September 19, 2014

Leon Paul Weiss

Leon Paul Weiss, 87, former chairman of the Department of Animal
 Biology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Veterinary School, died 
following a long illness on October 16 at his home in Merion, Pennsylvania, surrounded by his wife and children.

 Dr. Weiss was the author of several textbooks and articles in the field of 
immunology and anatomy and was also an educational innovator.

He helped found three important programs: an undergraduate medical school
 curriculum at his alma mater, the City College of New York, an 
interdisciplinary Center for Animals and Society at the University of 
Pennsylvania, and a program in aquatic veterinary medicine (Aquavet) 
at Penn in conjunction with the Marine Biological Laboratory and other agencies including the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the National Marine Fisheries Service in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

Dr. Weiss will be remembered chiefly for his devotion to teaching and mentoring. Dr. Elias Schwartz, a colleague associated with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, describes Weiss as a “medical doctor who successfully taught and pursued research in a prominent school of veterinary medicine and whose most recent interests ranged from malaria, to sickle cell disease, to fish farming.”  Dr. Weiss retired from his professorship at the University of Pennsylvania when he was 83 years old, but continued his commitment to malaria research. He discovered what he called a barrier cell in the spleen, which he believed might play an important role in the fight against malaria, a disease that claims millions of lives every year.

To the end, Dr. Weiss continued to visit the library of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, during the summer months to visit to explore readings on cell biology.

Leon Weiss was born on October 4, 1925 in Brooklyn, New York. His 
father, Isidor, an immigrant from Hungary, engaged in real estate
 opportunities during the Depression, while his mother, Florence Reif 
Weiss, was the daughter of a New York City police lieutenant, also from 
Hungary.

 The oldest of three sons who would all become doctors, he graduated 
from Townsend Harris High School and went on to City College of New York. In 1945, he entered the Long Island College of Medicine and became one of very few Jewish students to be accepted from City College into medical school at a time of quotas on Jewish places. In April 1946, as a second year medical student, Dr. Weiss met his future wife, Ellen Tarter Fishbein, at the Morningside Heights subway stop.

His early teaching career took him to Harvard Medical School where he 
was an assistant professor in the Department of Anatomy from 1955 to 1960,
 following service in the Army Medical Corps, at Edgewood Arsenal in
 Maryland and in Formosa (now Taiwan). While at Harvard he began a long association with the Marine Biological Laboratory. In 1960, he moved to Baltimore to the Johns Hopkins Medical School’s Department of Anatomy. 

Dr. Weiss’s research specialty was the cells and tissues of the
 immune system, with emphasis on the hematopoetic organs, or those that 
create blood. He was editor of the textbook 
Histology, which is filled with Dr. Weiss’ meticulous drawings and images of cells and tissue structures as seen through the electron microscope. Slides based on these hand illustrations are still used in lectures at the SUNY Downstate Medical School. He was a pioneer in the field of electron microscopy and authored numerous papers on the anatomy of the thymus and spleen.

In 1976 Dr. Weiss joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. He was the Grace Lansing Lambert Professor of Cell Biology and served for many years as chairman of the Department of 
Animal Biology. 

Dr. Weiss was noted for his intellectual independence, and throughout 
his career he was engaged in educational innovation.Concern over the
 dearth of minority students in medical school led to his work on an experimental program at City College, in which freshman could matriculate in a medical school course at the City University of New York. The program, called the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education, remains an important part of the City University’s offerings.Similarly, his concern with issues of famine and food supply, fostered
by his readings of the economist Amartya Sen, led him to start the 
aquaculture program at the University of Pennsylvania. This work took
 Dr. Weiss out of his traditional lab work to create a model fish farm 
at the West Philadelphia campus, and later at the school’s research
 facility at New Bolton Center.

 Out of an interest in the healing role that animals can perform in conjunction with human subjects, he helped found the Center for Animals and Society, working with the Penn School of Nursing and psychiatrists from the Medical School at Penn.

A quiet introvert, having a lifelong preoccupation with books and writing instruments (chiefly pens and typewriters), Dr. Weiss was a devoted family man, with little interest in travel away from home and work. He is survived by his wife Ellen, an author and artist, and by their six children, Stephen, Philip, Alice, Marisa, Nathaniel and Eve, as well as their spouses, and twelve grandchildren: Adam, Aaron, Elias, Daniel, Ethan, Henry, Isabel, Madeleine, Sara, Ella, Owen, and Livia.

Donations in Dr. Weiss’s memory may be made to the Marine Biological Laboratory in support of the library, care of MBL, 7 MBL Street, Woods Hole, MA 02543.