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Irving Rappaport

September 4, 1923 ~ April 29, 2017 (age 93)

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Irving Rappaport, Professor Emeritus of Microbiology and Immunology at New York Medical College, died at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, MD, on April 29, 2017, at age 93, of heart failure. He was born September 4, 1923, in Brooklyn, NY, son of Hyman and Sarah (Frock) Rappaport, younger brother of sisters Emma, Ray, and Evelyn. His father died when he was 7 or 8, leaving his mother to raise four children alone during some very lean years. As a young boy, he was sent to a farm in upstate NY for several summers, living and working with an immigrant German family with limited or no English. His knowledge of Yiddish came in handy. The work was hard, but his time there sparked a lifelong dream of growing his own food. In 1942, at age 19, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, later receiving a commission and serving as a pilot officer until 1946. He was honorably discharged in April 1946 from the 555th Army Air Force Base Unit as a First Lieutenant. An attack of appendicitis may have saved his life. On the eve of being shipped overseas, he fell ill and landed in a hospital for emergency surgery. Having missed the chance to go with his unit (many of whom were killed in combat), he was assigned to deliver planes to domestic air bases for the duration of the war. This assignment was not without its own risks, though -- he estimated he lost his life almost 6 times. He learned to fly before he learned to drive. He received his BA (in zoology and chemistry) from Cornell University in 1948 and Ph.D. from California Institute of Technology in 1953, with a major in immunology and minor in biochemistry. He was a research botanist at UCLA from 1953-1961, an assistant professor of microbiology at the University of Chicago from 1961-1964, and a professor in the Department of Microbiology at New York Medical College from 1964 until he retired in 1992. He and his wife Louise moved in 1993 from New Rochelle, NY, to N. Bennington, VT, where he continued to teach at Bennington College. His distinguished academic career included publication of numerous articles in professional journals and membership in many professional associations. He was a fellow of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science and an associate editor of the journal Virology. He married Helen Magid on June 27, 1948. She died in April 1973. He married Louise Cohen Himelfarb on March 23, 1975. Campers at Camp Mohawk in the Berkshires, where Irving and his first wife Helen led the summer science and photography program for a number of years, called Irv “Renaissance Man.” He was indeed a man of many talents, interests, and passions -- a flute player, world traveler, sculptor, painter, photographer, model airplane maker, gardener, bicyclist, skier, collector (of cameras, slide rules, drafting tools, microscopes), amateur astronomer (he built his own telescope), lover of theater and music, bird enthusiast, and devoted husband, father, grandfather, and brother. In spite of physical limitations in recent years, he never gave up his zest for life or gave in to complaining. During their years in N. Bennington, VT, Irv and Louise lovingly restored an 18th century farmhouse and he fulfilled his childhood dream of being a farmer. His bountiful garden inspired a set of notecards designed by daughter-in-law Kelly Alford. Her words on each box of “Irv’s Garden” cards help to capture Irv’s character and his legacy: “Every Spring after the winter ground thaws, Irv tills the soil of his small garden in rural Vermont. He fertilizes it with local compost, and then sows the seeds saved from the previous year. Every day, he weeds and waters, encouraging the good bugs and discouraging the bad ones, mending the high fence that protects the garden from hungry critters. By mid August, Irv and his wife harvest a tremendous bounty, more than the two of them can eat alone, so they donate the overflow to their neighbors and the local homeless shelter. And so it goes, year after year, an annual cycle that celebrates the values of physical work, a connection to the earth, self-sufficiency and good health. It is a cycle that reminds us in all we do - sow good seeds.” He is survived by wife Louise Himelfarb in their home in Chevy Chase, MD, where they moved in 2010; sons Glenn (Kelly Alford), Jeffrey, and Paul (Stacie); stepson Larry Himelfarb (Linda Carlson) and stepdaughter Ellen Skye (John Sebben); grandchildren Sam, Ruby, and Haley Rappaport; stepgrandchildren Eric Himelfarb (Michaela), Nelson Harvey (Caroline), and Sadye Harvey; and sister Evelyn Aronson.

Charitable donations may be made to:

Bennington Museum c/o Development Office
75 Main Street, Bennington VT 05201

California Institute of Technology, Divison of Biology and Biological Engineering
1200 East California Boulevard, MC-32, Pasadena CA 91125

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