Obituary: Bernd-Uwe Jahn

Bernd-Uwe Jahn, former EMBL Administrative Director, Ministerialrat and Jurist has passed away

Bernd-Uwe Jahn was EMBL Administrative Director from 2001–2009. PHOTO: EMBL

With deep sorrow, we report the passing of Bernd-Uwe Jahn, who died on 7 August 2019 at the age of 75.

Bernd-Uwe was EMBL Administrative Director from 2001–2009. He joined EMBL during a period of discord between personnel and management, and set about restoring the good relations that were, and are, the norm at EMBL. Bernd-Uwe’s efforts focused on an inclusive approach and the involvement of all categories of staff in EMBL’s life and decisions. This approach won him the respect of everyone at EMBL and of the EMBL Council, together with the friendship of all those who came into contact with him.

As an official in the German Federal Ministry of Research and Technology, Bernd-Uwe had been one of the German delegates to the EMBL Council for a year before he became Administrative Director. His familiarity with Civil Service procedures and imperatives and his legal qualifications and expertise were of great benefit to EMBL in facilitating discussions with member states and Council.

During his tenure, Bernd-Uwe managed a period of significant expansion in building work, of which the EMBL Advanced Training Centre (ATC) is the most obvious example. He also modernised EMBL’s financial systems and developed a more proactive, less bureaucratic and more service-orientated Administration. All of this helped make the growth of the Institute over this period both possible and frictionless.

The energy, good humour and openness that Bernd-Uwe brought to EMBL can be seen everywhere in the results of his work. We owe him a debt of gratitude for everything that he achieved for EMBL.

Our thoughts are with Bernd-Uwe’s wife Siegrid and his family.

Edith Heard and Iain Mattaj

On behalf of EMBL


The funeral service will take place on 23 August at 11:00 at the Pfarrkirche St. Martinus in Sankt Augustin-Niederpleis, Alte Marktstrasße/Ecke Friedhofstraße. There will be a procession from the church to the adjoining cemetery for the burial. The family kindly ask friends and colleagues not to send flowers or wreaths. If you would like to attend, please RSVP here.

Condolence book

If you would like to add a personal message to a condolence book for Bernd-Uwe’s family, please contact the Alumni Relations team.

The EMBL community share their tributes

Keith Williamson; former Head of Administration

Bernd-Uwe was not only my boss but my good friend.

From my first interview with Uwe, at which it was clear neither of us really understood why we were there (but he nevertheless took advantage of the occasion to let me sample the local wines), to the last of the five different farewell speeches I drafted for him nine years later, there was fun, hard work and surprises.

Working for Uwe was never dull. From the start we shared a common view of how EMBL should function and where improvements were necessary. If we disagreed at all, it was only in the detail of how to get there, never about the goal. I experienced Uwe’s special approach to administration first-hand during our midday walks in the woods around the Laboratory, our evening meals in the Traube and the Adlerstübchen, and during our outings to places of historical (or oenological) interest at weekends, where plans were hatched for taking things forward, or dealing with the latest unexpected problems. It was revealing to see the trouble Uwe took to help individuals resolve their problems, and the ingenuity and pragmatism he brought to bear in these circumstances. With Uwe, the worlds of work and pleasure merged into one enjoyable continuum. We laughed a lot and I learnt a lot about management from him.

But there was much more than work to Uwe: at the personal level he was extraordinarily generous in helping me with my German studies. At the beginning we spoke English with each other with occasional, and amusing, forays into German. As time went on we spoke only German with each other. He also took time to educate me about the history and culture of Germany, German food and, of course, German wine. From time to time we would sing German folksongs together: for example, we were once surprised by a head of site one evening in the Traube as we were singing ‘In einem kühlen Grunde’, and at EMBL Administration Assemblies our duet of ‘Ich hab’ mein Herz in Heidelberg verloren’ caused a sensation (of one kind or another). The pattern set at our first interview was to continue for the next 18 years! Uwe invited me and my family to share time with his, and this friendship has continued over the years. We have celebrated many of the happy events in our families together as well as, sadly now, some of the saddest.

On one occasion, Uwe managed to enrol me in the male voice choir in Rohrbach, and then avoided joining it himself! However, this also proved to be a blessing because it began my wife’s and my integration into the community of Rohrbach and the possibility of continuing our life in Germany.

In May my wife and I became Germans, and now Uwe is gone.

We will sorely miss him, and our hearts go out to Sigi and the children and grandchildren.

Eero Vuorio; former Chair of the EMBL Council

Bernd-Uwe was a warm-hearted connoisseur of wine and good food with a great sense of humour. He was also someone with a thorough knowledge and understanding of the rules and procedures of Council and the Laboratory, who could be depended on for immediate and correct answers. Now Bernd-Uwe is no longer available to help us. We have lost a dear friend. I send my condolences to his loved ones.

Gerlind Wallon; Deputy Director, EMBO

I am really sorry to hear and will greatly miss him. I have known him as a man with an open ear and heart, and great understanding for staff’s problems and wishes.

Joerg Fleckenstein; former Head of Resource Development

He was such a good man. I learnt a lot from him. And many organisations could have learned from him how to establish a positive and humane organisational culture.

Janet Thornton; Director Emeritus, Group Leader, and Senior Scientist, EMBL-EBI

It is my pleasure to remember Bernd-Uwe and his contributions, especially to the smooth running of EMBL-EBI. For my first eight years as Director at EMBL-EBI, Bernd-Uwe ran the administration. During this period EMBL-EBI grew rapidly, with many more staff, more grants and more administration. Gradually we built a strong interaction between the new administrative staff at EMBL-EBI, led by Mark Green, and their colleagues in Heidelberg. As an independent international organisation, EMBL’s procedures are relatively fluid and had to change rapidly to respond to external pressures. Bernd-Uwe introduced the necessary changes with little fuss. Although Bernd-Uwe was a big personality, and great fun to dine with, he proceeded rather quietly to lead the admin side of the organisation and develop the administrative infrastructure as needed.

Despite his major role, he always involved himself deeply with the challenges faced by individuals and did his best to ensure any issues were handled sensitively and to the benefit of the staff. For this he will be remembered with great affection and thanks.

Ramesh Pillai; former Group Leader, Grenoble

Since I was working at EMBL’s site in Grenoble, France, I did not interact with Bernd-Uwe regularly. However, it was with great warmth that Bernd-Uwe greeted me every time I saw him in the cafeteria at EMBL Heidelberg. On the occasions when he visited us in Grenoble, he was always keen to know and learn how he could help us there. His work clearly made an impact on our life at EMBL and will be remembered. His family will be in my thoughts during this difficult period.

Graham Cameron; former Associate Director, EMBL-EBI

I was deeply saddened to hear of Uwe’s death. I valued him as a colleague and friend. His contribution to EMBL was beyond measure. He was warm, wise and knowledgeable. This combination of special qualities contributed not only to his practical directorial role, but also to the emotional tone of the entire organisation. His skill in cooperation and consensus-building created sensible solutions to sometimes fraught situations. His support and sympathy for me through a challenging time of family illness was also a direct personal comfort.

And of top of all that – he was great fun. He had a quick wit and an easy conversational manner that befriended him to many. I will be far from alone in missing him.

Isabella Beretta; former Chair of the Finance Committee

During the years I was the Chair of the EMBL Finance Committee I was working closely with Bernd-Uwe. I appreciated his competence and openness, working towards finding solutions that take care of the needs of the member states as well as EMBL and its staff. He was also fun to work with, and always ready to raise a glass after the meetings, creating an amicable atmosphere.

I am very sad to hear about his passing away. I offer my condolences to his family.

Florence Beye-Mack; ehemalige Leiterin EMBL Kinderhaus

Ich möchte Ihnen mein tiefstes Beileid aussprechen. Ich habe Bernd-Uwe als Menschen erlebt, der stets positive Energie ausstrahlt und an andere Menschen glaubt.

Silvia Bertini; former Administrative Officer, Hamburg

I was very sorry to hear the news about Bernd-Uwe. Working in EMBL Administration in Hamburg from 2004 to 2011 was a very enriching time for me. Among the highlights there were the discussions at the yearly Administration Assemblies that Bernd-Uwe fostered – they helped develop an awareness that all of us were part of a unique experience. Certainly heaven’s garden is a little similar to the vineyards on the hills around Heidelberg. My warmest condolences to Bernd-Uwe’s family.

Matthias Hentze; EMBL Director

Dear Uwe, you left us too early. You knew how to combine your work with pleasure in a masterful way. It made you very effective in what you did and a good friend of many. May you now rest in peace.

Genevieve Reinke; former Grants Office Manager

When I took my job as Grants Office Manager at EMBL in February 2003, I was very touched by Bernd-Uwe’s approach as my boss, not only in his qualities as a good supervisor but also as a person with an open heart and ear. I appreciated his pragmatism in problem-solving and his confidence in his employees’ work. He was a man with a strong social and emotional intelligence who never forgot his roots. He would not be scared to admit mistakes or recognise wrong done for the sake of a third party’s interest. For this, I appreciate him as a good, fair and just human being. His memory will always be kept alive.

All my deep compassion to colleagues, alumni and his family members, who dearly miss him and suffer his loss. May his soul rest in peace.

Wilhelm Ansorge; former Head of Unit

Uwe joined EMBL at a somewhat difficult time, when standard procedures in administration needed to be re-established. Uwe was a gentleman and impressed all of us with his professionality combined with the human touch. Any organisation would be happy to have him serving for them.

Alan Sawyer; former Head of Monoclonal Antibody Core Facility

This is so sad – Uwe was a real bon vivant – I shall miss him.

Patrick Vincent; Head of Operations, Human Technopole Foundation

Bernd-Uwe has been my professional mentor as administrator of international research centres. We first met in 2005 in Heidelberg while I was at the Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) in Strasbourg. I was immediately impressed, and seduced, by his extraordinary personality: a combination of extreme competence, robust common sense and his warm, considerate, sometimes witty character.

Ever since our initial encounter he remained the trusted and friendly partner I could rely upon for uncompromising advice or opinion. He once summarised in a characteristically sharp formula his philosophy of what should be the support and administration of an excellent research organisation like EMBL: “For any problem the answer is ‘we will do it’…and if we do not know how, we will find out”! This commitment to efficiency and pragmatism permanently influenced my own approach; then in Japan and now in Italy.

I will miss Bernd-Uwe dearly and I present my sincere condolences to his family, whom he often referred to with great affection.

Gareth Griffiths; Chair of the EMBL Alumni Association and former group leader, Heidelberg

I am extremely saddened by the passing of Bernd-Uwe. I was really very fond of him – a real gentleman, honest, warm-hearted, generous and with a great sense of humour. It was always a pleasure to discuss anything with him, be it for work or for general interest. As Head of EMBL Administration he was always trying to solve problems efficiently and he was endowed with superb diplomatic skills.

The EMBL family has lost one of its really great personalities. My deepest condolences to his family.

Angel Chong; Treasurer of the Alumni Association Board 2020 and former Finance Officer

Bernd-Uwe made me laugh on many occasions. These are my favourite memories and I will always remember him for this. My sincere condolences to his family. He will be sadly missed.

Christian Scherf; Administrative Director

With great dismay, I have learned about the sudden death of Bernd-Uwe. He has been a great colleague and, since I joined EMBL, become a good friend.

I have known Bernd-Uwe from his time at the Hahn-Meitner-Institut (HMI) in Berlin, shortly before he left. At that time I was the young, new, COO of the Helmholtz Research Centre in Geesthacht and he was my colleague at HMI. When he joined EMBL we became closely interacting colleagues and partners; both as Administrative Directors of our organisations. Together we supported the renewal of the long-term cooperation agreement that Fotis Kafatos and Helmut Dosch signed, and enabled the participation of EMBL in the PETRA III project. The founding of the Centre for Structural Systems Biology (CSSB) and its operation model were supported by our close interaction.

When I joined EMBL, Bernd-Uwe helped tremendously to onboard me into my new role. He helped in the handover of contacts to local and regional authorities, gave highly welcome and helpful advice, and provided me with historical knowledge about EMBL and its Administration.

I found in Bernd-Uwe a supportive and critical person, who wholeheartedly wanted the best for EMBL and its future development. He has been an important colleague to me and became a friend. I left practically every discussion with him having gained knowledge and clarity.

I will miss Bernd-Uwe. Miss the critical mass of his personality, miss him as a professional companion and colleague, and miss him as a friend. His sudden death should inspire us to think about what is important in life and what is not.

I will treasure his memory. My thoughts are with everyone in his large family.

Helke Hillebrand; former Academic Coordinator, Heidelberg

Dear Bernd-Uwe, I can’t believe you left us – way too early! We will miss you for all your talents, warmth and enthusiasm. And I’ll be always grateful for your support while we overlapped at EMBL, and for your friendship throughout the years after. I learned a lot from you and will always cherish the fondest memories of our interactions. Charlotte remembers you for your ‘Papierflieger’ and ‘polnische Wacholderwurst’, Ruediger for your eloquence and dedication, and each and every glass of Palatinate white wine we drink we will be having on you!

My warmest condolences to your family, of whom I had the pleasure to meet a few of the youngest ones. I share the sadness of the many people who will miss you. Rest in peace, dear Uwe!

Sylvia Schattschneider; former Unit Administrator, Heidelberg

During my time at EMBL and also after I left, I always saw Bernd-Uwe’s warm-hearted, gentle and ever-professional way of respecting each employee at EMBL. I will always be grateful for his honest way of giving advice and his humorous personality.

My deep and sincere condolences to his family. Rest in peace, Bernd-Uwe, we will deeply miss you.

Tags: administration, alumni, obituary


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