Dr Leo Hepner
BORN LEIPZIG, GERMANY, APRIL 26, 1930. DIED LONDON, NOVEMBER 25, 2015, AGED 85
THE RENOWNED scientist and technologist Dr Leo Hepner launched a management consultancy organisation, in 1970, which won plaudits throughout the world for its business and technological advice. He was the go-to man in his field, lecturing, writing and advising on the emerging area of biotechnology and fermentation and its impact on human and animal healthcare.
He created and edited Process Biochemistry, the first technical journal related to biotechnology and biochemical engineering. Though he officially retired some years ago, people still came to him seeking his knowledge and the fruits of his experience. Even just a couple of weeks before his death, he was busy answering questions from the food industry. He was a true pioneer in an important field.
However, chemical engineering was not Dr Hepner’s only field of expertise. He was a polymath who excelled in many different areas. He developed a deep knowledge and appreciation of art and architecture. He actively led neighbourhood concerns. He treasured reading, visiting art exhibitions,walking, travelling and spoke several languages. He was also a superb cook.
Whatever he undertook, he learned about the background, did due diligence on the subject, and then spoke and acted with intellectual integrity.
Leo Hepner was born to traditionally observant parents, Max and Margot Hepner, née Silberstein, and brought up in Leipzig, where his father ran a fur company. Its international connections helped the family escape, days before the outbreak of the Second World War, to London.
Dr Hepner obtained a B.Sc in engineering followed, in 1955 with a Ph.D in chemical engineering from Imperial College, London. He first worked in Israel as an engineer but returned to London where in time, he became both a Fellow of the Institution of Chemical Engineers and a Fellow of the Institute of Food Science and Technology.
Deeply involved in music from his childhood, he set up the Pro-Bio Foundation in 1977 (later re-named the Hepner Foundation) to create a platform for avant-garde chamber music. He was himself a skilled viola player with a special passion for contemporary music which involved close study of the viola works of Bartok, Hindemith and Shostakovich.
In 2006, he and his wife Regina Hepner-Neupert, founded a summer academy at the Hindemith Music Centre in Blonay, Switzerland, offering young composers the opportunity to study the particular skills involved in composition for string quartets. Many over the years have acknowledged that his help and inspiration enabled them to reach the attention of the music world.
A committed advocate of an open, liberal Judaism, he was committed to
Dr Leo Hepner: biotechnology’s go-to man who fronted Liberal Judaism the re-establishment of the Liberal Jewish communities right across Europe that had been shattered by the war and then by the spread of communism. He served both as chair and vice-president of the European Union for Progressive Judaism. He helped new communi- ties from as far afield as Denmark, Germany, Eastern Europe and Spain with practical advice on how communities should be run and how they might find rabbinic help. In honour of his sterling work, he was awarded the Israel Jacobson Preis of the Union of Progressive Jews in Germany in 2012.
The West Central Liberal Synagogue in Maple Street in central London benefited from his leadership for more than 20 years. Dr Hepner was a visionary, but also a realist whose intellect, energy, love of humanity and attention to the smallest detail brought those visions to reality.
West Central Liberal Synagogue was an equal beneficiary of these practical qualities. With his wide knowledge of Judaism, originally gained in his youth, but always renewed and widened, and with his radical approach to religion that was tempered by his love of tradition, Dr Hepner led from the front as a beloved and respected lay leader. His dedication could be seen in the meticulous way he prepared his sermons, with Maimonides and Rashi open before him, and in the immense generosity of spirit with which he answered questions. He always ensured that the Sifrei Torah and their silver adornments were cared for in a fitting manner, saw to it that the communal Seder would draw in the community’s diverse membership, and in every way devoted his thorough attention to all community matters. All of these were achieved with a gentle sense of humour hidden behind that intellectual front.
He is survived by his wife Regina; his three siblings and their families, Esther Goshen-Gottstein in Jerusalem, Rita Pell in London and Gershon Hepner in Los Angeles.