Letter for the Memorial Service of Henri Termeer

Friday, May 19, 2017

Read at the event by Institute Professor Phillip A. Sharp

Dear Belinda, and all the Termeers,

This morning, in this moment of terrible loss, Henri’s friends and admirers encircle you with love.

Our hearts break to have lost such a man – a gentleman, and a giant. Wise, gracious, funny and brave, he showed us, in everything he did, how to live and how to lead.

With skill and drive and heart, Henri built Genzyme into a research powerhouse. For patients struggling with rare diseases, he offered hope and health when they had neither. In the process, he helped launch the biotechnology revolution, and helped create a new economy for Greater Boston.

In parallel, he maintained a career as one of the region's leading citizens, lending his brilliant vision to many of our most important institutions. To our great good fortune, one of them was MIT.

In 1999, MIT’s 15th president, Chuck Vest, was first to bring Henri on board, for our visiting committee on Biology. By 2006, President Hockfield had recruited him to the MIT Corporation, and the visiting committees for both Chemistry and Whitaker College.

Henri’s service continued, broad, deep and priceless, to the end. Through his exceptional leadership as chair, the Whitaker College committee emerged from uncertainty to shape the vision for MIT’s new Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, whose visiting committee he would also chair. A Life member of the MIT Corporation since 2013, Henry also served, since 2011, as a voice of calm wisdom and charming insight on its Executive Committee.

In his service to MIT, and his counsel to me, what I treasured most was Henri’s intellect and optimism. As the leader of MIT’s committee on Risk and Audit, he had sensitive antennae for danger over the horizon. But his deep instinct was to make room for creative risk.

Standing on the foundation of his lived experience, Henri could always see a little farther than the rest of us – could see, from his perch on Ocean Avenue, that the weather was breaking and the sun would be back before long.

We will miss him terribly. But we will always feel his presence in the warmth of that returning sun.

With boundless gratitude for all that you and Henri have done for our community and the world, and our deepest sympathy,

L. Rafael Reif