JAMES F. BONNER 1910-1996
James F. Bonner, an AAC member since 1948, passed away on September 13, 1996, at the age of 86. He earned his Bachelor of Art degree in chemistry and mathematics from the University of Utah in 1931. He completed his Doctorate in biology at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California. He spent the following year as a National Research Council Fellow, working at the University of Utrecht, the University of Leiden, and at the Swiss Federal
Institute of Technology. The following year, he moved to Pasadena as a research fellow at Caltech and received a faculty appointment in the Division of Biology in 1936. At the time of Dr. Bonner’s death, he was a molecular biologist and Professor Emeritus at the California Institute of Technology. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and was best known for his discoveries in plant biochemistry and for work on how plant and animal genes are switched on and off. His wide range of interests led him to discover a more efficient method of collecting rubber from trees, a discovery that helped Malaysia nearly double its rubber production. He also collaborated with scientists in Florida and helped to invent a widely used method for harvesting oranges mechanically.
Outside the laboratory, Dr. Bonner was an avid hiker and back-packer. He enjoyed technical rock climbing and mountaineering. In the 1940s and ‘50s, he had a small dog that climbed and mountaineered with him. The dog could make fourth class ascents and when necessary would wait at the bottom of a climb for James to return. When the dog’s feet got blistered, James would place him in his pack and carry him. Both dog and James were considered great climbers and mountaineers.
James climbed in both the Himalaya and the Sierra Nevada. He loved the red rock country of the desert southwest. He mostly loved discovering and sharing with friends and family remote places such as the Henry Mountains in his beloved Utah. He was a member of the Desert Peaks and Rock Climbing Sections of the Sierra Club, and, from 1948, a member of the American Alpine Club. He learned to ski at age seven and took pride in the fact that he never missed a season of skiing for 76 years. During his skiing years, he took great pleasure in serving on the National Ski Patrol at Mt. Waterman, in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles.
Dr. Bonner was married first to Harriet and they had two children, James Jose and Joey Bonner. Harriet, an accomplished pianist, loved the mountains and often backpacked into the Sierra Nevada Mountains with James. Due to her fear of high places she was instrumental in eliminating James’ technical rock climbing with the Sierra Club.
James second marriage was to a superb skier, Ingelore S. They skied extensively together, never missing a winter in a prominent ski resort. Ingelore died in 1995. After her death, Dr. Bonner’s health began an unmistakable decline.
James was highly respected for his scientific expertise and his mountaineering accomplishments. He had a positive outlook and was known for his friendly disposition. When friends had problems, he was helpful and caring. He will be missed by the scientific community and by family and friends.
Monica Bonner and Ellen Wilts