John Jeffery: Tribute to an eminent Malaysian medical scientist

THE Malaysian medical scientific fraternity lost one of its most respected and distinguished members when John Jeffery passed away peacefully on August 15, 2021, at the age of 78.

John was a parasitologist and taxonomist. His illustrious scientific career began in 1962 when he joined the Hooper Foundation Research Unit based at the Institute of Medical Research (IMR), Kuala Lumpur, as a laboratory assistant. He then continued his duties at the University of California Arbovirus Research Unit, located at the Universiti Malaya School of Medicine.

While at these institutions he was mentored in research by expatriate scientists like Dr. Albert Rudnick, Dr. B. Knudsen, Dr. R. Garcia and Dr. R. Dewey who saw enormous potential in John.

In 1974, he joined the Faculty of Medicine at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and was promoted to Senior Medical Technologist in the Department of Parasitology and Medical Entomology.

John was an active field researcher from his early days. Dr. Rudnik described him as “one of the best-trained entomological technologists in all of Southeast Asia”. He was a dedicated scientist who was always ready to learn and teach. His scientific contributions were immense. They were all the more admirable because he didn’t have a college degree, which he couldn’t get due to family obligations early in his life.

The golden rule of scientific research is and should always be the publication of research results in a scientific journal. It is the medium through which new discoveries and knowledge are disseminated. John had a prodigious research output of over 200 high-profile scientific publications to his name, which was a remarkable achievement.

His research focused on Malaysian parasites and vectors and covered the areas of malaria, dengue fever, zoonotic diseases, parasitoids, soil-transmitted helminths, cockroach distribution, forensic entomology and health education. He was an expert in the taxonomy and ecology of mosquitoes, protozoa, flies, ticks and domestic cockroaches and had written books on the identification of flies and mosquitoes. John will be remembered in posterity for his discovery of new species of organisms that bear his name.

“Mr. John”, as he was affectionately known, was a friend and mentor to many medical technicians and scientists nationwide. He was always generous in sharing his knowledge of entomology and parasitic taxonomy, which he did with humor.

He was a long-time member of the Malaysian Society of Parasitology and Tropical Medicine (MSTPM). Many will remember him as a caring senior member. John has held senior positions in the company and was a member of the executive board for several years. He was deputy editor of the Society’s journal, Tropical Biomedicinefor more than 15 years.

John’s achievements have been well recognized by his peers in several awards he has received during his long career. In 1987 he received the Nadchatram Silver Medal from the MSTPM and in 1988 the MSPTM Boehringer Mannheim Prize. In 2009, John was awarded the society’s coveted Sandosham Gold Medal in recognition of his immense contributions to academia, MSPTM and the community at large. He is also one of the few in the country to have twice received the National Technology Award, in 1993 and 1996.

We are very privileged and honored to have known John. His wisdom, knowledge, humor and generosity will be missed. And while we are deeply saddened by his passing, the MSPTM will strive to cherish his memory and maintain his passion for parasitology. May his good soul rest in peace.

ASSOC PROF DATUK DR VELLAYAN SUBRAMANIAM

President, Malaysian Society of Parasitology and Tropical Medicine (MSPTM)

JOSEPH LOPEZ

Research agent (retired), Institute of Medical Research and former member of the MSPTM