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Myron Ledbetter dies; ex-Brookhaven Lab plant biologist was 92

Myron C. Ledbetter, a former biologist at Brookhaven

Myron C. Ledbetter, a former biologist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, died at his home in Belle Terre on June 1, 2016. He was 92. Credit: Family photo

Myron Ledbetter, a highly respected biologist, had a deep love for life outside the laboratory as well: opera, theater, fine dining and an active social life.

“He was just a remarkable person, almost a renaissance figure,” said his niece Diana Doyle of North Haven, Connecticut. “He had so many interests and abilities.”

Ledbetter died at his home in Belle Terre on June 1 of complications from liver cancer. He was 92.

Born in Ardmore, Oklahoma, Ledbetter was starting college at Oklahoma State University when World War II began. He joined the Navy and served aboard a tank landing ship in Okinawa. He finished his degree in plant biology at OSU and went on to the University of California, Berkeley for his master’s degree, ultimately getting a doctorate in botany from Columbia University. He eventually took a position as a cell biologist at Brookhaven National Laboratory in 1965.

In his time at Brookhaven lab until his retirement in 1989, Ledbetter and a co-worker published research on the discovery of a new organelle in plant cells — the microtubule — that launched a new area of plant cell biology research. He also coinvented a self-cleaning aperture for electron microscopes that is still used today. The Electron Microscopy Society of America awarded him the Distinguished Scientist Award, Biological Sciences, in 1996.

He also established the Myron C. Ledbetter Diversity Scholarship at his alma mater of OSU, which awarded him the OSU Distinguished Alumni Award in 2000.

He and his husband, John D’Aquila, were together for more than 50 years, and got married in 2012.

“Everyone kept asking, ‘Why don’t you get married?’ and he would say we didn’t want to bother,” Doyle said. “And then there was an insurance thing where Uncle John would only be covered if they were married — a shotgun wedding, they joked.”

Even after retirement, Ledbetter kept busy.

He enjoyed going to shows in Manhattan as well as at Port Jefferson’s Theatre Three. He was also a co-founder of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Stony Brook University, where he learned to make stained-glass pieces, including some based on his own microscopic plant cell enlargements.

D’Aquila died in 2014. Ledbetter, who was cremated, had requested that no funeral be held.

A celebration of his life will be held at 11 a.m. Sunday at the Belle Terre Community Center.

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