Ralph Schwall Science Room
Honoring the Life of Ralph Schwall
Ralph Schwall’s life was marked by irony. As a senior scientist and associate director at Genentech, he helped to develop three cancer drugs now on the market, one of which doctors prescribed for him after a diagnosis of colon cancer two years ago.
He died last August at 49 after living a life of amazing vitality and generosity.
His wife, Gail, and their two children — Kevin ’05 and Katie ’09 — are carrying on that legacy of service. So, too, are Schwall’s colleagues at Genentech, who have raised $50,000 to donate to SI in honor of Schwall’s prodigious accomplishments and generous spirit.
Thanks to the donation, a science room at SI will be named for this generous man.
In his youth, Schwall showed great promise in his small town of East Nicholaus (near Marysville), where he set the high jump record and where he was chosen high school valedictorian.
After a Bachelor’s degree in physiology from UC Davis, a doctoral degree from UC San Diego and a post-doctoral fellowship at Colorado State University in reproductive physiology, Schwall signed on with Genentech in 1986.
In his 20 years with the firm, he published 65 peer-reviewed papers, wrote 14 reviews or book chapters, presented 50 abstracts at scientific meetings, gave hundreds of lectures, and earned 16 patents for his inventions.
His team also contributed to three cancer drugs, including Herceptin and Avastin, which have helped thousands of people. He also worked on six other anti-cancer drugs currently in development.
An active outdoorsman, Schwall loved to ski, fish and dive for abalone. He coached his kids in CYO basketball and volleyball at Good Shepherd in Pacifica and volunteered for both the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
He contracted Hodgkin’s disease in 1991 and, after a bone marrow transplant, returned to Stanford to volunteer at the clinic there to answer questions for patients awaiting the same procedure.
There, he heard about Camp Okizu in Oroville, a camp for children with cancer and for their families. Beginning in 1994, he spent one week each summer during his own vacation volunteering at the camp. His son eventually did all of his community service work there, and his daughter plans to carry on her father’s work each summer while she is at SI
Schwall incorporated science in his work with kids both at the camp and through his other volunteer work. “He saw the importance of teaching science to young people so that they could proceed into careers in science,” said his wife, Gail, who is also a Senior Scientist at Genentech. “He encouraged Genentech to do the same and worked with the company to develop the Access Excellence Program to train high school science teachers.”
(Peter Loyd ’78, who taught biology for many years at SI, was one of the first teachers involved in that program.)
After recovering from Hodgkin’s disease, Schwall didn’t slow down. “Five years ago, he decided he really wanted to be a pilot, so he started taking lessons,” said Gail. “He had to jump through 10 hoops to get medical clearance, but he did and flew out of the San Carlos Airport.
He also continued his passion for woodworking and for volunteering, even after the second diagnosis of cancer. Two months before his death, he volunteered at the Day on the Boulevard sesquicentennial celebration at SI, helping to pass out popcorn “despite being pretty darn sick,” added Gail. “He thought it was important to live out the ideals of SI — to be with and for others. That’s what drew Ralph to SI, and he helped pass those ideals to our children and to so many others.”
After his death, his Genentech coworker and fellow SI dad Vince Anicetti helped promote the idea of raising money for a gift in Schwall’s name. “He was a great teacher, co-worker, colleague and friend,” said Anicetti. “He leaves behind an impressive body of work in cancer research that will help many researchers in the future. I miss him very much.”