The Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation lost more than an outstanding scientist and a dear friend when Dr. Jordan J.N. Tang passed away on Sept. 29, 2020, at the age of 89. As many of you know, Dr. Tang was an integral part of OMRF for almost as long as OMRF has existed. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine an OMRF without him.
Jordan arrived in Oklahoma from Taiwan in 1955 with $200 in his pocket, much of it from his village’s “money pool club” – a dozen families who gave their savings to help members of the community who needed them most. The funds paid Jordan’s tuition and expenses at what was then known as Oklahoma A&M University, where he earned a master’s degree in biochemistry.
Upon graduation, he began his career at OMRF in 1957 as a research technician, and he rose quickly from there; within a year, he’d discovered a new stomach acid. That finding propelled him to a Ph.D. at the University of Oklahoma and a long, distinguished career at OMRF researching the family of cutting proteins known as proteases.
En route to becoming one of the world’s experts in this field, Dr. Tang studied a panoply of diseases in which they played a vital role: stomach cancer, hypertension, HIV and, finally, Alzheimer’s. At each stop, Dr. Tang made invaluable contributions to biomedical research. His work led to life-changing insights, most notably helping to create the protease inhibition drugs that have saved the lives of countless people with AIDS and a series of watershed discoveries about Alzheimer’s disease.
At OMRF, Dr. Tang led the Protein Studies Research Program and also held the J.G. Puterbaugh Chair in Medical Research. His work was recognized and honored by, among others, the National Institutes of Health, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the United Nations. He is the only Oklahoman ever to receive the Alzheimer’s Association’s highest research prize, the $1 million Pioneer Award.
Dr. Tang loved his adopted home and proudly called himself an “Okie.” In 2008, he became the first OMRF scientist inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. Upon his retirement from the laboratory in 2013, the OMRF Board of Directors fittingly named him an OMRF Distinguished Career Scientist.
All who had the privilege of spending time with Dr. Tang knew not only his brilliance but his kindness and humility. In addition to his prowess in the lab, he was a talented artist and a marvelous raconteur who could turn even the most abstruse scientific disquisition into something comprehensible, warm and human. He especially enjoyed making people laugh. If you have six minutes to spare, all of those qualities are on ample display in this video of his Hall of Fame acceptance speech.
Dr. Tang is survived by his wife, Kuen, whom he married at OMRF in 1958, as well as his sons Albert and Joseph and his grandson, Aaron. Like his family, we will miss Dr. Tang dearly.
Dr. Tang’s family has asked us to collect remembrances. If you have one, we encourage you to post it below so that we may share it with his family.
Share your memories of Dr. Tang
Courtney Griffin says
It was an immense pleasure and privilege for me to get to know Jordan here at OMRF! We interacted closely during the 2010 “Creativity Project” when we were part of a small group charged with composing a piece of music for a string quartet in just a week (!). Jordan, of course, excelled at that assignment and created a beautiful and intricate piece that sounded Chinese and Oklahoman all at the same time. In 2018 I had the honor of moving into Jordan’s former lab space on the 7th floor of the OMRF Research Tower, since my lab needed room for expansion, and he was no longer conducting bench experiments. I spent 2 weeks with my lab manager going through all of Jordan’s remarkable lab equipment, notebooks, reagents, and supplies…it was a treasure trove of scientific accomplishment and accumulation! I will always feel close to Jordan knowing that I’m occupying his former scientific lab space. What a kind, personable, and thoughtful man…he always took time to ask me about my family and career when I saw him at the Foundation. I will miss him very much.
Hiram Champlin says
Jordan Tang’s life is one of the great stories of Oklahoma. I was honored to know him and grateful for his contributions to the center of excellence we call OMRF. His legacy is an inspiration to all his fellow Okies.I pray that the love from family and friends will bring peace to the hearts of Kuen, Aaron, Joseph, and the entire Tang family.
Qing Guo says
Dr. Tang’s work on memapsin-2 was truly outstanding, and I greatly miss the productive discussions that we had at OMRF on Alzheimer’s research. You may not know that Dr. Tang was also a great player of the strategy game of Go. He was always so full of life and fun to be around. I will cherish the memories I have of him.
Justice Steven Taylor says
Dr. Tang held the J.G. Puterbaugh Chair until his retirement. J. G. Puterbaugh was the founding Chairman of the Board of OMRF. It was the highest honor and tribute to his legacy that Dr. Tang held the Puterbaugh Chair. The Puterbaugh Foundation has always been very proud to be associated with the historic research conducted by Dr. Tang. Personally, my friendship with Jordan Tang over these many years has been very important to my appreciation of all the good work at OMRF. Dr. Tang was also an accomplished artist and one of his paintings hangs in the office of The Puterbaugh Foundation in McAlester….and it always will.
Justice Steven Taylor
The Puterbaugh Foundation
Rod McEver says
Some of my fondest memories date to when Jordan’s lab was located on the first floor of the Chapman building. I passed there frequently en route from my lab in the Acree/Woodworth building to meetings at the OU Health Sciences Center. Invariably I would see Jordan in the corridor, scribbling ideas on a board and talking with his staff. He would stop me, asking how things were going. He would then share his latest hypothesis or experimental data, mixed liberally with thoughts about Oklahoma and the rest of the world. These encounters made me late to many meetings, but I relished those delays! I will miss Jordan’s warmth, his wit, and his keen intelligence.
Lijun Xia says
Came from Taiwan, established his family and career in the Sooner State, five decades in the red soil made him a proud Okie;
Beginning with gastric acids, relentlessly decoding proteinases at OMRF, half a century of discoveries made him a true legend.
Gerald Koelsch says
Someone once described Jordan as having “more ideas per millisecond” than most people, with scientific insight, energy and excitement to match…yet balanced with a patience and kindness that showed his strength. In many scientific debates, whenever someone interrupted with a raised voice, Jordan would continue with polite persistence and a peacefully resonant voice, as he believed that truth could speak the loudest. He gently and selflessly sought character building in others. He was a perpetual child at heart who enjoyed learning as much as creating, whether it was in science, golf, visual arts, tennis, or music. He genuinely sought to invoke a daily personal renaissance in everyone!
Gladis Walter says
I arrived in Oklahoma in 2006, to be part of Dr. Jordan team, as a postdoctoral associate. He was brilliant and was always open to discussions, about science. Most of all, he was sensitive about life and always had a sense of humor. When I was about to marry he said: “Your parents cannot come so I will be there for you”. And he was. Last night Stefan and I were unrapping some fragile pieces of art – we just moved – and my husband came to show me a cristal dolphin, our wedding gift from Dr. Tang. One flipper was detached from the body. A delicate, but intact flipper, that reminded us about how important he was in our lives!
Guangpu Li says
I have so many fond memories of Jordan in the past 20 years. In addition to work collaboration on endocytic regulation of his favorite proteases, we shared extracurricular interests in classical music and golf and became close friends. Yep, he played golf until a couple of years ago! About 10 years ago, I randomly mumbled something about golf and his eyes lighted up and said he wanted to pick up the game again after decades of absence on the golf course. Like everything he accomplished, he was full of joy and energy on the golf course, and of course very competitive. He wanted to get better score every time on the course and wanted to have birdies to tell his wife Kuen. In the past two years, we kept the conversation of golfing together someday, but he could not make another round. We met for lunch last year, he was a little sad that he could not play golf anymore but was excited about his new grandson and moving to Dallas. He was hopeful and cheerful as always. I will miss you Jordan.
Lin Hong says
I worked with Dr. Tang at OMRF for more than 10 years. He is a true scientist with great passion for scientific research. He taught me a lot about science and life. I am very proud about my accomplishments in his lab. We talked over the phone a few weeks ago, he was in good spirit and would love to get together again with people he worked with. I will miss him.
Martin Fusek says
I have been postdoc in Prof. Tang lab for 3 years in late eighties and early nineties. Coming from this strange country in the middle of Europe with poor English and 100 USD in my pocket. Jordan helped me to start in a great way. I always admired his broad knowledge, motivation, hard work but on the top of that – his kindness and humanity. It is a major loss. I will always remember him as a great person.