Dr. Peter C. Maloney, an internationally known biochemist who was a professor of physiology and associate dean for graduate students at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, died Dec. 12 of cancer at his Bare Hills home. He was 72.
"Peter was such a wonderful person who did everything with grace and fairness. He was beloved by everyone," said Dr. William B. Guggino, professor of physiology and vice chair for research in pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
"When you are in a leadership position, you're going to rub some people the wrong way. But the way he could handle difficult situations meant that people went away thinking that they had been treated fairly and satisfied," said Dr. Guggino, a longtime friend.
"He was the reason I came to Hopkins 20 years ago. He even interviewed me," said Dr. Rajini Rao, a longtime friend and colleague who is a professor of physiology at the medical school. "He was a genuinely nice guy."
The son of a civil engineer and a pianist, Peter Charles Maloney was born in Boston and raised in Cohasset, Mass., where he graduated in 1959 from Cohasset High School.
Dr. Maloney earned a bachelor's degree in 1963 in biology from Swarthmore College and his Ph.D. in 1972 in biomedical sciences from Brown University.
After graduating from Brown, he completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University. He was recruited to come to Hopkins in 1976 by neuroscience pioneer Dr. Vernon Mountcastle as a professor of physiology.
During his 37 years at Hopkins, Dr. Maloney's research focused on biomedical and molecular mechanisms used by transport proteins.
"His research contributed to the understanding of cystic fibrosis, a serious disease which affects approximately 30,000 people in the United States," said his wife of 43 years, Dr. Gail Stetten, whom he met during his days at Brown. She retired from Hopkins, where she was director of the cytogenetics laboratory and was an associate professor in the department of gynecology and obstetrics.
"He was an internationally recognized expert on carrier proteins that transport molecules such as phosphate across cell membranes," said a press release from Hopkins announcing Dr. Maloney's death.
"In recent years, the kind of scientific questions he focused on became especially relevant to understanding the origins of cystic fibrosis, a disease now attributed to an abnormal protein named CFTR whose biochemistry and molecular biology Peter and his lab helped elucidate," said the release.
"He played a huge role in this field and he was internationally known for his work," said Dr. Guggino.
Dr. Maloney was recalled by colleagues as a gifted teacher "who preferred blackboards and chalk to PowerPoint."
"He could explain the most complicated organ function by simply drawing out the details. This is a skill we really no longer have," said Dr. Rao.
"In teaching transport, the first thing is to show a boundary, and Peter would start by drawing a perfect circle. After he had filled up one blackboard, he would slide down to another one and keep going," said Dr. Rao.
"Even though he loved technology — computers and his latest iPad — he didn't need a whole lot of technology to teach and was always very approachable," she said. "He made it easy for them to grasp what he was teaching."
Dr. Maloney was respected by his students and colleagues alike.
During his 12-year tenure as associate dean for graduate students, Dr. Maloney and his staff established programs that reached out to minority college students urging them to consider attending Hopkins.
He was generous with his time and also always available to students and colleagues who came to him with problems or were in need of encouragement and advice.
"Students went to him; faculty went to him," said Dr. Rao. "He was the guy everyone went to for really good advice. He was a very empathetic person."
"He was committed to excellence in education and fairness," said Dr. Stetten. "A colleague had said that 'for many years, Peter had been the conscience of the institution with respect to the graduate students. They had no greater champion than him.'"
"He really, really worked hard to benefit the graduate students. He was always fighting with the administration over their stipends," said Dr. Guggino. "He devoted his life to Hopkins and he loved coming to work every day."
"He had a bright, impish, encouraging way about him which must have served his med students very well, and all the while he was very definitive and determined, and there was no changing him when he knew he was right," said Sarah Fenno Lord, a longtime friend.
Dr. Maloney was a founding member and first president of the Robert E. Lee Nature Council.
"Pete was a great advocate for the council and guided it through its first difficult years. It was his foresight that shaped it," said Nancy Horst, a community activist and the organization's secretary. "I loved his wry sense of humor and the way he put things in perspective. But you always knew where you stood with him and he was willing to work things out."
Dr. Maloney enjoyed listening to music and was an "avid amateur pianist," said Dr. Stetten. His collection of science fiction was donated to Swarthmore's Cornell Science Library.
There are no services.
In addition to his wife, Dr. Maloney is survived by a son, Alex Maloney of Montreal; a daughter, Beth Maloney of Roland Park; two brothers, Charles Maloney of Boston and Dan Maloney of Milwaukee; a sister, Dodi Cole of Marblehead, Mass.; and four grandchildren.