Son honors father’s legacy of academic research and leadership at UF

When James B. (Bert) Flanegan, Ph.D., a 45-year professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at the University of Florida College of Medicine, announced his retirement date, his son and daughter-in-law, Ryan (BABA ’94) and Ella Flanegan, wanted to do something significant to recognize his remarkable career.

Knowing that Dr. Flanegan loves to brainstorm ideas and talk about science with students, they decided to make a gift that will name the James B. Flanegan Conference Room and Student Lounge in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology in his honor.

“This is a meaningful way for us to acknowledge the important work that my dad and the other researchers are doing,” Ryan said. “Their research lays the groundwork for discoveries that improves our lives five, 10, and even 20 years down the road.” 

Dr. Bert Flanegan, Julie, Ella, and Ryan Flanegan
Dr. Bert Flanegan and his wife, Julie, with Ella and Ryan Flanegan at the dedication event on Jan. 26.

Ryan and Ella envision the renovated conference room and student lounge spaces will help to facilitate faculty and student collaboration that will enhance research, innovation and discovery.

“As a consultant, I’ve worked at some really nice company headquarters and others that weren’t so nice. You feel inspired and do better work when you have an inviting workspace,” Ryan said.

The department of biochemistry and molecular biology advances research in molecular life sciences. Researchers examine characteristics ranging from the atomic level to the whole organism and everything in between. At the atomic level, they focus on understanding the functions of proteins, fats, sugars and nucleic acids. By comprehending the interactions of these entities and defining how the cell operates, researchers can identify abnormalities in diseases and begin developing targets for treatment.

“Dr. Flanegan impacted the department in many ways, including his outstanding leadership as chair, a mentor to trainees and faculty, impactful lectures in the classroom, and world-class foundational discoveries in polio research,” said Matthew S. Gentry, Ph.D., professor and chair of the department of biochemistry and molecular biology. “The gift from Ryan and Ella allows us to renovate the conference room and lounge while memorializing his many accomplishments by naming the rooms after him.”

Ryan is very proud of his father’s long career and many professional achievements.

Dr. Flanegan earned a bachelor of science degree in chemistry and master of science in biochemistry at Florida State University. After a tour of duty teaching chemistry at the U.S. Naval Academy, he earned his doctorate in biochemistry at the University of Michigan. Upon completing his postdoctoral research with renowned researcher and Nobel Prize-winning biologist David Baltimore, Ph.D., at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Flanegan was recruited to the University of Florida.

He is recognized as a world-class virologist and a leading authority on the replication of positive-strand RNA viruses. These viruses cause a wide range of diseases, including polio, hepatitis, meningitis, encephalitis and the common cold.

Among his many roles, Dr. Flanegan served as chair of the department for 24 years. Under his guidance the department recruited 15 faculty and developed two new areas of research excellence, structural biology and epigenetics, to stay at the forefront of biochemical research.

He is a past member of the National Institutes of Health Virology Study Section; he received the College of Medicine Faculty Research Award in 1989, a UF Research Foundation Professorship in 1998, Professorial Excellence Program Award in 1999 and was named a Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Explorations winner in 2011. However, the most valuable lessons Ryan has learned from his father are about character, work ethic and leadership.

Ryan says his dad brings a high level of integrity to everything he does.

“He’s very honest and approaches people and circumstances with kindness in his heart, and I think he gives everybody a chance. He has high standards and high expectations, but I think people appreciate the way he approaches things and know that he’s going be honest and fair with them,” Ryan said.

As Dr. Flanegan enters this new chapter in life, Ryan believes he will stay involved in science, but hopeful he’ll have more opportunities to travel.

“I’m looking forward to spending more time with him,” Ryan said.

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Flanegan Renovation Fund

Support renovation and upgrade needs for the James B. Flanegan Conference Room & Student Lounge space in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology.