Jerome F. Sagin, biochemist, opera-lover, and bibliophile

Jerome F. Sagin, 89, a biochemist, a lover of opera, and a man with a deep curiosity about the world, died Monday, Oct. 25, of heart failure at Stapeley, a retirement community in Germantown.

Low-key with a droll wit, Mr. Sagin began his career in private industry with Merck & Co. Inc. pharmaceutical company, conducting research on influenza and polio vaccines. Later, he joined the research staff of Wyeth, now part of Pfizer Inc., but continued to specialize in developing safe and effective vaccines.

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Jerome F. Sagin

Mr. Sagin had a great appreciation of music, especially opera, and was a dedicated collector of records and audio recordings.

He served on the board of an innovative company - the former Pennsylvania Opera Theater - that brought new versions of operas to the region and sang them in English to make them more accessible.

He also served frequently as an extra in operas performed by the Opera Company of Philadelphia at the Academy of Music.

In addition, he would often host young opera singers from out of town, putting them up in his home for the duration of their tours in Philadelphia.

Mr. Sagin was a bibliophile, amassing a sizable library. He read voraciously. Even after he lost his vision to macular degeneration in his later years, he listened to hundreds of books on tape.

He had a passion for world affairs and geography and an affinity for languages, studying Russian as a hobby.

It was perhaps no surprise that Mr. Sagin - born May 6, 1921, in Philadelphia - became a research scientist. He grew up over Sagin's Pharmacy, operated by his parents, Abraham and Augusta Sagin, at 68th Street and Dicks Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia.

He went to West Philadelphia High School, then earned a bachelor of science degree at Temple University and a master's degree at Philadelphia College of Pharmacy.

After serving during World War II as an Army medical-lab technician in New Guinea and the Philippines (and later with the army of occupation in Japan), Mr. Sagin went to work for the federal government at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington. At night, he completed work for his doctorate in biochemistry at Georgetown University.

A few years after the war, he had an unpleasant brush with the Red Scare. In 1949, he was investigated by the Dies Committee - a forerunner of the House Un-American Activities Committee - because for a time he had roomed with a Chinese housemate while employed at Walter Reed.

Nothing came of the inquiry, but the experience soured Mr. Sagin on government work. He joined Merck after this, working at its facilities in Rahway, N.J., and Montgomery County.

He retired in 1986.

Mr. Sagin was married for 60 years to the former Shirley Milner of South Philadelphia.

Before moving to the retirement community, Mr. Sagin lived in Wyncote and Chestnut Hill. For three decades, he and his wife lived in Springfield Township, Montgomery County, raising their boys there.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by sons Todd, Mark, and Steven Sagin and five grandchildren.

A service is private.


Contact staff writer Craig R. McCoy at 215-854-4821 or cmccoy@phillynews.com.