Obituary John Michael Bedford

The following obituary was published on from June 15 to June 16, 2018 (actual URL via

BEDFORD-Dr. John Michael, 85, internationally prominent research scientist, andrologist and reproductive biologist, died in his sleep the afternoon of Saturday February 24th at his home in Philadelphia with a serene expression on his face and a gin and tonic on his bedside table. Born 1932 in Sheffield, England to Ida and William Bedford, Michael studied veterinary science and human physiology at Cambridge University and the University of London. His postgraduate years took him to Worcester, Massachusetts, where he became a researcher under M.C. Chang, father of "the pill." There his experiments in mammalian reproduction led him to participate in the development and practice of in vitro fertilization (IVF), the process whereby spermatozoa and ova are joined in a laboratory environment, granting the hope of parenthood to those unable to carry a child to term.

Moving to New York in the late 1960's, Michael taught anatomy at Columbia University before finding his home of thirty years at Cornell University Medical College as professor of reproductive biology and director of their IVF laboratories. He is remembered by his students as a philosopher as much as a scientist, a master of seeing through to the essence of complex biological events. To paraphrase one of his favourite mantras: It's all quite simple once you learn to think like a sperm. Research journals have announced his death as "the passing of a giant," yet his work lives on through his hundreds of published articles, and the implications of his insight into the evolution of mammalian spermatozoa will be felt for generations to come.

A confirmed bachelor throughout his youth, Michael married the painter Rita Reinhardt (née Ziprkowski) in his late forties and soon found himself the unlikely doting grandfather to her grandson James. Rita and James are joined in grief by his stepdaughter Anna, son-in-law Andrew, his many friends and colleagues across the world, and those to whom, in his capacity as an IVF technician, he personally granted life itself.

Even as this past winter saw a decline in his health, Michael was happy to be on a first-name basis with his physicians, and eager for his very flesh to be laboratory for experimental heart surgeries - that last ultimately prevented by the suddenness of his passing. Indeed, his reward for a life spent investigating the germ of life was a death free of commotion or incident. On his deathbed he lay peaceful, the lines of age and care bled from his face like some subtle marble god.

Michael was a decent, kind, generous, humble man, and as such the vast majority of those he affected will never know his name. All the same, chances are you know someone whose life was made possible by J. Michael Bedford.