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Paul Blum, 65, scientist; joined Peace Corps

Dr. Blum had moved in July from Cambridge to Zambia.

Dr. Blum had moved in July from Cambridge to Zambia.

Paul Blum carried about him such a sense of calm that it was not unusual for him to ­remain unnoticed when he joined a gathering.

“He was a big observer,” said his daughter, Lori Reine of ­Bedford, N.H. “He would be in the room and take in everything. And when he said something, it was always meaningful. You’d say, ‘Oh, that makes sense.’ ”

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When a discussion became heated or led to something being “presented as a big dilemma, he had a way of listening to someone say, ‘It has to be this or that,’ and he’d say . . . ‘It doesn’t have to be polarized; it doesn’t have to be yes or no,’ ” said ­Betsy Caney of Cambridge, his companion of 14 years. “He saw a continuum of possibilities.”

Formerly a scientist for pharmaceutical and biotech companies, he became a consultant to companies pursuing clinical trials and US Food and Drug Administration approval of new drugs before joining the Peace Corps and moving in July from Cambridge to Zambia.

Dr. Blum died of a heart ­attack Sept. 8 during his first trip to Kafumbwe, where he was visiting the thatched-roof, mud-brick hut that was to be his home during his volunteer time. He was 65 and had lived in Cambridge for many years.

During a lengthy career, he worked for companies including ­Johnson & Johnson. In Cambridge, he worked at Genzyme and the former Acambis, where he was director of clinical operations. After working in ­Connecticut at Neurogen, he became a principal of PSB Pharmaceutical Consulting in Cambridge.

Jerry Eisen, of Henniker, N.H., said that when he and Dr. Blum trained at Johnson & Johnson early in their careers, “we were asked what we wanted to be remembered for. Paul’s response was, ‘As a scientist,’ and he was true to that. He had a solid scientific career.”

Beginning with basic ­research, Dr. Blum worked his way up through various aspects of developing new medications and became an authority on guiding drug development through clinical trials toward FDA approval.

“He had vast experience in the pharmaceutical industry,” said Dr. Tom Monath, a consultant to the vaccines industry who worked with Dr. Blum at Acambis, when the British biotech had its US headquarters in Cambridge. “He had seen it all and done it all. I was just thinking about all the times he kept us out of trouble during clinical trials.”

During development of a new smallpox vaccine after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, ­Monath added, Dr. Blum oversaw clinical trials across the country that involved thousands of subjects.

Dr. Blum, Monath said, was the kind of colleague who “if you walked in his office with a high degree of tension, you ­immediately relaxed.”

Born in New York City, Paul S. Bloom was the younger of two sons. His family settled in Westchester County, N.Y., where he graduated in 1965 from Mount Vernon High School. At the University of ­Vermont, Dr. Blum graduated with a bachelor’s degree in zoology and a doctorate in physiology and neurophysiology.

His brother, David of New Buffalo, Mich., said that as children, they visited relatives in Vermont on the shores of Lake Dunmore, where Dr. Blum ­developed an interest in sailing.

When Dr. Blum was in the first decade of his career as a scientist, an aunt and uncle joined the Peace Corps and volunteered in Botswana.

“That was always very ­romantic to Paul and myself and to several of our cousins,” David said.

Dr. Blum married Ann ­Havers and for a time they lived in Pennsylvania. They had a daughter, and though their marriage ended in divorce, they kept a friendly relationship. She now lives in Alpharetta, Ga.

Through friends, Dr. Blum met Caney 14 years ago and they hit it off immediately, discussing the Peace Corps early on.

“His life had not allowed him a whole lot of travel,” she said, “and he always liked the idea of going into the Peace Corps.”

As handy with a sewing ­machine as he was taking apart and fixing nearly anything, Dr. Blum sewed covers for Blue Note, his 30-foot sailboat, which he liked to cruise through the Boston Harbor ­Islands and up the coast to Maine.

Dr. Blum was also a photographer and “would take incredible, thoughtful pictures,” Caney said. “He was quietly devoted. People observing him observing me would say, ‘You should see how he looks at you.’ ”

With his granddaughters, 11-year-old Claudia and 9-year-old Alicia, Dr. Blum liked to cook or go to museums. “He was always present for their moments: their birthdays, their recitals, their soccer games,” Dr. Blum’s daughter said.

“He was kind to everybody,” she added. “What I realize now that I’m thinking about it is that he surrounded himself with people whom he truly wanted to be with. He realized what he wanted to do, and he did that. I think he realized the essence of life: Do what you want to do and not what you have to do.”

When Dr. Blum decided to set his work aside to become a community health volunteer with the Peace Corps, friends and colleagues admired his courage and cast the choice as heroic.

He saw it differently, Caney said. “He’d say, ‘Actually, I feel like I’m being kind of selfish, because I’m going off to do something I’ve wanted to do all my life.’ ”

Dr. Blum’s family plans to hold a gathering to celebrate his life. Volunteers in Zambia held a service there a few days after his death.

“The entire Peace Corps community mourns the loss of such a committed trainee whose wealth of experience in the medical and teaching fields was a great asset to the Peace Corps mission,” Aaron S. ­Williams, the group’s director, said in a statement.

While preparing to leave for Africa, Dr. Blum completed one checklist after another as he prepared to put his Cambridge life on hold.

“I would say, ‘How do you stay so calm?’ ” Caney recalled. “And he said, ‘Well, you know what a duck looks like on the water? On the surface, he looks very calm, but under the water his feet are going a mile a minute.’ ”

Others focused on the part of Dr. Blum that was above the water’s surface, though, and that presence had a profound influence. There could never be quite enough calm.

“One of the classic lines Paul used to say when we were sailing was, ‘If you think you’re going too slow when you’re sailing, slow down,’ ” Eisen said, “and I never forgot that.”

Bryan Marquard
can be reached at
bmarquard@globe.com
.

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