Obituary of Anthony R. DeBlasio

July 16, 2023

Anthony “Tony” DeBlasio, a respected senior researcher at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, whose encyclopedic knowledge and intellectual curiosity inspired and amazed his colleagues and friends, died unexpectedly on July 16. He was 65.

“Every single day was a discovery to him,” said Andrea Farina, DeBlasio’s supervisor in the IGO lab. “His knowledge was impressive and always connected with other elements. I discovered on a daily basis how much he knew and how enthusiastic he was about so many topics.”

Farina said he admired DeBlasio’s vast scientific knowledge, and how he could take what could have been a dry subject and interweave it with theories that turned it into a fascinating discussion.

“Tony had an open mind and was always willing to try new things,” he said. “I would always leave his desk feeling better than I was before.”

Agnes Viale, the director of Core Facilities at MSK, who hired Tony in 2013 in her then-role as IGO lab director, called him “a gentle soul who was so very smart.”

“Tony was passionate about everything he did,” Viale said. “His mind was always working a mile a minute, and you could always count on Tony – there was nothing fake about him at all.”

In his role in the IGO lab as a senior research assistant, DeBlasio specialized in RNA and DNA extraction. He had a special interest in working to help children and was particularly excited every Monday when the pediatric patient samples arrived at the lab for whole genome and RNA sequencing.

“He was always so concerned about how he could work on the samples,” Farina said. “He wanted to make sure that the children were taken care of.”

Cassidy Cobbs, a senior project manager who worked in the lab with DeBlasio, said he “enjoyed and was good at the physical work of making science happen.”

“Tony was the first line of the process (in working with pediatric patient samples),” Cobbs said. “He did the extraction no matter what the sample type – blood, bone marrow, tissue, fingernails, or buccal swabs.”

His colleagues say that DeBlasio’s death has left an irreplaceable void in the IGO lab and MSK as an organization.

“We have lost a major point of reference in the lab,” Farina said.

Born in Flushing, New York on June 18, 1958, the second son of Mary and Sam DeBlasio, Tony graduated in 1980 from the City University of New York with a degree in biology. He worked in a variety of research roles before joining MSK in July of 1991.

His older brother, Dan, said Tony’s fascination with science and astronomy started in his childhood and was omnipresent throughout his life. He recalled days when the two would spend hours on the rooftop of their building studying Saturn’s rings using Tony’s new telescope.

“Just looking at the sky, he could not only name any planet or star, but he could also tell you everything known of their composition—all about their moons and even about their role in Greek mythology.” Dan said. “He was also fascinated with NASA and had dreamed of being a scientist.”

His wide-ranging interests included surfing, hang gliding, hiking, programming computers, music, and camping. His brother said he launched himself into his hobbies as enthusiastically as he did in his career.

“Tony loved collecting and repairing things,” Dan said. “His latest obsession was with watches. Over the years, he has collected many hundreds of antique watches, including many rare radium dial watches.”

His wife, Eun Hee Choi, recalled meeting Tony in 2002 on a cold February day in the subway.

A handsome man was standing there,” she said. “Our journey began like that and has continued until today.”

She said her husband, despite their cultural differences, “always made me feel comfortable and loved me deeply.”

“We discovered many commonalities as we lived together,” Eun Hee said. “We cherished, cared for, loved, and grew more like each other.”

DeBlasio was preceded in death by his parents. He is survived by his loving wife, his brother, and his stepson, Sam Seok Jun Hwang. Funeral arrangements are pending.

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Father, you're always in my mind and forever in my heart. May your sour rest in peace.

Posted by: Seok Jun Hwang - Seoul, Korea - Son July 30, 2023