Alex Andrew Bohm was an accomplished scientist whose discoveries made headlines, but his life was marked as much by his mentorship, lending guidance and support to dozens of researchers as Tufts University’s postdoctoral scholars officer across the past half-decade, and to many others before.
“He was absolutely instrumental in the success of so many careers, of so many people over the years,” Helen Boucher, dean of the Tufts University School of Medicine, said in a interview Wednesday.
Bohm, who was known by his middle name, was an associate professor of developmental, molecular, and chemical biology at Tufts School of Medicine and a mentor for many years before assuming his official role advising postdoctoral scholars, according to Joel Bard, who worked from 1999 to 2001 in a lab Bohm led at the Boston Biomedical Research Institute.
“He was really the sort of mentor that it was about making sure that things worked out well for the people that he was mentoring and not about his own advancement,” said Bard, a research fellow for the pharmaceutical company Pfizer in Cambridge. “He was definitely instrumental in my getting my job after there.”
Bohm, 57, died Monday after a crash with a UPS truck while he was riding a bicycle through an intersection in Newton, officials said. He was taken to Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where he was pronounced dead.
An initial investigation found that the UPS truck was turning left from Watertown Street onto Bridge Street, while Bohm was traveling west on Watertown Street, officials said.
The driver of the UPS truck, also a 57-year-old Newton man, stayed at the scene after the crash, which remains under investigation. The truck driver’s name was not released.
UPS said Tuesday it was “saddened by the news” of Bohm’s death and is cooperating with the investigation.
“We extend our heartfelt condolences to the families and individuals affected by this tragic event,” the company said in a statement.
Watertown Street is known to be difficult for cyclists to navigate but is commonly used as a connection to the Charles River bike path, according to Ed Olhava, president of Bike Newton, a nonprofit that promotes the use of cycling for transportation and is asking Newton officials for immediate changes to improve safety in the area.
“This tragedy leaves us heartbroken and our thoughts and sympathies are with Andrew’s family,” Olhava said in a statement.
At noon on Tuesday, colleagues and students gathered to remember Bohm at the medical school’s Boston campus.
“We had a standing-room-only room full of people who cared deeply about Andrew, and several of them spoke of the impact that he has had in their life, many of them postdoctoral scholars,” Boucher said. “In addition to being an incredibly accomplished scientist and scholar, his calling for this kind of education and mentorship is really amazing and such a gift to all of us in the Tufts community forever. He has left an incredible legacy here.”
Bohm was born in 1965 in New York City, according to an obituary posted online by the Henry J. Burke & Sons Funeral Home of Wellesley Hills, where visitation time will be held Saturday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. There was no funeral information listed.
“Andrew was an avid reader, cyclist, and sailor, and he loved to build and fix things himself whenever he could,” his family wrote in the obituary. “His contributions to Tufts as a researcher, professor, advisor, colleague, and friend to everyone were immeasurable.”
The family did not respond to interview requests Wednesday.
Bohm graduated from the State University of New York at Binghamton with a bachelor’s degree in 1987 and earned his doctorate in 1992 from the University of California, Berkeley, where he met his future wife, Celia Harrison, according to the obituary and his Tufts biography.
Bohm and Harrison married in 1996 and moved to the Boston area after he completed his postdoctoral training at Yale University, with Bohm beginning his career at Tufts School of Medicine as an adjunct professor in 1998 and becoming an associate professor in 2003. The couple had two children, Remy and Gil, who are now adults, the obituary said.
Bohm’s father, also named Alex Andrew Bohm, was born in 1929 in Vienna, escaping the Nazis 10 years later along with thousands of other Jewish children through the rescue effort known as the “kindertransport,” according to his 2019 obituary in the Republican-American of Waterbury, Conn. The elder Bohm became a lawyer in New York and married Etta Book, of Winthrop, and later Susan Junker of Pfaffikon, Switzerland, and had four children, including his namesake.
The younger Bohm’s area of study was X-ray crystallography, the process of using protein crystals to defract X-rays to determine the atomic structure of a molecule.
His work was featured in the New York Times in 2002, after he and two colleagues from the University of Chicago worked out the precise three-dimensional shape of one of three components of the deadly anthrax virus and published their research in the prestigious journal “Nature.”
In the lab, Bohm “was definitely ... not a bossy boss,” Bard said. He recalled spending New Year’s Eve in 1999 with Bohm, “backing things up and watching to see if anything bad would happen” at midnight, because of fears about the so-called Y2K bug.
Bard, a fellow cyclist, also recalled a time he and Bohm talked several others in the lab into biking from its building in Watertown to Bard’s parents’ home about 80 miles away in Hyannis, where their partners and other friends met them for a barbecue.
The next day, they rode on to Provincetown with the intention of taking the ferry home, but it was canceled because of high seas and the group had to find a motel at the last minute and return the next day, Bard said.
“It shows what a community he built in the lab,” Bard said. “There was this camaraderie that we could talk people who weren’t used to long bike rides into doing this adventure with us.”