, gentle and joyful with people and animals. As John would say, “Stay Thirsty My Friends.”
John is survived by his son, Colin Sharp, wife, Tammie, and children, Casey and Wyley of Cardiff, Calif.; and daughters, Jocelyn Sharp of Bar Harbor, and Kristine Toth, husband, Brian, and children, Cole, Lyla, and Lydia of Fairfax, Va.
A celebration of his life was held for his friends and family in Houston on Jan. 6, 2013, at the Brazos Bend State Park in Needville, Texas. There will be a Maine celebration in August, details and dates to follow.
Contributions in memory of Dr. John J. Sharp may be made online to Texas City Prairie Preserve/The Nature Conservancy at: http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/texas/placesweprotect/texas-city-prairie-preserve.xml or The Nature Conservancy, 1800 Augusta, Suite 240, Houston, TX 77057, Attn: John Sharp Memorial.