By RICHARD MAYOR
HEATHER Bobby Donald Mayor, who was born and grew up in Melbourne, has died at the age of 84 in Houston, Texas, after a distinguished career as
a medical educator and molecular biologist.
Named after the Scottish wildflower and Scotland's most famous poet, she remained proud of her Scottish roots throughout her life. Her parents, Joseph Arthur Lindsay Donald and Elizabeth Emily Boyd Donald, encouraged her to
be the best she could be.
After finishing first in her class at Shelford Girls Grammar, graduating as the class "dux", she attended the University of Melbourne, where she earned a bachelor of science degree in theoretical physics and pure mathematics, and a master of science degree in physics with first-class honours.
She then set out for England for her graduate education, where she had the good fortune to be mentored and sponsored by some of the finest scientific minds of the time, including Alick Isaacs, the discoverer of interferon, and Sir Christopher Andrews, who helped discover the influenza virus. Heather and Isaacs were the first to use the electron microscope to quantitate viruses of importance to human disease, including influenza and mumps.
After receiving a doctorate from the University of London in 1954, she returned to Melbourne to do research in virology at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. She then met and married Richard Mayor, who was attending the University of Melbourne as a Fulbright scholar from the United States.
In 1956 Heather travelled with her husband to Boston, obtaining a position as post-doctorate fellow at Harvard Medical School. There she worked in the field of fluorescence microscopy with Dr Albert Coons, who had initiated a revolution in cell biology through the development of the immunofluorescent technique for labelling antibodies.
In 1960 she joined the faculty of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, rising to full professor in the department of microbiology and immunology. She also served as professor in the division of experimental biology and professor in the department of surgery at Baylor.
Upon retirement she transitioned to professor emeritus. Heather lectured in the US, Europe, Asia, Israel, Australia and Latin America. She was an invited speaker and served as session chairman at numerous scientific conferences throughout the world. She published more than 100 original papers in scholarly journals and wrote many chapters in textbooks on virology and molecular biology.
In 1971 she was awarded a doctor of science degree from the University of Melbourne in recognition of her important contributions to the field of molecular biology.
Heather served as a consultant to the Atomic Energy Commission, the National Cancer Institute, M.D. Anderson Cancer Centre and the University of Texas medical school. She was a distinguished scholar in residence at the Rockefeller Institute at Bellagio, Italy, in 1983 received the Sir Hiram Maxim award for pioneering research in allergy and immunology in 1990, and was named a scientist of the year by the Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1992.
Heather considered her most important scientific work to be the discovery and elucidation of the adeno associated virus, which she conducted over several years with her students. She referred to AAV as the "good virus" because it could interfere with the replication of other viruses that are important in human disease and also because of its potential use as
a vector in gene therapy.
She took great pride and satisfaction in mentoring scores of medical and graduate students at Baylor College. She was also active in developing innovative software teaching materials in virology for use in secondary schools, using graphics and animation that were fun and highly educational. She was an adviser to the Tomball High School science programs in areas relating the life sciences to art and the environment.
Heather was fascinated by the structures found in nature
at the molecular level and
co-organised the exhibit Life Shapes at the Contemporary Art Museum of Houston in 1974. She loved and had a deep knowledge of classical and early music, Mozart being a particular favourite. She enjoyed playing the piano and especially her custom-designed harpsichord, which was inscribed with the Shelford motto "Quaerite primo regnum dei" and the Melbourne University motto "Postera crescam laude".
She was an early devotee of Apple computers and acted as
a consultant to users of MacIntosh computers through her sole proprietorship, Helix Associates. Throughout her life, she loved to travel: during her years at the University of London she was referred to fondly by her friends as "Baedeker Bobby". She was also an enthusiastic and strong hiker.
She had a strong interest in the Latin language, was fascinated by cats, and was a voracious and eclectic reader. In her retirement years she enjoyed boating with her husband in the Pacific north-west.
A devout Episcopalian, Heather served as a lector and chalice bearer at Palmer Memorial Church and taught a weekly Bible study class at the Palmer Way Station. She had a lifetime interest in the relationship between science and religion and co-organised a course "Seeing and Believing What Science and Faith have to Say to Each Other".
Heather, who died after a long illness with Alzheimer's disease, is survived by her husband, Richard Blair Mayor, two children, three grandchildren, and her Australian relatives, her brother and sister-in-law, Ian and Marie Donald, and their two children.