September 2, 2014

Jim and Alma Ebert

Dr. James D. Ebert, former director and president of the MBL and his wife, Alma Goodwin Ebert, were tragically killed in a multi-car accident on May 22, 2001 on their way from Baltimore, Maryland, to Woods Hole.

Dr. Ebert, 79, was president of the MBL corporation from 1970-1978 and again from 1990-1998. He was the director of the Laboratory from 1970-1978, and a trustee from 1964-1968. He was named director emeritus in 2000. As the MBL’s first full-time director, Dr. Ebert was instrumental in establishing the Laboratory as a year-round institution, helping to found The Ecosystems Center in 1975.

His wife of 61 years, Alma, 78, was active in the MBL Associates, volunteering her time and energy on behalf of the Laboratory. Born in Ellenboro, West Virginia, Mrs. Ebert was a Navy WAVE during World War II. She also volunteered in the Baltimore public schools.

“For over five decades the MBL has benefited from Jim’s considerable knowledge and experience,” said MBL director and CEO Dr. William Speck. “He was instrumental in bringing significant funding to the Laboratory and his guidance and insight have been key to the Lab’s success. The loss of Jim and Alma will be felt deeply by the MBL family for years to come.”

Dr. Ebert first came to the MBL in 1946 as a graduate student. During his distinguished career as a developmental biologist, he opened new approaches to the organization and specificity of cells and their arrangement in living organisms. His pioneering research contributed to the current understanding of how the body rejects transplanted organs as well as well as how normal human cells become cancerous.

Born in Bentleyville, Pennsylvania, Dr. Ebert graduated from Washington and Jefferson College in 1942. He received a doctorate in experimental embryology from Johns Hopkins University in 1950 and held honorary degrees from Yale, Duke, and Indiana Universities and Moravian and Washington and Jefferson Colleges. During World War II, he served in the Navy as a lieutenant and was stationed aboard a destroyer in the Pacific; he was decorated with a Purple Heart.

Dr. Ebert taught at MIT and Indiana University before being named director of the Embryology Department at the Carnegie Institution of Washington – a position he held from 1956 to 1976. He then served as president of Carnegie from 1978 to 1987. Dr. Ebert was also a professor of biology at Johns Hopkins from 1956 to 1978 and professor of embryology at the university’s School of Medicine during those years. In 1981 he was named vice president of the National Academy of Sciences. Dr. Ebert wrote, co-edited, and contributed to several books and was author of more than 195 professional articles.

The Eberts are survived by a son, David Brian Ebert, and two daughters, Frances Diane Schwartz, and Rebecca Susan Coyle, seven grandchildren, and a great-grandson.

Family, friends and colleagues of Dr. & Mrs. Ebert celebrated their lives at a memorial service, held August 6, 2001, at the MBL’s Swope Center.

At that time, Sheldon Segal announced that the Board of Trustees had renamed the Brick Dormitory “Ebert Hall” in honor and memory of Jim and Alma.

A memorial fund at the MBL has also been established by the Ebert children in their parent’s name. Contributions may be made to the Alma and James Ebert Memorial Fund, Marine Biological Laboratory, Water Street, Woods Hole, MA 02543.