In Memoriam: Rodney L. Biltonen, PhD, Professor Emeritus in Department of Pharmacology Passed Away on March 29, 2023

April 12, 2023 by

Rodney Biltonen

Rodney Biltonen, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Departments of Pharmacology and Biochemistry

Rodney L. Biltonen, PhD, professor emeritus in the School of Medicine’s Departments of Pharmacology and Biochemistry, passed away on March 29, 2023, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. According to his obituary shared in The Daily Progress, Dr. Biltonen joined UVA as an associate professor in 1972, was promoted to full professor in 1977, and retired from UVA in 2003. His research focused on “the characterization of interactions both between and within biologically relevant molecules using thermodynamic and kinetic approaches,” as described by Dr. Biltonen’s sons in the article.

In Memorarium: Rodney Lincoln Biltonen

Rodney Lincoln Biltonen’s (1937-2023) kind and gentle soul passed on March 29, 2023 after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Rod was a beloved father and cherished husband. He was a Professor Emeritus of the Departments of Pharmacology and Biochemistry at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, where he spent the majority of his career until he retired in 2003. He will be remembered fondly by all who knew him.

Rod was born to Frank Emil Biltonen and Frances Biltonen (Castren), on August 24, 1937 in Sudbury, Ontario. His family moved frequently when he was a child before settling in Ely, MN. He graduated from Ely Memorial High School in 1955. With the encouragement of his coach, he declined an ice hockey scholarship so that he could attend Harvard University. He received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Harvard in 1959 and his PhD in physical chemistry and mathematics from the University of Minnesota in 1965. He spent one year as a postdoc in the Department of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley before joining the Department of Physiological Chemistry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. In 1972, he accepted a position of associate professor in the Departments of Biochemistry and Pharmacology at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. He was promoted to full professor in both Departments in 1977.

Professor Biltonen’s research was primarily focused on the characterization of interactions both between and within biologically relevant molecules using thermodynamic and kinetic approaches. In 1989, he won the Huffman Award for his contributions to thermochemistry and thermodynamics. In 1999, he was elected as a Fellow of the Biophysical Society. Rod retired in 2003 and was honored with a symposium that included colleagues, past and present graduate students, technicians, friends, and family. The immensity of his life’s professional work was obvious to all who attended. His impact on the lives and careers of everyone he worked with will be felt for decades to come.

But it was love for his family that truly meant the most to him. Rod met his future wife, Jane, while at the University of Minnesota pursuing his PhD. They were wed on August 6, 1960 in El Dorado, KS, Jane’s hometown, and raised two sons, Michael and Eric. Rod was a loving husband and father in a way that’s difficult to fully understand unless you know that his own father passed away when he was 14 years old and his mother raised him alone while working tirelessly in the logging camps of Minnesota’s remote Iron Range. Rod and Jane frequently entertained their friends and his graduate students, inviting them to share in Thanksgiving meals, to watch University of Virginia basketball games, or to visit them at their beloved Lexington cabins. Their marriage only grew stronger as the years passed. Even in his final years, Alzheimer’s couldn’t take away his ability to recognize his wife, give her a smile and ask for another smooch. Rod’s kind and gentle personality, along with his generous sense of humor, shone through to the end.



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