It is with great sadness that we report the passing of Science Editor David N. Leff, who died May 5 after a short illness. BioWorld's longest-tenured employee and its most praised writer, he was 85 years old.
David was hired in 1992 as Science Editor for BioWorld Today. In that position, he interviewed leading scientists on an almost daily basis, covering their breakthroughs. David's accuracy, his understanding of biotechnology and his unique ability to take the most complex of issues and relate them clearly to his audience quickly made him a favorite among readers.
Born on Sept. 3, 1918, in New York, David graduated from Stanford University in 1939 with a degree in journalism. He later took post-graduate courses at the University of California at San Francisco and the National University of Mexico in Mexico City.
The details of David's life would force most journalists to question their own worth, and a cross-section of his experiences reads like a history book. He was involved in Department of Agriculture relief efforts for migrant workers during the Dust Bowl. He helped launch the first United Nations agency in war-ravaged Europe. He reported, by short-wave radio, the first man to orbit the earth - the Soviet Juri Gagarin. Working as a journalist in Prague, Czech Republic, David was first to relay in English the Soviet invasion of Czechoslavakia, again via short-wave radio. He dined under the roof of Ho Chi Minh during the Vietnam War. He traveled to Red China before established relations were made by the U.S. He once climbed a mountain with Fidel Castro.
His career path to BioWorld Today began in 1968, when David was hired as the Eastern European correspondent for McGraw-Hill World News. In 1972, he moved to the staff of McGraw-Hill's Medical World News magazine, and in 1981 he founded McGraw-Hill's Biotechnology Newswatch, for which he served as editor-in-chief for the rest of that decade. Following that, he was hired to serve as BioWorld Today's Science Editor.
At BioWorld, David drew more fan mail than the rest of us combined. One reader called his articles "works of art," from his "opening salvo to his concluding mental fireworks." Another, while lamenting that biotechnology literature is usually "deadly boring," wrote that he enjoyed David's stories for their "humorous twist" and "elements of style." Yet another said David's ability "to bring the most complex concepts to a layman's level" was a "godsend."
Speaking to those who knew him, the compliments keep coming.
"I don't think I am exaggerating when I say that David was truly one of the best science journalists in the world," said Don Johnston, vice president and group publisher at BioWorld. "He had an amazing talent for understanding deeply complex scientific issues and then translating them into compelling stories for BioWorld Today's mostly business audience."
"David was one of the sweetest and most likable people I ever met," said Jim Shrine, who managed David for five years. "Writing science stories well into his 80s brought him great joy. He had a wonderful ability to craft science stories that appealed to scientists and nonscientists alike."
Charles Craig, editor and lead author of Ernst & Young's annual global biotechnology reports, worked with David when both were members of BioWorld Today's staff. When told of David's passing, he said: "I always thought David was the heart and soul of BioWorld. His talent for demystifying complicated scientific concepts with interesting and witty analogies made his articles the most widely read. He will be missed."
David wrote more than 2,300 articles for BioWorld Today. A hard worker and writer his entire life, he filed his last story less than one month ago. His collective work of biotechnology journalism is unparalleled.
Reflecting on David's writing, Carl Feldbaum, the Biotechnology Industry Organization's president, said: "David was the most inventive interpreter of our science writing over this past decade, bar none. He was biotech's Carl Sagan, without the hype. In person he seemed a gentle soul, but on paper and the internet he was a tiger, turning out five columns of high literary quality each week. The body of his work deserves a Pulitzer, and David deserves the enduring gratitude of our entire biotech community. We were lucky to have such a treasure in our midst."
BioWorld was especially lucky to have had his talents for so long. Our staff mourns his passing.
David's wife of 39 years, Alena, and their son Frank make their home in the United States, as does son Timothy from David's first marriage to Leonora Herendeen. Leonora, son Jordan and daughter Linda are living in the Czech Republic. David's brother, Jonathan, lives in Fairhope, Ala. David has five grandchildren.
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