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Sean Perry, technical associate at the Picower Institute, dies at age 39

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Sean Perry
Sean Perry

Sean Perry, a technical associate at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, died suddenly in his hometown of Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, on Monday, Nov. 23. He was 39.

For over 15 years, Perry worked in the laboratory of Susumu Tonegawa, the Picower Professor of Biology and Neuroscience at MIT. As a senior lab member, he was relied on for his expertise in a wide range of subjects, including IT support and data management, immunohistochemistry, molecular biology, imaging and microscopy, and animal handling and management. Perry's colleagues describe him as a patient and skilled teacher and coach, and say that he was responsible for training new lab members in fundamental skills. Lab alumni from around the world would come to him for advice, they say. 

“What struck me most about Sean was that he was a lifelong learner,” Tonegawa says. “Through his own initiative and intelligence, Sean mastered and took on a wide range of crucial roles in the lab, in particular maintenance of the lab’s servers and upkeep of advanced light microscopy equipment. We depended on him greatly these past years. The loss of his intellectual curiosity and kindness will leave an unfillable absence in my lab, and in the lives of those who knew him.”

Originally from Mattapoisett, Perry graduated from Old Rochester Regional High School and obtained an associate’s degree in culinary arts/chef training from Bristol Community College and a BS in biology with honors from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. After spending two years in the Tonegawa lab, Perry spent a year in Amsterdam in the laboratory of Christiaan Levelt at the Ophthalmic Research Institute (now the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience) before returning to MIT.

Perry excelled in a variety of pursuits outside of work, including power boating, sailing, and fishing. In his first year in the North Atlantic Shark Tournament, he was on the team of the Beagle, which finished in first place. He was also an accomplished competitive marksman, placing in the top five among New England marksmen in two separate competitions this past year. Perry was a former on-call firefighter in Mattapoisett, and plowed snow for the Mattapoisett Highway Department. His other pastimes included photography, playing piano, working with animals, welding, and metal sculpting.

“Sean knew so much about so many different topics, in and outside of the lab,” says Jennie Young, Perry’s friend and a research scientist in the Tonegawa lab. “People were asking him for advice all the time, on everything from cooking to DIY home improvement projects — and he was always happy to give it. I think everything came so naturally to him that it was easy for him to answer people's questions or to give advice.”

In addition to his parents, Diane and Dennis Perry, and his sister, Laura Perry, Perry is survived by his colleague and cousin, Candy Carr, his godparents, Kathy Carr and David Perry, and his uncle, Andy Carr, as well as an extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Family and friends will be received on Friday, Dec. 4, from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Saunders-Dwyer Funeral Home at 50 County Rd. in Mattapoisett. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, Dec. 5, at 9:30 a.m. at the funeral home, with burial following in Cushing Cemetery in Mattapoisett. Remembrances may be made in Perry’s name to a charity of the donor's choice.

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