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For the Love of Tufts

Family and friends honor Neal Birnberg’s memory in a most meaningful way

By any measure, Neal Cary Birnberg, E76, was exceptional. The son of Holocaust survivors, he was the first in his family to attend college. Neal, who received financial aid from Tufts, and his sister, Jill Birnberg Perry, both earned college degrees thanks to the dedication and hard work of their parents, who owned a bakery in New Jersey. At Tufts, Birnberg was inspired by his professors and his coursework, and he forged lasting friendships with his classmates. Those experiences in and out of the classroom prepared him for a remarkable career. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Oregon and rose through the academic ranks to become an associate professor of pharmacology at the Yale School of Medicine. He founded the company Mercury Therapeutics Inc., and served as its CEO and chief scientist until shortly before he died of cancer in 2014.

Birnberg had a special ability to build loyalty and trust among friends, family, and colleagues. His Tufts classmate Marc Yagjian says, “My friendship with Neal was one of the wonderful fruits of our Tufts education. Neal’s deep curiosity and critical thinking were nurtured at Tufts and enriched our personal bond throughout many cherished years.”

To honor Neal’s memory, his wife, Jean Birnberg; their sons, Adam and Charlie; Neal’s children from his first marriage, Andrew and Catie; and other family members and close friends took the lead in establishing the Neal Birnberg Scholarship Fund. They raised $100,000, and through the university’s Financial Aid Initiative, Tufts matched that amount, creating a $200,000 endowment that each year will benefit a deserving undergraduate engineering student who otherwise would not be able to attend Tufts. That would surely make Neal smile.

“When Neal passed away after a brave battle with cancer, we all asked ourselves, “What did Neal love?” Jean Birnberg says. The answer was clear: “In addition to his family and friends, he really loved Tufts,” she says. “So we are delighted to have the chance to remember Neal through a gift to Tufts that will benefit students like him. And we are deeply moved and grateful to the members of our family and incredible group of friends who have helped make this scholarship fund possible.”