Vale William H. Sawyer, Past-President of FAOBMB (1999-2001)

William (Bill) Sawyer, who was President of FAOBMB 1999-2001, and Honorary member of FAOBMB, passed away in August 2023.

This page contains a brief biography of the late Bill Sawyer, compiled by Phillip Nagley (ASBMB Archivist).

This is followed by a Personal Reflection from Jisnuson Svasti (Past President of FAOBMB)

Finally, Bill Sawyer’s own brief reflections on FAOBMB written in 2022 for the 50-Year History of FAOBMB are reprinted here below.

Brief Biography

Born in the State of Victoria, Australia, 1940, Bill Sawyer took his BAgrSc from the University of Melbourne in 1961 and travelled immediately to the University of Minnesota, USA, where he studied dairy chemistry under Robert Jenness and obtained his MSc in 1962. Returning to Australia, he graduated PhD in 1966 from the Australian National University Canberra, where he studied under Hugh McKenzie working on milk proteins. In Canberra, Bill also collaborated with Laurie Nichol on protein biochemistry and gel chromatography. After a further year overseas in London, working with Michael Creeth, Bill returned to the University of Melbourne in 1968, where he remained as a member of the Academic Staff until his retirement in 2001 (after which he became Professor Emeritus).

Bill Sawyer made many contributions to biochemistry, especially those aspects amenable to precise quantitative analysis in the domain of physical biochemistry, especially applied to proteins and biological membranes. He received many scientific honours and was involved in various scientific and technical organisations, playing key roles in the Australian Research Council, especially in the latter part of his career. In addition to his presidency of FAOBMB, Bill was President of the Australian Society for Biophysics from 1986 to 1988 and President of the Australian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from 1990 to 1992.

Bill was a dedicated Academic with a great interest in and strong commitment to education and training. Thus, he was innovative in the use of computers in education, becoming the first staff member at the University of Melbourne to introduce computer-based exercises into undergraduate Science teaching. Later, he developed workshops to promote the development of Early Career researchers. He also had an interest in Intellectual Property Law and was generally engaged in a broad range of activities related to science and other pursuits. He had a special interest in viticulture and winemaking. Bill’s winery, Wyuna Park, on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula, specialises in Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris wines, which have won several awards.

Bill was involved in FAOBMB at an especially critical phase in the history of the Federation, as described below by Jisnuson Svasti, playing an important role in Melbourne, following the establishment of FAOB(MB) as an Incorporated Association in the State of Victoria, thereby establishing the Federation as a legal entity in 1992. For the previous 20 years since its establishment, FAOB actually had a very informal and tenuous existence, in spite of its great achievements in the first two decades! Bill was President of FAOBMB during the challenging times of the Journal of FAOBMB struggling to survive after just a few years of publication (commencing in 1997). Bill had to deal with various pressures surrounding the demise of the Journal of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics. Publication of this journal finally came to an end in 2002. Personally, I always found Bill to be the quintessential gentleman, both as a biochemist and as a colleague. Bill therefore dealt with the problems of the struggling journal in a compassionate and polite manner, but with determination based on a realistic assessment of the situation (refer also to Bill’s personal reflection below).

Phillip Nagley

NOTES: The above was prepared using the following source: ‘Transforming Biology: A history of Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at University of Melbourne’ by Juliet Flesch, Melbourne Univ. Publishing, 2015.

The establishment of FAOB(MB) as an Incorporated Association and the saga of the FAOB(MB) Journal are set out in the published 50-Year History of the Federation (This article can be accessed here).

Personal reflection from Jisnuson Svasti

“I too am very saddened by this news (of Bill Sawyer’s passing). Although we lived far away in different countries, I was glad to have the opportunity to work with Bill to help biochemistry develop in the Asia & Pacific region. When I was President of FAOB in 1990-1992, I helped FAOB formally register in Australia as a tax-exempt organization in 1992, and I was introduced to Bill, who would act as the Public Officer and help coordinate with the Australian authorities. We communicated mainly by mail, but occasionally met at FAOBMB meetings, such as the 16th FAOBMB Symposium in Taipei in 2002 (see photo) when Bill was Past President of FAOBMB. Bill also invited me to co-author an article in about FAOBMB published IUBMB Life in 2006 (This article can be accessed here).

I enjoyed working with Bill, who was a real gentleman – and a very modest one at that!  May he Rest in Peace.”

Members of FAOBMB Council at the 16th FAOBMB Symposium held in Taipei, China, in 2002.
Bill Sawyer is in the front row, third from right. Jisnuson Svasti is in the second row, far right (just behind Bill’s left shoulder).

From Reflections from Past Office Bearers

P. Nagley, J. Svasti and A. Kikuchi “Reflections on the 50-year history of the Federation of Asian and Oceanian Biochemists and Molecular Biologists (FAOBMB)”. IUBMB Life, 74, 1126-1168 (2022). (This article can be accessed here).

Professor William H. Sawyer

Emeritus Professor, The University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

(President 1999 – 2001)

I have followed the FAOBMB progress with interest and have been impressed with the continued vitality of the organisation. I look forward to the 50th Anniversary of the Federation.

Two things come to mind concerning my presidency – one good and one not so good.

I was surprised to discover that students in a number of countries did not own a biochemistry text. Some had no access to a library. Bruce Stone and I arranged for the ASBMB (Australia) community to save old texts when a new edition was issued. Bruce arranged a generous price for air transport with Qantas, and we were able to distribute these texts to deserving member countries at the next FAOBMB meeting.

The saddest thing was the demise of the FAOBMB Journal, which was first launched in 1997. For many years the publisher subsidised the publication of the Journal of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics but FAOBMB was never in a position to assist with funding. The new publisher, who took over the Journal in 2001, refused to continue with the subsidy. As I recall, the Japanese Biochemical Society offered to underwrite or guarantee the sale of a certain number of subscriptions to the FAOBMB Journal. This was not enough for the new publisher. Our extensive pleading was of no use, and we were just one of a number of journals that were terminated. The FAOBMB Journal was instrumental in helping young scientists from the poorer countries to succeed in print. In hindsight, the decline of the printed FAOBMB Journal was probably inevitable. At the time we had extensive discussions, but little experience, in online publishing.

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