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Bernard Bach

Bernard Bach, former EMBL Administrative Director, has passed away

It is with great sadness that we share the news that EMBL alumnus, Prof. Bernard Bach, passed away on 8 June 2017 at the age of 81. Bernard was Administrative Director at EMBL Heidelberg from 1975 to 1978, and worked closely with Sir John Kendrew, EMBL’s first Director General. Bernard supervised the building of facilities at EMBL Heidelberg and the installation of the first scientific equipment. He also worked to launch EMBL’s other European sites, most notably EMBL Grenoble. Bernard was a staunch European – fluent in English and German – and supporter of international scientific partnerships throughout his career.

After leaving Heidelberg, Bernard held various positions in the French educational system, most notably as Head of his alma mater, the University of Nancy, and as a regional education representative (recteur) in Limoges from 1986 to 1988. Bernard also put his Heidelberg experience to good use as Director of Administration at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble where he again supervised the construction and installation of laboratories from 1988 to 1993. Bernard served as Scientific Attaché at the French Embassy in Ottawa, Canada until 1997 before ending his career back at the University of Nancy as a Professor.

Tribute from Andrew Miller

I joined EMBL as Head of the Grenoble Outstation in 1975. Bernard Bach joined about the same time and his was a highly positive appointment. His being French was a huge advantage for us in Grenoble as he was familiar with how things were done there. He gave wise advice, not only about what to do, but even more important, what not to say or do.  Furthermore he, very helpfully, introduced us to the best restaurants around Grenoble and to his favourite wines.

Bernard set about putting the Administration of EMBL on a solid footing – personnel, procurement, finance. He had a good sense of humour which I appreciated. In a conversation I happened to say ‘I am not French of course’ to which he immediately responded ‘Well, we cannot all be perfect’. This approach did not suit everybody but he and I became good friends.

He was invaluable in making good contacts not only with the people at ILL, but also with the Directorate of CENG, who were our ‘locateur’. One tricky point was that CENG had strict security rules and required identification details on all who entered the site. EMBL aimed at an ‘open’ site.  A problem arose because the EMBL rented building was inside the CENG security fence which separated us from ILL where the visiting scientists needed to go to carry out experiments with neutrons. It took even Bernard some time to negotiate permission for the scientists to be able to obtain access to a key to a padlocked gate in the security fence – la petite Porte – from EMBL where they prepared their biological specimens – ribosomes, viruses etc. – to the ILL, but eventually he won an agreement which fitted with CENG security. Being French, Bernard was happy to make reasonably frequent visits from Heidelberg to us in Grenoble, so we got to know each other quite well.

My second job in Grenoble was as a Director of Research from Day 1 of ESRF in 1986. The first Director of Administration was Nick Lawrence with whom I got on very well. When Nick left, he was replaced by Bernard Bach and he and I happily renewed our relationship as colleagues for several years. Obviously, the X-rays produced by ESRF were highly relevant to the structural biologists at EMBL, so Bernard’s previous knowledge of EMBL and ILL proved useful in fostering interactions between the three European facilities.