Jan Chlebowski, Ph.D.


Dear Colleagues-Friends,

It is with tremendous sadness that I share the news that Jan Chlebowski, Ph.D., passed away over the weekend. Jan was a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the School of Medicine’s Associate Dean for Graduate Education.

It is hard to imagine a more student-focused and committed faculty member than Jan. He simply loved our institution and he delighted in his vital role of overseeing the training of our graduate students. Jan was passionate about ensuring that our students received all the attention and support that they needed.

He was a champion of numerous programs that provided students with a culture for growth and scientific enrichment. Recognizing the need for increased diversity of students and faculty in the sciences, he was instrumental in securing funding of a large NIH initiative on which he served as program director to enhance graduate education opportunities for minority students at Virginia State University and Hampton University to bridge masters to doctoral training between our institutions. He also was the faculty sponsor of the graduate student organization Women in Science as well as a leader in the Broadening Experiences for Scientific Training that raises graduate students’ awareness of potential careers and opportunities to learn about various career paths.

Jan was a wonderful advocate for our trainees across all the schools at VCU and even beyond. He had directed the school’s international educational partnership with the University of the West of England since the program began in 1987. In the past 30 years he oversaw more than 100 UWE student internships at VCU, doing everything from recruiting faculty advisors to picking up students from the airport when they arrived in the U.S. His enthusiasm for the program was stoked in part by his own experience studying abroad. In 2002, the UWE awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Science degree.

He was the first to celebrate student achievement and coordinated a range of awards and activities that commemorated the pioneering efforts of individuals who populated our institution’s history of advanced degree education in the biomedical sciences.

His commitment to quality science and to the integrity of higher education was unwavering. He was a superb protein biochemist whose research was focused on biophysical mechanisms that modulate protein structure and enzyme activity, and he published seminal papers on alkaline phosphatase from E. coli. He played an important role in establishing the Institute for Structural Biology and for many years led the Massey Cancer Center Structural Biology core.

Jan earned his Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in 1969 and completed post-doctoral training as a research associate at University College London in 1971 and as a research fellow at Yale University in 1976. He was a research associate in Yale’s Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry until 1979 when he joined VCU in what was then the School of Basic Health Sciences.

Jan Chlebowski, Ph.D.

For decades, Jan selflessly served our institution – and most particularly its students. He was on the graduate committees of more than 100 students as well as participating on or chairing an astonishing 150 university committees and task forces. He served in key and demanding roles including being a founding member of the SOM Professionalism Committee. He organized and taught a graduate course in his area of specialty for over 30 years, while still teaching significant blocks in other biochemistry graduate courses.

Jan was promoted to the rank of professor in 1991 and was named associate dean for graduate education in the School of Medicine in 1995. He served three times as interim chairman of the Department of Biochemistry and later was a valued advisor to three biochemistry chairs.

While it was evident that he had health problems for years, he showed great grace and dignity in his resilience and was never focused on himself. We have much to learn from Jan and his life. He was a person of great humility, utmost integrity and remarkable commitment. He leaves behind a great legacy.

A memorial service to celebrate his life and service will be held on Friday, March 16, at 4 p.m., in the Hermes A. Kontos Medical Sciences Building.


Peter F. Buckley, M.D.
Dean, VCU School of Medicine
Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, VCU Health System