Remembering Frank Talamantes

Written by Thomas Landefeld for Hispanic Heritage Month

When Dr. Frank Talamantes was born on July 8, 1943, in Los Angeles, California, educational and promotional opportunities for people of color were dismal and limited. To be the first in his family to graduate from high school and attend college during these times was an extremely proud achievement and the first milestone in his long and successful career. In an interview with the Santa Cruz Sentinel in 1989, Dr. Talamantes shared that he was luckier than most because he had the “fortune to have a mentor and great role model, professor Dr. Henry Browning…who picked me off the streets and gave me an opportunity to work in a laboratory”. He was also mentored personally and professionally by Satyabrata Nandi, who was his Professor and close friend whom he met in subsequent years at UC Berkeley. The mentorship of these individuals made a huge influence on the scientist Dr. Talamantes would later become.

He was raised in El Paso, Texas and was a graduate of Cathedral High School (1960). Upon completing his BA in Biology from the University of St. Thomas, Houston, Texas in 1966 and his MA in Biology from Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas in 1970, Dr. Talamantes pursued and earned a Ph.D. in Endocrinology from the University of California, Berkeley in 1974. That same year, Dr. Talamantes accepted a position as Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He was eventually promoted to Associate Professor (1980) and then full Professor (1984). In 2000, Dr. Talamantes was appointed Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies.

During his 30-year affiliation with UC Santa Cruz, Dr. Talamantes’ research and contributions to the field of biochemical endocrinology would earn him countless awards including the prestigious National Institute of Health Merit Award Research Grant, the Endocrine Society’s Sidney H. Ingbar Distinguished Service Award for 2000, and the Berson Lectureship, the highest award given by the American Physiological Society for his pioneering work on growth hormone receptors. Dr. Talamantes received the “Transatlantic Medal Lecturer” from the British Society for Endocrinology in 1991. A long-time member of the SSR, in 1993, he was recognized with the SSR Research Award for his contributions to endocrine function of the placenta. His laboratory also received numerous grants from the National Institute of Health and the National Science Foundation. In 2005, Dr. Talamantes joined the Texas Tech University, Medical School staff in El Paso as Professor and Assistant Dean for Research Development. This position afforded him the opportunity to return back to his hometown to help establish El Paso’s first medical school.

Talamantes and his laboratory studied the placental lactogen family of hormones and the growth hormone receptor, which play crucial roles during pregnancy. His lab elucidated the structures of these proteins and their genes, and investigated the factors controlling their expression during pregnancy. He also studied the effects of placental lactogens on target organs such as the mammary glands and investigated their role in breast cancer susceptiblity. During his academic career, Dr. Talamantes authored 171 papers and 13 book chapters.

In addition to being a professor, Dr. Talamantes was a mentor to many students, particularly underrepresented, first generation college students. He was a founding member and served as President of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) from 1987-1990. Dr. Talamantes obtained a grant from the National Institutes of Health to sponsor annual conferences that facilitated minority students meeting with prominent scientists and learning about education and career options available to them. In 1989, Dr. Talamantes received a national award for Outstanding Leadership and Contributions to Education in the Hispanic Community from the American Association of Higher Education. He was recognized alongside Jaime Escalante, the famous Garfield High School math teacher, who gained national attention following his portrayal in the hit movie “Stand and Deliver”.

Dr. Talamantes was a member of several distinguished scientific societies and panels including the Council for the National Institute of Environmental Health, the Society for Biochemical and Molecular Biology, the Endocrine Society and the American Physiological Society, the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) and also served in various capacities including the United States Editor for The Journal of Endocrinology, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences. In 2002, he was appointed to the Graduate Record Exam Board (GRE) and the Minority Graduate Education (MGE) Committee Member. He also served as chair of the Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) Review Committee of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

To his family and friends, Frank will always be fondly remembered as the larger-than-life father and Abuelo. He was generous, caring, funny, jovial, colorful, gentle and fiercely loving. His charisma allowed him to make strangers into lifelong friends. He listened intently to those who came to seek advice or just needed someone to talk to. One could often find him chit-chatting with friends or colleagues, smiling, with a cup of coffee in his hand. He loved the Bagelry (garlic bagel toasted with albacore tuna), sushi, pan dulce, tamales, Indian food and caldo de pollo. Dr. Talamantes passed away on October 8, 2018 with loved ones by his side. He is reunited with his parents, Margarita and Francisco Talamantes and survived by his loving family, including his two daughters and grandchildren. During his retirement, Frank enjoyed reading, traveling, emailing, attending concerts, UTEP games, nature watching outside his home in the El Paso Mountains and spending time with his children and grandchildren. Basically, he just really enjoyed life!

Dr. Talamantes was a trailblazer of his era. He will be remembered as one who encouraged, supported and motivated others through their educational and professional struggles. He constantly fought injustices and inequalities that he saw around him. He used his success and personal hardships to inspire others, with the encouraging words of “you can fall on your butt several times and still pick yourself up again and again”. We can all honor the legacy of Dr. Talamantes by living and acting on the ethos of doing good for one another. He will always be remembered for his contributions to the scientific community and his commitment to encouraging underrepresented minorities to pursue higher education.

Several SSR colleagues remember Dr. Talamantes with great fondness. Professor Russ Anthony, Colorado State University, commented “Frank was not only an excellent scientist that contributed significantly to our understanding of pregnancy biology, he was mentor to many and most importantly a valued friend.”

Personally, I called Frank not only a colleague as a Fellow Endocrinologist but, most importantly, a consummate scientist. I, and many others who called him a mentor very much aspired to be like him, as he possessed all those qualities that one wants in an excellent scientist and a caring mentor. I have never met anyone like him and doubt if I ever will again. Most importantly, he was a near and dear friend who I miss very much as does the entire scientific community. Rest in peace, my Brother!

Thomas Landefeld, Professor
California State University, Dominguez Hills

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