R. John Solaro
John Solaro was born in the small town of Wadsworth outside of Cleveland, OH, where his parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles lived. His father and grand-parents emigrated from Sicily and John’s mother was born in Cleveland. None of them had much in the way of formal education. John was brought up in a very close Italian family with a strong work ethic, beliefs in the power of formal education, and a strong belief in caring about and respecting others. After having passed newspapers for several years, at the age of 13, through his brother, Anthony, John got a job in the local drug store, and began developing an interest in the science behind the pharmaceuticals. He performed well in the math and science courses in high school, and was active in JETS, the junior engineering technical society, which introduced me to active scientists and engineers. John Solaro was in awe of their knowledge and skills.
Following his brother’s lead, Solaro enrolled in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Cincinnati in the belief that the broad education in this 5 year program would give him a useful profession and potentially prepare me for other pursuits. He took advantage of all the electives by taking advanced chemistry and biology courses. He did extensive undergraduate research on the chemistry of hair and received a stipend from Revlon. This was his introduction to the scientific process, and the experiments were translated to a commercial product. Meanwhile John’s brother was well on this way to becoming the successful businessman he is today. Thus, when he graduated in 1965 John felt strongly he should try working in the pharmacies his brother was accumulating. Kathy and John were married the same year. While working in the stores, John came to realize that business interest side of my life was not as fulfilling for him as the scientific interests of his life. He was accepted into the graduate program at the University of Pittsburgh in Pharmacology, and took the full course load in preparation for the PhD. However, when taking the course in Medical Physiology in a department led by Dr. Ernst Knobil, he became so enamored with physiology, especially cardiac, that he switched departments and took all the courses required for the PhD in Physiology. Solaro was accepted into the lab of Dr. Norman Briggs, a world authority working at the interface of physiology and biochemistry with emphasis on Ca-regulation of contractility with perspectives in heart failure and pharmacology. John had the good fortune of working with Norm daily one on one. They read papers together and discussed the emerging field of Ca-control of cardiac dynamics. His thesis quantified the Ca-requirements for activation of the heart’s sarcomeres, and the sources and sinks of Ca, which could supply and remove these Ca ions. In his final year of study Norm accepted the position of Chair of Physiology at the then Medical College of Virginia and hired him into a faculty position without having done a post-doc. After 5 years of a heavy teaching load, and success in garnering AHA grant support, John was awarded a British-American Heart Fellowship to study with Professor S.V. Perry in Birmingham, England. At the time this was the leading muscle protein lab in the world. He stayed for one year, published two papers in Nature, and developed a life-long interest in protein phosphorylation and sarcomeric function.