Duckett Funeral Home of J.S. Waterman & Sons

656 Boston Post Road, Sudbury, MA


John B Little

October 5, 1929May 24, 2020

John B. (Jack) Little MD, scientific researcher, Francophile, and lover of old radios and automobiles, died peacefully at his Brookline, Massachusetts home on May 24, 2020 after a brief illness. He was 90 years old. His death was confirmed by his immediate family.

He was born in Boston, Massachusetts and spent his childhood in nearby Brookline. After attending college and medical school, he started his medical career as an intern on the Osler Service at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Immediately thereafter, he served two years as a U.S. Army Captain in the Medical Corps in Texas and Bussac, France, where he began his training as a radiologist. After returning to the US, he completed his formal radiology training at Massachusetts General Hospital. During a post-doctoral fellowship in Physiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, he found his passion for bench research, which shaped his long career pioneering studies on the mutagenic and carcinogenic effects of ionizing radiation on cells and tissues directly targeted by radiation.

His entire professional life centered at the Harvard School of Public Health, where he founded the Radiation Biology Program. He also led the Radiation Biology Training Grant which began in 1975. He had varied leadership positions over the years including Director of the Kresge Center for Environmental Health. However, until his retirement and beyond, his true passion was scientific discovery and not administration, generating over 500 scientific publications including several seminal observations that advanced the field of radiobiology. Over 100 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows claim Jack as their mentor, colleague, and friend. The eponymous John B. Little Center at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health testifies to the esteem in which his colleagues and mentees held him.

Dr. Little is a Past President of the Radiation Research Society. He served on many advisory committees, councils, and editorial boards, and has Chaired the Board of Radiation Effects Research of the National Research Council/National Academy of Sciences, the Science Council of the Radiation Effects Research Foundation in Hiroshima, and the Board of Scientific Councilors of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Jack had many pursuits outside of science to which he devoted similar passion. He belonged to the Brookline Historical Society, The Society of the Cincinnati of New Hampshire, for which he served as president, and the Harvard Musical Association, for which he also served as President. He was a vintage automobile enthusiast and owned several, which he frequently drove to antique car shows, especially his 1931 Packard. He was fascinated by radios and collected many early models. In the very first days of television broadcasting, he built his own TV which remained functional well into his later years. Jack was an immutable Francophile, being fluent in French. His love of the culture, food, and wine which started during his military service persisted, leading to meeting and falling in love with Françoise Cottereau at the wedding of a dear friend where he was the Best Man and she the Maiden of Honor. They wed in 1960. With his family, he delighted in many trips to France, Michelin Guide in hand, enjoying restaurants and visiting lifelong friends and his ‘adoptive’ family by marriage. He was equally at home in France as he was in his native Brookline.

In addition to Françoise, he leaves his sons John Jr and Frédéric, daughters-in-law Pamela and Claudia, siblings Selina and Warren, and 5 loving grandchildren. Burial services will be private; a celebration of his life will occur at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Radiation Research Foundation of the Radiation Research Society at https://www.radres.org/mpage/RRFoundation


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John B Little

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