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In 1956, the family moved to New Brunswick, New Jersey. He graduated from Highland Park High school in 1959, and went on to nearby Rutgers University, where he studied chemistry and biology, graduating with a bachelor’s in 1963. He obtained his PhD in biochemistry at Rutgers in 1967 at age 25.
Subsequently, he moved to Bangor, Maine, where he was appointed as a faculty member at the University of Maine at Orono. In 1974, he received a fellowship to study at the University of California, Davis.
Upon returning to Orono, he was promoted to the rank of full professor in 1977, and at the time was the youngest full professor at the university. That same year, he became chair person of the biochemistry department.
In January 1984, Dr. Lerner left Maine to become dean at the College of Arts and Sciences at Tennessee Technological University. He served as dean until 1994, when he stepped down and returned to teaching in the chemistry department, officially retiring in 1999.
Dr. Lerner published more than 50 articles in scientific journals and received grants from the National Institutes of Health and the USDA to support his research. After retirement he wrote and published two novels and, at the time of his death, he had turned his attention to his love of art, producing memorable pieces of artwork for his family and friends.
Surviving are his wife of 54 years, Dr. Linda Dell Lerner; his children, Michael Lerner (Susan Denman Lerner) and Dr. Michele Lerner Martens (John); grandchildren, Samuel, Matthew, Benjamin and Emma Lerner and Anna Kathryn Martens; a sister, Sharon Lerner Decker (James); a niece and nephew, Sheryl and Matthew Levine; and caregivers Arlene Reed and Vicki Gottardy.