Jewish 08

Reuben Karl Matalon

August 10, 1935 ~ September 22, 2021 (age 86)


Reuben Karl Matalon passed away surrounded by family on September 22, 2021 after an unexpected emergency. He was born on August 10, 1935 in Baghdad, Iraq to Kaduri Matalon and Nazima Shabi. He grew up with three brothers- Edward, Shlomo, and Jacob. They fled from Baghdad to pre-Israel Jerusalem in 1942 after the Farhud (the Iraqi Jewish holocaust). There, they enjoyed catching bees and tying strings to fly them, caring for pet pigeons and feeding them carrots, and enjoying the cooking of their mother and grandmother. Reuben was always an outstanding student and excelled academically, quickly learning Hebrew and picking up a love for languages. Reuben’s love of academia led to opportunities in medicine, and he attended Hebrew University for medical school graduating at 24 years of age.

He served in the Israeli army where he received his first formal medical training that was diverse and challenging. Reuben met Judith Benedict, his first wife, in Israel while in medical school. They got married and had two children- Ofer and Eran- in Israel. Reuben then achieved a prestigious internship and residency as a Joseph P. Kennedy scholar at the University of Chicago, and the family moved in 1962.

In Chicago, their third son- Leor- was born. Reuben began his research career under the mentorship of Dr. Albert Dorfman. During this time, Reuben discovered the basis of many genetic syndromes (the mucopolysaccharidoses) and earned his PhD. Next, his career took him to the University of Illinois, where he continued his research. He maintained a high level of pride in making difficult diagnoses. Additionally, his hours of moonlighting in the ER continued to add up, and he became board certified in Emergency Medicine.

At this time of transition to the University of Illinois, he also met and fell in love with Kimberlee Michals, his second wife. They worked together in genetics and metabolism for many years together and had a daughter- Dena.

The family moved to Miami, Florida where their second daughter- Ilana- was born. Reuben worked as a pediatric geneticist at the Miami Children’s Research Institute. Reuben then made a major discovery when he found the basis for Canavan disease and created a way to test patients for the disease.

Reuben then moved to Houston to be a professor at UTMB in Galveston. The last 20 years of his career were filled with prolific research, a busy clinical load visiting multiple Texas cities monthly to provide genetic services all over the state, and continued collaboration with Kim. He was also passionate about teaching. His students loved him, respected him, and continued to keep in touch with him over the years. Patients and families were indebted to Reuben and adored him dearly- sending videos to him for diagnosis, mailing holiday cards expressing deep gratitude every year, and even having one of the family’s future children named after him. He was always on the move. He was passionate about traveling and had the opportunity to travel the world through his research career.

Throughout his life, family was incredibly important to him. He was proud of all his grandchildren- Aaron, Netanya, Aliya, Fred, Jake, Lily, Elisa, Hannah, and Aviva. He also cherished his close friendships and his scientific community.

Recently, he was preceded in death by his wife Kim. He was devastated by this loss and missed her every day. He was looking forward to moving to California to be close to his family, but he will now be with her. He was such a loving, generous man with a gregarious spirit and special tenderness. He is a beloved Abba Saba who will be greatly missed. We will love him forever. He is survived by his children: Ofer, Eran, Leor, Dena, and Ilana.

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