Virtual Memorial Service:
The memorial service will take place on Saturday, May 13, 2023 at 3:30pm EST at the Fellowship Hall at the River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation, located at 6301 River Rd, Bethesda, MD 20817. For those unable to attend the memorial service in-person, you can participate remotely by viewing the live stream of the service (please scroll up to see the video).
Memorial Service Program
Dr. James Ming Phang, aged 84, a distinguished emeritus research scientist at the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, MD, passed away at his home on January 29, 2023. James Phang’s life spanned two nations and a seminal era in fundamental biomedical research. He was born in Wuhan, China on May 27, 1938 to Dr. Samuel H. Phang and Hannah Wang, the daughter of banker H.W. Wang. When Dr. Samuel H. Phang took a medical fellowship in the USA, he was separated from his wife and children James and Lillian by the outbreak of World War II. The family was finally reunited in 1946, emigrating from China to the USA. A Seventh-Day Adventist physician, Samuel H. Phang began a medical practice in downtown Los Angeles and the Phang family settled in Alhambra, Los Angeles. A younger brother, Robert Phang, soon joined them. Naturalized as an U.S. citizen, James Phang remained proud of his Chinese heritage which included the indomitable Hakka ethnicity.
James Phang was educated in Seventh-Day Adventist schools, including Lynwood Academy, and received a B.A. in physics and mathematics in 1959 from Pacific Union College in Angwin, CA. He pursued medical training at Loma Linda University School of Medicine in Loma Linda, CA, receiving his M.D. in 1963, and completed an internship and assistant residency at Stanford Medical Center in Palo Alto, CA. He has been recognized as a Notable Alumnus of Loma Linda University.
Dr. Phang was drawn towards fundamental biomedical research when the Vietnam War broke out and he became a clinical associate in the Metabolism Branch of the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD. He was subsequently promoted to senior investigator and head of the endocrinology section of the Metabolism Branch at NCI-NIH. From 1990 to 1998 he was tasked with directing the Laboratory of Nutritional and Molecular Regulation at NCI-Frederick for which he received an NIH Merit Award in 1993. Dr. Phang continued to lead an active research laboratory at NCI-Frederick until 2015, after which he became NIH Scientist Emeritus in the Mouse Cancer Genetics Program at NCI-Frederick.
Dr. Phang’s research focus was the metabolic and regulatory role of the amino acid proline in tumor growth and progression. His foundational research emphasized the importance of proline metabolism in tumor growth, making possible potential therapies for cancer. A member of prominent professional societies, Dr. Phang published over 160 scientific papers in high-impact journals and presented his research at many international conferences. Even in retirement he continued to publish scientific reviews and essays and helped mentor the next generation of scientists.
Dr. Phang’s passion for research never displaced his devotion to his wife and children. He married Ruth Ann Van Dyke, of Racine, WI, in 1968. He introduced his three daughters to his research (though none became biologists, one became a physician) and to fishing for smallmouth bass and perch on family vacations at Deep Creek Lake, MD and Little Squam Lake in New Hampshire.
Dr. Phang was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in July-August 2022 and passed away peacefully in his own home on January 29, 2023. He is survived by his three daughters, Sara Elise Phang, Laura Justine Phang (married to Scott Regenbogen), and Elizabeth Ann Phang (married to Jeff Waite), his grandchildren, Samuel Regenbogen, Jonah Regenbogen, Nicholas Waite, and Penelope Rose Waite, and by his brother Robert Phang. His late wife, Ruth Ann Van Dyke Phang, passed away from cancer in 2014. James is also survived by his companion Arleen Cheston, a Washington, DC resident and artist, and by many friends in biomedical research, fellow avid low-stakes poker players, and old friends from his PUC and LLU days. He was an active member of the Metro Bethesda Rotary Club.
An ecumenical memorial service at River Road Unitarian Universalist Church will be held on May 13, 2023. Condolences may be addressed to the Phang household in Kensington, MD. In support of a science-oriented scholarship in the name of James Phang, tax deductible donations may be sent to the Metro Bethesda Rotary Foundation, memo line James Phang scholarship, at: MBR Foundation c/o Daniel Fisher, Treasurer, 8624 Springvale Rd., Silver Spring, Maryland 20910.