Donald L.D Caspar

January 8, 1927November 27, 2021
Obituary of Donald L.D Caspar
Donald Louis Dvorak Caspar, born on January 8, 1927, passed away at the age of 94 on November 27, 2021, after a short illness. Don began his career at age 11 when Isadore Fankuchen—a pioneer in the field of crystallography and a family friend—told him about Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV), the first virus ever discovered. For the next 83 years—at many research centers around the world, including the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England; the Children’s Hospital Medical Center and Children’s Cancer Research Foundation in Boston, MA; the Rosenstiel Basic Medical Sciences Research Center at Brandeis University; and the Institute of Molecular Biophysics at Florida State University—Don worked to understand the structure of this remarkable virus particle and how it was assembled from its protein and RNA. In so doing, he unveiled key pieces of the logic underpinning the molecular processes of life. He had unbounded curiosity and a passion to “connect the dots” to understand how all the pieces fit together. He coined the phrase “Structural Biology” to describe the study of the structure and function of biomolecular systems. He never ceased to ponder the things that inspired and intrigued him, and his unstopping monologues inspired and educated an entire generation of scientists who now represent much of the leadership of the global structural biology community. Don was introduced to his future wife Gwladys by mutual friends in Boston, Massachusetts, and they married in 1962. They raised their two children in Brookline, Massachusetts, then moved to Tallahassee, Florida in 1994, and eventually divided their time between homes in Tallahassee and Cape Cod. Don and Gwladys both enjoyed travel, and for many years the family spent part of each summer in Gwladys’ home country of England. They also both enjoyed gardening, and created many beautiful perennial gardens, most enduringly at their Cape Cod home. Gwladys passed away in 2011, following a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s. Don had the eye of an artist, which he used to create exquisite sketches of virus structures long before computers were used for such purposes. In later life, Don applied both his creativity and his scientific precision to mastering cooking and baking, taking over responsibility for food preparation from his wife Gwladys when she was no longer able to do so. He continued to expand his repertoire after Gwladys passed away, delighting his friends with signature dishes such as baked cod and pear frangipane tart. While the pandemic did result in the cancellation of several planned trips, including what he expected would be one last visit to England, Don spent lockdown safely ensconced in his Tallahassee high-rise apartment, supported by several dear friends who kept his refrigerator well-stocked, and maintaining his connection to his FSU office through weekly lab meetings conducted via Zoom. (As he had a hearing impairment, Don actually preferred Zoom to in-person for these meetings, since with headphones he could actually understand all of what was being said). In June of 2021, he was able to return to his home in Cape Cod, where he spent his last months living with his son. He was able to enjoy one last growing season in his lovely garden and had long-delayed visits with several friends and family members, including three weeks with his daughter and granddaughter. Don was preceded in death by his father Caspar, his mother Blanche, his brother Alan, and his wife Gwladys. He is survived by his siblings Mila and Myron, his children Emma and David, his grandchildren Justin, Noah, Jared, and Carina, and numerous other family members and friends all over the world. We miss him terribly, but are grateful for his long and eventful life, and for the enduring memories of the times we shared. Donations may be made to Alzheimer’s research organizations such as the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund (

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