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Vanderbilt mourns loss of former ‘godfather of grants’ John Hoover Hash

Jun. 28, 2023, 10:33 AM

John Hoover Hash, PhD

by Bill Snyder

John Hoover Hash, PhD, who as associate dean for Biomedical Sciences and director of Sponsored Research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center oversaw the computerization of VUMC’s grant recording system in the 1980s, died in Nashville on June 20. He was 94.

Dubbed “the godfather of grants” by the VUMC Reporter upon his retirement in 1994, “it was his job to represent and protect the university, on behalf of its biomedical researchers, to all outside funding agencies. His signature was required on every funding application.”

A preeminent scientist in his own right, Dr. Hash was a professor in the Department of Microbiology and served as acting chair of the department (now the Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology) from 1968 to 1971, and again from 1987 to 1990.

According to longtime colleague Jacek Hawiger, MD, PhD, the Louise B. McGavock Professor and distinguished professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt, Dr. Hash was a “giant of American science” who counted among his collaborators Nobel laureates Stanley Cohen, PhD, and Stanford Moore, PhD.

Thanks in part to generous support provided to the department’s Graduate Studies Program by Dr. Hash and his wife, Mary Ann Boone Hash, who died in 2015, within a few years the program was ranked among the country’s top graduate programs in microbiology.

Born in 1929 in a farmhouse in Franklin County, Virginia, the 11th of 12 children, Dr. Hash excelled in school, graduating as valedictorian of his high school class at age 16.

After college and a two-year stint as a high school teacher in rural Virginia, Dr. Hash was drafted into the U.S. Army at the start of the Korean War. He was posted to Fort Detrick, Maryland, which was then part of the nation’s biological warfare program.

Dr. Hash was staunchly opposed to biological weapons, and he was relieved when the program was shut down in 1969. After his discharge from the Army, he began graduate studies at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, where in 1957 he earned a PhD in Biochemistry.

Following a postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia University, he worked at Lederle Labs in Pearl River, New York, screening microorganisms for antibacterial activity. After a few years he applied for an academic position at Vanderbilt and was hired as an assistant professor in 1964.

At Vanderbilt, Dr. Hash pursued research on antibiotics and an unusual bacteriolytic enzyme produced by the fungus Chalaropsis, which he had discovered at Lederle. He crystalized and characterized the enzyme as a lysozyme that can kill bacteria by breaking through their tough outer “skins.”

He capped this phase of his research by editing an authoritative volume on antibiotics for the prestigious Methods in Enzymology series, and even publishing a whimsical poem about his lysozyme discovery.

Appointed associate dean of Biomedical Science in 1976, Dr. Hash found a new purpose — helping colleagues secure funds for their research. With Vanderbilt electrical engineer Hugh Davies, PhD, he wrote computer programs to extract data from thousands of grant records — rapidly and accurately.

“Information that used to take us two days to gather can now be done in five to 10 minutes,” Dr. Hash told VUMC science writer Todd Neel in 1994.

For his contributions to research, Hash was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1966. He was a member of the National Advisory Research Resources Council of the National Institutes of Health from 1991 to 1995.

Dr. Hash is survived by three children, Debra Ewin, Susan Bjerkaas, and Richard Hash, their spouses, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at noon Saturday, July 8, at Woodmont Baptist Church, 2100 Woodmont Blvd. Visitation will begin at 11 a.m., with a luncheon following the service. The Vanderbilt community is invited to attend.

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