In Memoriam: CMC trustee Thomas B. Neff CM ’76

A white male smiles at the camera.
Thomas B. Neff CM ’76, a member of the Claremont McKenna College Bboard of Trustees, passed away on Aug. 25 (Courtesy Claremont McKenna College)

Thomas B. Neff CM ’76, a member of the Claremont McKenna College Board of Trustees, died unexpectedly in his home Aug. 25, according to a CMC news release and the Wall Street Journal. He was 65.

Neff was chairman and chief executive officer of FibroGen, a pharmaceutical company he founded in 1993, according to the company’s website.

While at CMC, Neff majored in biology and political science, taking “twice as many courses in five years as the average student does in four,” according to professor emeritus Ward Elliott, one of Neff’s thesis advisers, who keeps a webpage on memorable students.

Under Elliot, Neff wrote a thesis on strict scrutiny and constitutional law and a second thesis on protein modeling — demonstrating the breadth of his interests and talents, according to the news release.

He “likes the steepest part of the learning curve [and] never does anything the conventional way,” Elliot said.

CMC President Hiram Chodosh delivered a eulogy for Neff on Sept. 8.

“He was a renaissance student, a renaissance man, a renaissance CEO, never followed a straight line,” Chodosh said, according to the transcript of the eulogy. “Beyond the details, it’s the sheer breadth and depth and intensity of his many parallel pursuits. And beyond the many accomplishments and the DNA we can trace back to CMC, it is the qualities and values that I take with me in sustaining Tom’s legacy.”

Neff was named a CMC trustee in 2002 and served on the Advancement, Academic Affairs, Budget and Audit, Finance and Executive committees; he had been chair of the Audit and Compliance committees since 2005, the news release said.

His efforts to focus board attention on issues such as sexual assault and mental health led to the expansion of the Dean of Students office’s resources to address those concerns, according to the news release.

Neff’s San Francisco-based company recently received the green light for its anemia drug, roxadustat, in China and is close to applying for approval in the United States and in Europe, according to the company’s website

Another drug, pamrevlumab, is in development for the treatment of pulmonary fibrosis, pancreatic cancer and Duchenne muscular dystrophy, the company said. 

Neff was born June 18, 1954, in Spokane, Washington, and grew up in Anaheim, California, according to the Wall Street Journal. 

He’s survived by his wife, Donna Wengert-Neff, who is a Scripps College trustee; his children, Maddy Neff SC ’21, Elena Neff CM ’21, Dylan Wengert and Ally Wengert-Pierce and his sister, Laura Alison Neff, according to the news release.

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