Those who knew him described a man who was as humble as he was accomplished, someone who was enthusiastic about science and who readily pitched in to advance the graduate school and help support the education of its students.
“He was so giving, so open to helping people,” said Jay Breyer, Ph.D., GSAS ’81, who served with Thampoe over the past two decades on the leadership committee, formerly known as the dean’s advisory board. “He was always the first person in the room I would go and talk to, because he was just a terrific person, very friendly, open, warm, generous.”
Thampoe was an immigrant from Sri Lanka who earned not only undergraduate and graduate degrees in science from Fordham but also a Juris Doctor degree from Fordham Law School. He lived with his family in Mahwah, New Jersey, and worked at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals in Tarrytown, New York, as executive director and assistant general counsel for intellectual property portfolio development.
Accomplished, Yet Humble
He served as president of the New Jersey Intellectual Property Law Association, and chaired and spoke at many biotechnology patent law conferences in Boston, London, Munich, New York, and San Francisco, according to an obituary from his family. In 2018, he was a recipient of the Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business Award, bestowed by the Asian American Business Development Center.
A tennis enthusiast who had managed the squash and tennis teams as a Fordham undergraduate, he was a player captain of U.S. Tennis Association adult teams and led more than 10 teams to the national championships and won a Captain of the Year award in 2017.
And yet, he was quiet—even bashful—about all he had achieved, said his daughter, Emily Thampoe. She added that her father’s Catholic faith “was very important to him and an integral part of his life.”
“I think the fact that numerous people have asked to have him as their child’s godfather is a testament to the kind of person that he was,” she said.
An Immigrant Story
Thampoe came to America to attend Fordham Preparatory School on scholarship, and went on to earn three degrees in biology from Fordham with support from scholarships and assistantships: a bachelor’s degree from Fordham College at Rose Hill in 1980 and master’s and doctoral degrees from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) in 1982 and 1986, respectively. He was a postdoctoral research fellow and research associate in tumor immunology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering before returning to Fordham for his law degree, which he completed in 1994.
After working in a few law firms’ patent law and intellectual property areas, he served as in-house patent attorney at Schering-Plough and managing intellectual property counsel at Merck before making the move to Regeneron.
He made an impression as a member of the GSAS Dean’s Leadership Committee, a group of alumni leaders, parents, and friends of Fordham who serve as advisers to the dean and as the University’s ambassadors and advocates.
Leadership and Enthusiasm
“It was a real pleasure working with him,” said Tyler Stovall, Ph.D., who became dean of GSAS in July 2020. “He was always very enthusiastic and had lots of solid ideas. He was very interested in bringing more people of color into STEM, and he had a particular commitment to improving the mentoring of graduate students. This is a very sad loss for us; we will miss him greatly.”
Thampoe spoke often to to students in the Graduate School of Arts and Science, in Fordham Law School, and in the undergraduate and graduate programs in biological sciences, and was committed to helping students continue their education through graduate school so they could realize the possibilities for STEM careers, said Michelle Clarkin, director of development for Arts and Sciences.
In 2007, he created a scholarship named for Edward Benedict, GRE ’67, and Robert Hawthorn, FCRH ’53, both of whom were Fordham Prep faculty members, and the latter of whom was coach of squash and tennis at Fordham for more than 50 years. The scholarship benefits undergraduate and graduate students in biology who demonstrate academic merit and financial need.
Breyer recalled a Zoom meeting of the committee in March 2020, as the newly arrived pandemic and its impact on children were weighing on the members. Thampoe lifted their spirits, Breyer said, by describing work being done at Regeneron, which would later develop a breakthrough monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19.
“He spoke up and said, ‘Well, let me tell you what my company is doing,’” Breyer said. “It was exhilarating to hear him speak about it, and he was really excited about it. And that excitement, I think, lifted the whole group.”
“He at least gave us hope that … there were scientists that were working on this, and there was light at the end of the tunnel,” Breyer said.
Thampoe was very much involved in the University’s biological sciences department, Breyer said; once, during a trip to the Louis Calder Center, Fordham’s biological field station in Armonk, New York, he could tell Thampoe was “in his element.”
“He loved it, looking at all the research that was going on,” Breyer said.
Thampoe was one of five children, and remained close to his family throughout his life, Emily Thampoe said.
One of his siblings, Dr. Basti Thampoe, described his brother as “the one always there to take care of any need that comes about.”
“[You] can’t ask for a better brother,” he said.
Fordham will be notifying its community about an event focused on memorializing Thampoe, to be held this fall, Michelle Clarkin said.
Thampoe is survived by his wife of 26 years, Virginia; his children, Michael and Emily; his parents, Anna and Joseph Thampoe; his uncle, Bishop Emeritus Thomas Savundaranayagam; his siblings Vijitha, Basti, Indra, and Lalanthi; and many nieces, nephews, and other extended family members.
Visitation will be held Sunday, June 27, from 2 to 7 p.m. at the Van Emburgh-Sneider-Pernice Funeral Home in Ramsey, New Jersey. A funeral Mass will be held on Monday, June 28, at 10 a.m., at Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church in Mahwah, followed by a private interment.