Richard Fineberg, Biochemistry and Biophysics: San Francisco


Concerned, dedicated, modest, gentle--a teacher. Professor Richard Fineberg, born in St. Paul, Minnesota, earned his B.S. (in physiology; Phi Beta Kappa) and M.D. degrees at the University of Chicago, the latter obtained via the prestigious US Navy V-12 program in 1945. After one year service as a Navy doctor, Professor Fineberg entered graduate school at UC Berkeley. He received his Ph.D. and was appointed assistant professor of biochemistry in 1954. Richard's subsequent professional commitment was to the University of California; he moved to the San Francisco campus with his department's translocation and became a tenured faculty member in 1960.

In a current era where biochemistry departments are almost exclusively notable for their research activities, Fineberg was respected and admired by his peers and students for his dedication to teaching. Sensitivity to the role of teacher began early with Fineberg; both his brother and sister were teachers at the pre-college level and his wife, Esther, was a teaching assistant in Berkeley. At UCSF, Richard quickly recognized that his combined medical and basic science backgrounds uniquely equipped him for interdisciplinary teaching of biochemistry to the professional students on that campus including those of the Medical, Dental, and Pharmacy Schools. He was in charge of the primary biochemistry course for medical students for several years in the 1970s and was the director and primary instructor of the dental biochemistry course. In 1971 when teaching basic science for the Podiatry School in San Francisco became the responsibility for UCSF, it was Fineberg who helped organize that course. Typically, all these primary courses were taught by an interdisciplinary faculty with different areas of expertise. Fineberg provided the sense of humanity and student care, which, in addition to his broad knowledge, “glued those courses together.” Richard was recognized and respected for his total involvement in these courses; he developed the syllabi, organized, and participated in the formal lectures and labs. His greatest strength, however, was at the level of small group teaching and individual tutorials, particularly when integration of basic science with clinical problems was required. A

collection of student evaluations over the past decades consistently emphasized his “concern for students,” “rapport with students,” and “enthusiastic pursuit of student needs.” Fineberg was “one of the most accessible, helpful, and willing teachers around, the role of a great teacher.”

Richard's research focused on ferritin, iron transport and iron metabolism, but his major creative effort was in teaching; 25 percent of his publications concerned basic science education in a professional school environment. In the late 60s he organized the syllabus for what would be considered a unique approach to teaching basic sciences to medical students even today--integration of biochemical and physiological principles with the care and treatment of the diabetic dog sustained by the students themselves. In the early 70s, he produced one of the first video cassettes on enzyme kinetics using a clinical disease (myasthenia gravis) as a model. He was working on a book of instructional techniques for basic sciences to professional students at his untimely death. The extraordinary commitment to teaching basic science to medical students was exemplified by the fact that Professor Fineberg's sole sabbatical was spent locally in a clinical residency in 1961 because, in his own words, “One of the pressing problems in medical education is that of integrating the contributions of the various highly specialized disciplines. There is commonly little enough communication among faculties of the basic science departments themselves, but the gap is all the more acute in the transition from basic science to clinical medicine.” University service also emphasized teaching; he served with the committees on Medical School Curriculum, Curriculum and Educational Policy, Courses of Instruction, Fellowships and Awards, and Student Summer Fellowships. He was active on the Graduate Council and was departmental graduate advisor for several years. Fineberg served as acting chairman of the Department of Biochemistry in 1968.

Richard's personal life was as quietly sensitive as his professional life. A proud and devoted husband and father, he brought his organizational skills and emphasis of individualized attention to his hobbies: amateur bird watching, gardening, bookbinding and carpentry. He enlarged his San Francisco home and built the family's Tahoe home with his hands.

Professor Fineberg is survived by his wife of 37 years, Esther, by his son Daniel B. Fineberg of Washington State, and by two grandchildren. He died quietly and unexpectedly in his sleep, most fittingly, after preparing a lecture the night before.

Professor Richard Fineberg will be long remembered by those who, in recognition of his dedication, competence, and gentleness as a teacher, created the Annual Richard A. Fineberg Memorial Lecture. But he will be remembered best in the words of a student “as one who gave of himself to the students, and to this school.”

Gerold M. Grodsky