In Memoriam

The Center for Immunology mourns the passing of Dr. Matthew Mescher

Matthew F. Mescher, an icon of immunology at the University of Minnesota, died on December 21, 2021, after a battle with cancer.


Matt was born on March 22, 1948, in South Haven, MI to George and Dixie Mescher. He earned a B.A. in chemistry from Hope College in Holland, MI, and a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology from Harvard University. After he completed his postdoctoral training, Matt joined the faculty at Harvard before moving to the Molecular Biology Institute in La Jolla, CA. In 1993, he moved to the University of Minnesota (UMN) where he held the Professorship for the Virginia and David C. Utz Land Grant Chair in Fundamental Immunobiology in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology for twenty-two years.

Immunology-Matt M in Lab

Matt’s research interest was in immunology, a field devoted to the immune system. He was fascinated by the problem of how T lymphocytes detect and destroy tumors and virally-infected cells. His research culminated in a principle known as the three-signal model of T cell activation that inspired much research in the field and is now taught in immunology courses around the world. His research achievements were recognized by his election to the UMN Academy of Excellence in Health Research and a lecture in the American Association of Immunologists (AAI) President’s Symposium.


Immunology Marc, Matt, Tucker

Matt was a transformational leader in immunology at the UMN. He was charged with revitalizing the community, which lacked a national identity and was geographically dispersed across a large campus. Matt helped form a small group of faculty members from several UMN departments who worked to organize the discipline. They succeeded in forming a new graduate program (MICaB) and a Center for Immunology with Matt as the director. Under Matt’s leadership, the Center for Immunology acquired contiguous laboratory space for a multi-departmental group of faculty members working on the immune system. In his calm and confident way, Matt led the CFI over several decades to become one of the strongest academic units at the UMN and one of the leading Immunology Programs in the country. His contribution to science will remain vital through the Center for Immunology and the ongoing research of his many trainees. In a message to the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology( LMP) faculty on December 28th, LMP head Leo Furcht wrote:  “Matt was a great leader and tremendous asset to the department and the institution. He was the first hire we made in the Center for Immunology and as its leader for many years really established the foundation and growth for this outstanding center. He was key in identifying and recruiting all the senior immunologists we have in the department and many others in the institution. He left an indelible mark in making the Center for Immunology one of the top research centers in the country.  He led the department's research advisory council for many years and played an important role in overseeing and guiding numerous research-intensive faculty in the department and the institution. He was a mentor for many at all levels in the school. His sound judgment and critical evaluation of science and scientists were invaluable to me over the many years he was in the department. We and I very personally will miss his warmth, his humor, and his very thoughtful advice.” 

Immunology Matt Collage

Matt’s legacy will live on through his remarkable, unassuming influence on his family, friends, colleagues, and the many people he met over the course of a well-lived life. Matt's contribution to immunology will persevere with his numerous publications and the ongoing research of his many trainees who continue in his footsteps. It will also last in the UMN Center for Immunology that he created and nurtured to prominence. The 1990s and 2000s will be known in immunology circles as the Mescher Era at the UMN. His colleagues at the UMN owe him a great debt of gratitude and will remember him as a leader, mentor, and friend.

Matt was very well-read, thoughtful, and intrigued by all manner of people and ideas. He had a terrific sense of humor and enjoyed life – he graphed his golf games and his runs, raced his Corvette, played the violin, quoted poetry. He loved the natural world, especially bugs and snakes, much to the delight of his grandchildren. As the oldest of four siblings, Matt learned leadership skills early on, loved his family, and is cherished by his siblings. Matt adored his wife and his girls and they adore him. He was a kind and gentle soul who will be dearly missed.

Matt is preceded in death by his parents Dixie and George and his brother Phil. He is survived by Karen, his high school sweetheart and wife of fifty-two years who resides in Chester, MD- two daughters, Molly Kathryn Mescher of Baltimore MD and Cassandra Lynn McKay (Ryan) of Severna Park, MD; two grandchildren, Evelyn and Tate McKay; a nephew Mike Mescher of New York, NY; a niece Alexandra Jolly of Blowing Rock, NC and his siblings Mary Mescher and Ben Mescher (Cindy) both residing in Chester, MD.

In lieu of flowers, the Mescher family asks that you consider supporting the Mescher Trainee Enhancement Fund. If you prefer to send a check, it may be written out to UMF with Dr. Mescher/Mesher Fund in the memo line so that the gift processing staff know that the gift is in memory of Matt. Checks may be mailed to the lockbox address: UMF, PO Box 860266, Minneapolis, MN 55486-0266

There will be no services at this time. Information will be shared once available. Family and friends are welcome to leave their condolences on this memorial page and share them with the family.


 For additional Mescher tributes, see also:

AAI Logo

AAI extends condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of Matthew F. Mescher, Ph.D. (AAI ‘79), an active and dedicated AAI member for over four decades who died on December 21. 

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