Donald Rowley, 90, a longtime Porter Beacher and a pioneer immunologist and
inventor at the University of Chicago, died on Feb. 24.
“Rowley, professor emeritus in pathology and the Committee on Immunology,
was a wide-ranging and imaginative researcher,” the UC death announcement
reads. “He made a series of fundamental discoveries that had a significant
impact on the basic understanding of the immune system as well as on many
clinical specialties, including cancer immunology, organ transplantation and
Rowley was born Feb. 4, 1923, in Owatonna, Minn., the son of an osteopathic
He is survived by his wife, Janet, a distinguished service professor at the
University of Chicago; three of their four sons: David, Robert and Roger;
five grandchildren: Jason, Jenny, Gia, Anra and Ian; and his sister, Alice
In 1941 Rowley graduated from Pillsbury Military Academy and won a full
scholarship to the University of Chicago. In 1943, he enlisted in a U.S.
Army program that trained physicians and was sent to the Philippines to work
in a medical-aid station being set up in advance of an invasion on Japan. In
1946, Rowley returned to UC as a graduate student in pathology, and received
his doctor of medicine degree in 1950. In 1954, he joined the University of
Chicago staff as a research associate (instructor) in pathology and became a
full professor in 1969.
Rowley’s “best-known discovery came outside his chosen field,” UC said, when
he and a colleague used a spring-wound pocket watch to invent a “portable
pulse counter” which could “accurately record the electrical activity of the
heart for more than 24 hours.” That device also incorporated the “first gel
Then, in the late 1960s, Rowley and a graduate student “were the first to
describe the function of a previously unrecognized cell type, a component of
the adaptive immune system,” UC said.
Rowley published more than 100 research papers, many in leading journals, as
well as several book chapters; received a U.S. Public Health System Merit
Award; was named with his wife American Association for the Advancement of
Science fellows; served as president of the Chicago Association of
Immunologists and as associate editor of the Journal of Immunology.
A memorial service is being planned for the spring. In lieu of flowers,
contributions may be directed to the Donald and Janet Rowley Scholarship
Fund, which aids undergraduates at the University of Chicago.