Monday, July 15, 2013




On July 15, 1931, I was born in Brooklyn, New York.  I am now 82 years old living in Bloomington, Indiana.  My life has taken me from New York City (22 years) to Bloomington, Indiana (5 years) to Kingston Ontario (2 years), to Los Angeles (8 years) , to Setauket, New York (42 years), and back to Bloomington (3 years so far). I have enjoyed a life as a scholar, a professor, a geneticist, a historian of science, and a writer.  I have enjoyed being the father of five children and seeing them launch their own careers and families.  I learned my own (and Helen’s) inadequacies in a first marriage that failed after four years.  I have enjoyed 54 years of a happy marriage with Nedra and we have never failed to encourage each other through our relatively rare moments of self-doubts. I was not fully on my own with a permanent job until I was 27 as a freshly minted PhD.  During those two years in Canada I learned how to publish my research, how to get grants to support it, and how to teach.  For the scholar the process of becoming independent takes time. At UCLA I became recognized as a geneticist, a scholar, and a teacher.  I enjoyed a busy laboratory with six students obtaining their PhDs.  It was also the 1960s, an era that was searing in its social turmoil on campuses.  It profoundly changed what I taught and shifted me away from the laboratory and into teaching non-science majors as my response to the needs of the 1960s.  It also shifted me to Stony Brook University where I could develop my Biology 101-102 course using a “humanities approach.”  When I turned 65 I did not feel old but I gave myself five years to explore what I wanted to do when I retired.  My Lifelines column was a result of that effort and I continue to enjoy bringing the life sciences to an adult public that prefers the “humanities approach” to what is called popularized science. I see the former as stimulating our world view and the latter as adding to our factual understanding.  Both are needed but I find the humanities approach relatively uncommon. 

I did not begin to feel old until I was in my mid seventies. Aging is like walking through a mine field and you never quite know what is ahead. I have been fortunate that no major surgeries have come my way and my mind is still alive, curious, eager to learn, and eager to share what I have learned.  I can’t count on that luck to accompany me for what my physician desires “of seeing you through to your 90th year and after that, we’ll see.” I have a modest arthritis compared to my father whose gnarled fingers and frozen joints still haunt my memory.  The greatest gift of retiring at 70 was the freedom it gave me to write as much as I wanted and at my own pace, subsidizing my own scholarship and not having to worry about earning a paycheck or honorarium. For this I give thanks to Andrew Carnegie who introduced the TIAA retirement program for professors.  Without his foresight I would have had to subtract five books from my publishing record, wondering when, if at all, I could find time to write them.    

1 comment:

Al Handler said...

Happy birthday Elof! I was looking for your address - and your blog was the closest I could find. I had gotten linked to the websites below earlier today - and I thought of you of course, and all your wonderfully risque stories about Bridges! Hopefully the film makes it to the mainstream..

So if you have a chance do get in touch - I'd love to catch up.. (and very glad to see you got to 'go home..'!).

best wishes, Al