MASON, DONALD J. "JOE"
Rarely are humility and brilliance found in the same human being.
Rarer still is the person who embodies these qualities, along with a keen wit and gentle spirit—a person about whom an ill word was never spoken.
Dr. Donald "Joe" Mason, PhD., was such a person. Yet although his accomplishments and talents were many, he will perhaps best be remembered for his devotion to family, especially his childhood sweetheart and bride of 59 years, Nancy.
Joe died peacefully Sunday, March 3, at Rose Arbor Hospice Residence, after battling Parkinson's Disease for many years. He was 81 years old.
Joe was born July 24, 1931, in an Indiana farmhouse that still stands in Howard County (Kokomo), Ind. He was the oldest child of Donald G. Mason and Josephine E. Mason, both of whom proceeded him in death.
Although Joe was born during the heart of the Depression and his family was poor, Joe can be seen in photos at a young age making funny faces and sharing humorous adventures with his three siblings.
He learned early on to work hard and to hone his knack for fixing things on his family's small farm. But he also grew to adore science. Although he originally planned to join the Navy, a Northwestern High School principal took note of Joe's smarts and helped him receive a four-year scholarship to Purdue University. Joe also was his high school's 1949 salutatorian.
A counselor at Purdue guided him in selecting microbiology as his major. Joe was inducted into the science honorary and graduated magna cum laude from Purdue in 1953. He was awarded a National Science Foundation grant to fund his master's and doctorate degrees in 1955 and 1957, respectively.
Joe worked his entire professional life for The Upjohn Company, where he was hired as a microbiology research scientist in October 1957. During his 32 years with Upjohn, Joe received several promotions, beginning with manager of FDA Liaison. He eventually became executive director of U.S. Pharmaceutical Regulatory Affairs. Joe's honesty, integrity, and leadership in FDA relations made his unit one of the most outstanding drug regulatory units in the country. In 1975 he received the W.E. Upjohn Award for outstanding contributions.
After making nearly 1, 000 trips to the FDA in Washington, D.C., Joe retired from Upjohn in 1990. During his 32 years with the company, he played a leading role in the discovery and development of major anti-bacterial products and also gained the approval of seven significant products, each having taken years to develop. Among those were Motrin (ibuprofen), Cleocin, Halcion, Lincomycin (for which he held the patent), Rogaine and Xanax.
In recognition of his work, Joe was the recipient of awards and accolades. The most recent was his 2010 induction into the Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame at Northwestern High School in Kokomo, Ind.
Although his work at The Upjohn Company was important to Joe, he loved most spending time with family and pursing his many interests.
His interests included being a serious audiophile. He built his first stereo from a Heath Kit in the early 1960s and he loved his music loud. His four daughters grew up from their earliest days listening to The Beatles, Harry Nielson, Trini Lopez, Mitch Miller, Seigel-Schwall Band, Emerson Lake and Palmer, George Harrison, The Nice, Stravinsky, Copeland and Bernstein. He took his older three daughters to their first live rock concert—Rare Earth at Miller Auditorium—in 1972. When he was about 40, he bought a Yamaha organ and took organ lessons for the first time in his life.
Joe loved photography, too — a skill he learned while photographing bacteria and developing his own film while in college. He later developed pictures in the upstairs bathroom of his Romence Road home. He adapted with technology, expanding to digital photography and, in his 70s, using computer software to touchup photos of family, friends and adored pets. Joe's artistry and sense of style emerged whether he was whittling a face in driftwood by campfire light or, in his later years, with exquisite stained glass artwork. He was a talented humor writer as well, inflecting his dry wit in even the simplest of emails.
Friends and neighbors of Joe's homes in Portage and Lawton may recall his stupendous flower gardens. He landscaped the lot next to the family's Romence Road home with zinnias, canna lilies, mock orange, Rose of Sharon, snap dragons, marigolds, petunias, rhododendron, peonies and some 75 rose bushes. He devoted many evenings from spring through fall working in the yard—moving sprinklers, pulling weeds and pruning. People driving down the street often stopped to stare at his handiwork.
Joe volunteered at building community play grounds, spoke to school children about bacteria and cleanliness, and taught photography in 4-H. When he was retired, his daughters often volunteered him for construction or handy-man projects, too—whether it was putting on new car brake pads, repairing a broken necklace or constructing an 800-piece outdoor swingset. He laid tile, fixed plumbing, built decks and all sorts of construction projects on the homes of every daughter. Joe never met a tool he didn't like and owned a t-shirt that read, "Mr. Fix-It."
Throughout and even after mid-life, Joe loved to learn new things. He became a downhill and cross-country skier, forging trails on the forested acres where he lived in Lawton. He picked up bicycling and even briefly tried roller-blading.
Joe had the opportunity to travel world-wide, but he eschewed fancy trips for summers spent camping and canoeing, mostly along Lake Michigan's shore. Joe and Nancy were often accompanied by long-time friends Liz and Roger, or a fun-loving crowd of former Upjohn employees.
Perhaps nothing says more about a person than how they treat their family. Joe adored his wife Nancy more than anyone and privately kept a tin box of high school love letters his entire life. He showered Nancy with flowers, gifts and adoration. Joe raised four daughters to be independent-minded and self-determined, even when he doubted choices of first boyfriends or career paths. He led by example, not lecture, and made his marriage a model.
Most of all, Joe made life fun. He left candy hidden in colleagues' desk drawers or hanging from the ceiling. He once assembled over night a six-foot dinosaur skeleton behind a co-worker's desk. He donned terrific Halloween costumes. He told hilarious stories. He invented confounding ways to dole out cash to his kids at Christmas. His acts were selfless, generous and kind.
Joe was so humble he would not have liked such a long telling of his life. But we are proud to be part of his life as a wife, as children, as a brother and as friends. It was hard to keep it in.
Joe is survived by his wife Nancy (Thinker) Mason. Also surviving are: four daughters, Debra (John "Jack" McManus) Mason, Jill Rouse, Katherine (Bill) Wittliff and Patricia (Joe) Mayne; eight grandchildren, Jesse & Liza Rouse, Ian, Rose & Camille Mason McManus, Joe Trimner and Carter & Mason Mayne; a brother, David (Judy) Mason; two sisters, Judy (Richard) Eikenberry and Mona (Thomas) Lewe; and many nieces and nephews. He was preceeded in death by his parents and an infant grandson, Jonah Mason McManus.
A gathering of family and friends will be held at Langeland Family Funeral Homes, Westside Chapel, 3926 South 9th Street on Friday, March 8th from 11am to 1pm when an informal service will begin to celebrate Joe's life.
Private inurnment will be held in Shiloh Cemetery in Kokomo, Ind.
Memorials should be directed to the Michigan Parkinson Foundation, Rose Arbor Hospice Residence or the Kalamazoo Humane Society.
Read Donald Mason's Obituary and Guestbook on www.langelands.com.