Kenneth Paigen, Ph.D., died peacefully the morning of Feb. 15, 2020, in Bar Harbor. He was surrounded by his wife of 50 years, Dr. Beverly Paigen, his five children (Susan, Gina, Mark, David and Jennifer) and his grandchildren. He was 92 years old. Ken was born to Alexander and Ida Paigen in New York City in 1927. He received his B.A. in biology with honors from Johns Hopkins University in 1946, and his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 1950.
Ken was a brilliant scientist, a treasured colleague and a trusted mentor. Throughout his scientific career, he received numerous awards and honors, and published 148 scientific papers. His research initially focused on the biochemistry and molecular biology of gene regulation, while his later work focused on recombination hotspots in humans and mice and the broader regulatory mechanisms controlling the location and intensity of epigenomic features.
He was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and received a Fulbright Senior Specialists Award and an honorary doctorate from Bowdoin College. After receiving his Ph.D., Ken held several postdoctoral positions — including at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Harvard Medical School and UC Berkeley. In 1955, Ken began a position as a cancer researcher at Roswell Park Memorial Institute (now Roswell Park Cancer Institute) in Buffalo, N.Y. During his 27 years there, he attained the rank of professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Biology. In 1982, Ken returned to UC Berkeley as professor and chair of the Department of Genetics. Then, Ken moved to Bar Harbor, where he served as director of Jackson Laboratory (the role now designated president and CEO), a position he held until 2002. Ken had a lasting impact on JAX during his leadership of the institution, including his crucial leadership following the devastating fire of 1989. During his tenure, he doubled JAX’s staff and operating budget. After stepping down as director, Ken remained an executive research fellow and professor, collaborating and publishing with Dr. Petko Petkov and other members of his lab on the mechanisms of genetic recombination in mice.
Outside of the laboratory, Ken was an avid outdoorsman. He played squash in his younger years and skied until he was 86. His lifelong passion, however, was sailing. He and Bev have sailed the entire coast of Maine, with Penobscot Bay and the Downeast coast as particular favorites, as well as Baja Mexico and the British Virgin Islands. Nicknamed “Skipper,” Ken shared his love for sailing with anyone and everyone, teaching his children, grandchildren, friends, and countless others the fine nuances of harnessing the power of the wind. Others on Mount Desert Island will know him as the longtime cup holder of the Long Pond Regatta.
Above all, Ken was devoted to those he loved, and, with Bev, he created a space of love and encouragement that extended far beyond their immediate family and will continue to endure long after his death. He is survived by his wife Bev; his sister Grace Felsher; his five children, Susan, Gina, Mark (Catherine Saltalamacchia), David (Cindy Paigen) and Jennifer Wales (Adam Wales); his two nieces, Lynn and Carol; his 12 grandchildren, Isaac, Zoe (Patrice Dini), Josh (Elyssa Edgerly), Cassia, Tamara, Erica, Alex, Eli, Cody, Tabitha, Sasha and Sabrina; and his great-grandchild Sydney.
A public tribute to Ken’s life will take place at The Jackson Laboratory in the coming weeks. Details will be published shortly. The family is creating a scholarship fund in conjunction with The Jackson Laboratory. In lieu of flowers, donations (please note: in memory of Ken Paigen) can be made to The Jackson Laboratory, P.O. Box 254, Bar Harbor, ME 04609. www.Jax.org/give. Condolences to the family may be expressed at BrookingsSmith.com.