Opinion| Volume 37, ISSUE 4, P385, October 2018

John D Biggers (1923 – 2018): A Eulogy

      Editors’ note

      John D Biggers, PhD, DSc, Professor Emeritus at Harvard Medical School and a giant in reproductive science died on Saturday, 7 April 2018, at the age of 94. His mentee and long time colleague and friend, Professor Catherine Racowsky also of Harvard Medical School, gave a moving eulogy at a memorial service held at his place of residence in Lexington, Massachusetts, USA, on 22 April 2018. She has kindly provided the text to RBMO for publication and it is reproduced below. An obituary noting some of Dr Biggers’ contributions to our field was published in the Boston Globe on 5 May 2018 (

      Marquard B, 2018. John Biggers, 94, pioneer researcher for in-vitro fertilization. Boston Globe, May 5, 2018.



      Dear Professor Biggers, my mentor; dear John, my friend – I am most grateful to your children, David, Philippa and Jenny, for inviting me to celebrate you as my mentor and my friend, and as an extraordinary man.
      As a mentor, you taught me the discipline for the optimum experimental design and the patience required to test that complex hypothesis that so often seemed far beyond reach. You taught me the rigours of statistical analysis and the importance of always considering the alternative interpretation of our data, and always more than once. You taught me the value and excitement of treading into unexplored territories as we pushed ever further to understand the wonders of mammalian oocytes and embryos. And by example, you taught me how to lead a research team, cohesive at its core and in its mission, yet with the over-arching philosophy that trainees should be allowed and encouraged to develop as independent thinkers to pave their own ways as established investigators in their own rights. In short, you taught me that delicate balance between trainees being guided, and at the same time free to test their creativity. And above all, you taught me the importance of giving young investigators the opportunities for growth.
      I believe, and I sincerely hope, that I thanked you for inviting me to attend the 1978 hearings at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in Washington, DC on whether the government should fund clinical IVF and human embryo research. If I missed it the first time, I thank you now. The impact of this experience was life-changing and although perhaps I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, it laid the foundation for my pursuit of translational work in the field of clinical IVF.
      Suffice it to say that your influence in the field of reproduction cannot be over-stated. You were a pioneer in advancing our understanding of the physiology of mammalian oocytes and embryos, you’ve had a great impact on clinical IVF with the introduction of single-step medium and, of equal importance, your contributions to the ethical framework for guiding the field of clinical assisted reproduction set the highest standards, which have stood the test of time. You have left a legacy of trainees and collaborators who carry on your way of thinking, who always try to do the right thing, and who continue to impart your intrigue and passion of our field to the next generation.
      Equally important as you the scientist and mentor, there was simply you, the man of so many admirable qualities. Sensitive, quiet, humble and with a tremendous sense of humour. A true friend and confidante. An English gentleman to the core. The ‘Englishness’ that you and I shared, our common roots in Oxfordshire, and our love of all things ‘nature’ did, I think, give us a special bond. We laughed until we cried over situations or nuances of language that left our American colleagues stupefied! We spent a day atop Mount Washington with magnifying glasses in hand, examining and appreciating the wonders of minute Alpine flowers in true English style! And in the last year of your marvelous life, we went on Saturday ‘outings’ together, sharing the joys of, among other things, Plum Island, whale-watching in Boston Harbor, exhibits at the Peabody Museum and the wildness of the South Shore. True to form, on all occasions and camera in hand, you made the most of every bit of all of it.
      And so, dear John, you lived an amazingly full life and have left an extraordinary legacy. I am so grateful that together we completed the introductory chapter for the book In-Vitro Fertilization: The Pioneers’ History just a few months ago. I am also so grateful for all the support, guidance and friendship that you gave me over the past 42 years. And I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to thank you personally for all of it just three short weeks ago.
      I already miss you greatly and will do my best to continue to pass along all that you have given me.


      1. Marquard B, 2018. John Biggers, 94, pioneer researcher for in-vitro fertilization. Boston Globe, May 5, 2018.