In Memoriam: W. LaJean Chaffin, Ph.D
It is with deep sadness that we report the death of W. LaJean Chaffin, PhD. Dr. Chaffin died at her home in Lubbock, Texas on April 20, 2021. LaJean was an exceptional individual, both personally and professionally, and she will be greatly missed. Her passing leaves a large void in our field of medical mycology.
LaJean graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, sum magna cum laude, with a degree in chemistry. She obtained her PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin (Madison), working in Dr. Robert Bock’s lab. She did post doctoral work for Dr. Harlyn Halovorsen at Brandeis University in Massachusetts as a NIH postdoctoral fellow. In 1972, she began her teaching/research career as an assistant professor of biology at TCU in Ft Worth. In 1980, she took an assistant professorship teaching biochemistry in the Texas Tech chemistry department. The following year she became an assistant professor in the Microbiology and Immunology department at the Texas Tech Health Science Center. Later she became a full professor and served as the interim chair of microbiology from 1997-2000. She also served TTUHSC as their acting Dean for the Graduate School and their acting Dean for Research in 2002-2003. In 2013, she retired from TTUHSC as professor emerita.
For almost 50 years her research focused on the opportunistic pathogen Candida albicans, and she was truly one of the pioneers in so many aspects of its cell biology, molecular biology, as well as pathogenicity, with major emphases on cell wall and biofilm formation. Her work provided the foundation to many subsequent studies by many different groups around the globe. She was also a very proud female scientist, opening the doors for many others to follow her footsteps. Her research was supported throughout the years by multiple NIH grants. She published numerous (over 60) journal articles on these topics. She provided extensive service to our profession and discipline, as a reviewer for many grant study sections, particularly NIH, scientific journals, and as a meeting organizer. She was an active member of the American Society of Microbiology and the Medical Mycological Society of the Americas. In 1988, she cofounded the ASM’s conference on Candida and Candidiasis, which continues successfully to date and has been the main forum for exchange of ideas for those of us working on this field. Over the years she mentored many students, postdoctoral fellows and visiting scientists, many of whom have remained in our field of medical mycology. Those of us who trained with her will forever be grateful for her mentorship, guidance, caring personality, strong ethical values, and for instilling upon us the love for science, in particular medical mycology.
Besides science, LaJean had many varied interests. She loved music and was accomplished on several instruments. She supported charities with both her time and money. She was an avid reader, and a student of history; at the time of her passing she had almost completed a book on the history of female apprentices and masters of the Goldsmith Company of London during early modern Britain. She loved to travel, and much of her travel was history or research oriented, including to visit many of her mycology colleagues and friends around the world. She cherished her friends and treasured how cultural events enriched her world.
She is survived by her brother, Dr. Lowell Chaffin of Amarillo, Texas and his wife Jana, by her nephew Jonathan Chaffin of Amarillo and his wife Taylor, and by her niece Cassie Chaffin Haney of Amarillo, and by numerous young great nieces and nephews.
LaJean will be deeply missed by all whose lives she touched.
Sincerely, Jose L Lopez-Ribot and Priya Uppuluri