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Martin Gibbs, 83; Brandeis biochemist was devoted to students, his family

As a biochemist and editor of a leading research journal in his field, Dr. Martin Gibbs was often required to travel the world. Dr. Gibbs, who held family in the highest priority, always brought his wife, who had multiple sclerosis and used a wheelchair, even though traveling in some of the developing countries they visited was not easy.

But Dr. Gibbs was committed. ``It's not a minor note that a prominent scientist would do everything he possibly could to accommodate his wife," said Dr. Gerald Berkowitz , a former student of his who is now a professor in the plant science department at University of Connecticut. ``That devotion was certainly front and center with him during his career as a scientist."

Dr. Gibbs, professor of biology and department chair at Brandeis University and editor of the Plant Physiology journal for three decades, died of cancer at his Lexington home Monday . He was 83 .

Born in Philadelphia, he attended the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science as a chemistry major and stumbled upon biology as a senior after taking an elective course in plant biology. Dr. Gibbs got a doctorate in plant biology at the University of Illinois-Urbana in 1947 .

Dr. Gibbs began his career as a scientist at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y., where his first assignment was to synthesize radiocarbon-labeled simple sugars, an early step in photosynthesis research, according to Dr. Gibbs' 1999 autobiography, published in the Annual Review of Plant Physiology.

In 1957, he left Brookhaven to become a biochemistry professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., where he balanced research with teaching courses in cellular physiology and with mentoring students, according to Dr. Clanton C. Black , one of Dr. Gibbs' earliest postdoctoral students at Cornell. Black is now a research professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at University of Georgia.

In March 1962, Dr. Gibbs was surprised to receive a call from Plant Physiology, a journal to which he occasionally submitted, offering him editorship of the publication, he wrote in his autobiography.

Within a year, Dr. Gibbs had bolstered readership by 25 percent and transformed it into a world-class journal, Black said.

``You wanted to publish in Plant Physiology when he was the editor," said Black, who was an assistant editor on its staff. ``I think Gibbs was a great encourager."

Dr. Gibbs left Cornell in 1964 for a position as a biology professor and department chair at Brandeis University in Waltham, bringing with him the operations of Plant Physiology.

At Brandeis, Dr. Gibbs continued to be an advocate for students.

``He was extremely helpful to people, especially young people making their way up in the profession," said Dr. Attila Klein, a professor emeritus of the biology department at Brandeis. ``He cared about them and helped place them in good jobs. He built up a worldwide network because his work was known throughout the world."

When Dr. Gibbs left work at the end of the day, however, his focus was on his wife, Karen, and five children. So great was the divide between his two worlds, said his daughter, Janet Miller of Burlington, that he never talked about work at home. Described by his daughter as a humble, witty, and charismatic man, he held strong values. Chief among them was his belief in the importance of education, which he always stressed to his family.

He enjoyed vacationing every summer with his family at Woods Hole. He had a passion for the Red Sox, and games were a frequent topic of conversation on coffee breaks with his colleagues.

Even when he was diagnosed with colon cancer and undergoing chemotherapy, his care for his wife, who had multiple sclerosis for more than 40 years and used a wheelchair for 30 years, never wavered.

``It was incredible how strong he was to go through his own situation and still be able to provide for my mother," Miller said.

He was heartbroken when she died four months ago, she said.

Dr. Gibbs received many awards for his career achievements, including one named for him, Martin Gibbs Medal from American Society of Plant Biologists, in 1993.

In addition to his daughter, Dr. Gibbs leaves another daughter, Laura Kocen of Taunton ; three sons, Steven of Danvers , Michael of Burlington , and Robert of Reading ; and 10 grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held at 12:30 p.m. today at Douglass Funeral Home in Lexington. Burial will be in Westview Cemetery .

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