Obituary: Jean Mayer

Jean Mayer, nutritionist and educationalist, born Paris 19 February 1920, Rockefeller Foundation Fellow Yale University 1946-48, University Demonstrator in Physiological Chemistry 1946-48, Research Associate in Pharmacology George Washington University 1948-49, Assistant Professor / Associate Professor / Professor of Nutrition Harvard University 1950-76, Lecturer on the History of Public Health 1961-76, Member for the Center of Population Studies 1968-76, Honorary Master 1976, President Tufts University 1976-92, Chancellor 1993, married 1942 Elizabeth Van Huysen (four sons, one daughter), died Florida 8 January 1993.

JEAN MAYER, world-renowned nutritionist and adviser to three US presidents, Nixon, Ford and Carter, faced all challenges with an approach that transcended the immediate, always preferring the large canvas to the miniature.

Born in 1920 in Paris, he distinguished himself at school and university, but then found his career interrupted by the Second World War. Mayer served in the French Army and the Free French Forces, the Atlantic convoys, North Africa, Italy, the Allied Landing in southern France and the Battle of the Bulge. His bravery was rewarded with 14 decorations, including three Croix de Guerre.

With the war's end, he resumed his studies, first at Yale and then at the Sorbonne. In 1950 he joined the faculty of Harvard University, where he served for a quarter of a century before assuming the presidency of Tufts University in 1976, a post he held until 1992. At his death, he was Chancellor at Tufts.

One might expect that the author of some 750 scientific papers and 10 books would be remembered primarily for his scientific contributions, but such is not the case. More important were his contributions to the solution of national and international nutritional problems.

In 1969, for example, he organised a White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health, which resulted in expansion of the food stamp and school lunch programmes, nutrition programmes for the elderly, and pregnant and nursing women, and review of the safety of food additives.

In 1969 Mayer also led a mission to Biafra, a nation ravaged by war. The mission assessed health and nutritional conditions despite the need of its members to take cover in trenches, bunkers and ditches because of daily bombings. President Nixon responded to their report with increased shipment of food, drugs, and other relief supplies.

In 1970 Mayer organised an international symposium on famine, which produced the first comprehensive document on how nutrition and relief operations should be handled in times of disaster. The report was also the first to suggest that using starvation as a political tool was a violation of human rights and should be outlawed.

Shortly before his death, Mayer had just returned from a meeting in Rome of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, consulting on African relief, and from Kuwait, where he was helping that country's rebuilding efforts. To the very end he played out his preferred role as citizen of the world.

But these efforts do not in any way diminish Jean Mayer's remarkable achievements as a university president. Tenth President of Tufts University, he served ably for 16 years. During that period Tufts was transformed from an institution often described as 'a sleepy New England college' to a vibrant university of major dimensions.

Many innovations marked his tenure at Tufts. The first ever live television exchange between the US and the People's Republic of China was a highlight of the formal dedication of the Sackler Center for Health Communications. The Tufts Global Classroom Project twice each year linked via satellite students in Boston with students in the former Soviet Union for live, televised, interactive classrooms dealing with current events and world history. Twice Mayer convened conferences of 50 university and college presidents from around the world to gain their commitment to global peace and to developing a sustainable environment for future generations.

Mayer created the nation's first graduate school of nutrition and established New England's only veterinary school, a Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences, and a Center for Environmental Management.

All of these accomplishments required not only imagination and energy, but the willingness to take risks. To the end, Mayer retained the spirit and courage of the resistance fighter who opposed Nazi tyranny. His reach sometimes exceeded his grasp, but, as Robert Browning's Andrea del Sarto reminds us. . . what's a heaven for?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before