Shelly Fleet has checked the list of Nobel Prize winners each year since her fellow Haverhill native James Rothman won the prestigious Albert Lasky Award for medical research in 2002.
“I always thought it would be him one day,” said Fleet, who got to know Rothman during the late 1960s, when their families were members of the Haverhill Country Club and both of them were in college.
Yesterday, the wait ended when Rothman, a noted cell biologist, was named co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for helping define how cells transport major molecules in a cargo system that delivers them to the right place at the right time in cells.
By uncovering how cells ship their cargoes with timing and precision, the work of Rothman’s group provides clues about new ways to combat diseases such as diabetes and helps the fight against cancer.
“I’ve been checking every year since the Lasker Award, waiting for him to receive the Nobel,” said Fleet, an anesthesiologist at Florida Hospital in Orlando.
Rothman was born in Haverhill in 1950, the son of Dr. Martin Rothman, a well-known local pediatrician, and Gloria Rothman.
He attended Walnut Square and Whittier Middle schools before going to a private preparatory school. He studied physics at Yale University, graduating in 1971, and earned his PhD in biological chemistry from Harvard Medical School in 1976. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and in 1978 he moved to Stanford University in California, where he started his research on the vesicles of the cell.
“I remember him from the Haverhill Country Club in the 1960s and how smart he was,” said Fleet, a member of the Haverhill High School Class of 1965.
“He was a teenager and I was 20 at the time when we became friends,” she said. “He was a brilliant student and I do remember he developed his own system of calculus to describe a rocket’s trajectory. He was fascinating on many levels and obviously a genius and quite creative as well.’’