Janis Plostnieks, 80, of Blue Bell, a corporate chemist and executive at Johnson & Johnson for many years, died Friday, Nov. 29, of cancer at Holy Redeemer Hospital.
Born in Liepaja, Latvia, he came to this country in 1949 from a resettlement camp in Germany "with nothing," said his wife, the former Gunta Keris. A family in North Carolina sponsored him. He did manual labor until he could establish himself in America.
He went on to complete high school in Cleveland and earn his bachelor's degree in chemistry at Case Western Reserve University.
After receiving his doctorate in organic chemistry from Yale University, Dr. Plostnieks became a chemist, and then director of science and technology, at Johnson & Johnson. He worked at the firm's New Brunswick, N.J., office, for 40 years before retiring in the 1990s.
Despite the long commute from Blue Bell, Dr. Plostnieks loved his work and the travel it entailed. He visited China, Japan, France, and Latvia, where his roots were.
He was a member of the American Chemical Society; American Association for the Advancement of Science; New York Academy of Sciences; and Sigma Xi, an honorary society of scientific researchers.
He held many patents in organic chemistry and was awarded the Grindel Medal, Latvia's highest honor for pharmaceutical research. It is named for D.H. Grindel, a 19th century pharmacist, chemist, botanist, and social worker.
Dr. Plostnieks was active at Grace Baptist Church of Blue Bell and First Latvian Baptist Church of Philadelphia.
He was on the board of directors of Eastern University and the USA-Israel Biotechnology Council. He served as secretary of the Union of Latvian Baptists in America, and chairman of the Baptist Theological Seminary in Riga, Latvia. In person, his wife said, Dr. Plostnieks was intelligent, but humble about his accomplishments. "He was pleasant in a quiet way. He never talked about himself," his wife said.
The two, both transplanted Latvians, married 49 years ago. They met while attending a Baptist youth camp and reconnected at a wedding. He said, "Call me when you start school," and she did.
The couple sponsored many Latvian students who attended seminaries here and in Boston.
Besides his wife, he is survived by daughters Daina Plostnieks-Redpath and Julia, and two grandsons.
A funeral service will be at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 4, at Grace Baptist Church of Blue Bell, 437 Skippack Pike. A viewing starts at 9:30 at the church. Interment is in George Washington Memorial Park, Trevose.