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Prof. Frank Porter Hungate [biology 1946–52]

April 18, 2023, in Seattle, with family in attendance.

Prof. Frank Hungate lived to be almost 105 years old. He was born in Cheney, Washington, in 1918, the grandson of James Hungate, who signed the Washington State Constitution, and the youngest of five boys born to Joseph Wynne and Winona Hungate. After growing up in Cheney and starting college there, he moved to Austin, where his brother was teaching microbiology at the University of Texas. In his brother’s biology lab, he met the lab assistant, Mary Virginia, who was to be the love of his life. After Hungate graduated from the U of T, he went into a doctoral program at Stanford. He and Mary Virginia (Mollie) were married in 1941, and she joined him in graduate studies under Dr. George Beadle, a later Nobel Prize winner.

After Hungate finished graduate studies in 1946, the family moved to Portland, Oregon, where Hungate taught at Reed College. In 1952, he was offered a job at Hanford and the family moved to Richland, Washington, where they lived in government housing until 1955, when they built a house on two acres of land in Kennewick. They lived in that house for 38 years, raising four children and establishing strong friendships in the community. Hungate continued to work in the field of biology, first with General Electric and later with Battelle. His field of research was exploring the utilization of low-dose radiation in prevention of organ rejection and as an alternative to insecticides in food safety. He was chosen to advise scientists in Greece on initiating nuclear research, and, as a result, the family lived in Athens for a year in 1960.

Many weeks in summer were spent at a family log cabin on Priest Lake in northern Idaho. After retiring in 1994, Mollie and Hungate moved from the Tri-Cities to Seattle, where they became part of a multigenerational household with their daughter’s family. Many summers they returned to Priest Lake or traveled further, exploring almost every corner of the world during their more than 72 years of marriage. They appreciated the wide variety of cultures and customs in the countries they visited. Mollie passed away in 2013, but Hungate continued spending time at Priest Lake and remained a participant in the Women’s University Club in downtown Seattle. He was always welcomed by the social bridge group and mahjong players, and he looked forward to his games at the club.

Hungate was an unapologetically positive individual, forming many connections and greatly impacting those who knew him. Throughout over a century of life, he witnessed immense changes: from horse and buggy to electric cars, from washboard and wringer laundry to electric washing machines and dryers. He learned penmanship in school and recently became proficient at word processing on his iPad. He could split roof shingles, make a loaf of bread, and plumb and wire a house, and was chopping wood last summer. He is survived by his children, Frank II, Jess, Bonnie, and Tom; 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Appeared in Reed magazine: Fall 2023

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