From Mark E. Furth
Ph.D., 1978, Curriculum in Molecular Biology, University of Wisconsin-Madison,
Executive Director and Scientific Liaison, Wake Forest Innovations, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, Winston-Salem, NC 27101
I was a Ph.D. student in the Curriculum in Molecular Biology with William Dove in the mid-1970s. The Genetics building, a stone’s throw from Bill’s digs in the McArdle Laboratory, was a second scientific home. Consonant with the driving spirit of the era, I focused on fundamental mechanisms in a simple model (bacteriophage lambda), while aspiring eventually to use the rapidly expanding molecular toolkit to tackle human development and disease.
In this context the Population Genetics course taught by James Crow initially struck me as an arcane diversion. Moreover, as an undergraduate at Harvard I had been aware of the schism between the university’s cell/molecular biologists, who had stoked my zeal for their field, and the organismic/evolutionary types, who my “heroes” labeled archaic. Jim changed my world-view. We knew almost nothing in those days about the human genome, but he implanted a nascent understanding of what a further four decades of research has made manifest. Namely, most important traits and pathologies depend on the interactions of multiple genes and environmental factors, and along with our molecular dissecting kit we require a quantitative systems approach to explain human biology.
Two memories from Jim’s teaching stand out. The first exemplifies his respect for a venerable colleague and the history of Genetics, the second his concern for his field’s relevance in society.
Sewall Wright, then in his late 80s, foreshadowed Jim’s future as a fully engaged professor emeritus. Jim invited him to present a series of lectures in the course. The opportunity to receive the tablets of population genetics theory directly from one of its legendary founders had biblical overtones. However, Jim recognized that Wright’s presentation style – he animatedly wrote equations on the chalkboard (!) in tiny print with his right hand, and with almost equal speed erased them with his left – would be impossible for us students to follow. The solution was for Carter Denniston, Jim’s capable teaching collaborator, to repeat the material from each of Wright’s talks at the next class session at a pace we could hope to comprehend.
The issue of genetics and racial politics evoked a different side of Jim’s passion as a teacher. A quarter century after the fall of the Third Reich, articles in the scholarly and popular press by psychologists Richard Herrnstein and Arthur Jensen and public pronouncements by William Shockley, a Nobel laureate in physics, revived notions of racial eugenics under the new label “Meritocracy”. The topic became bitterly divisive on many university campuses, including Madison’s. Jim’s approach was rational and scholarly, but reflected his absolute commitment to principles of equality. He and Carter led the class through a deep dive into the literature on the heritability of IQ, going back to the twin studies of Cyril Burt. Elegantly, objectively, never raising his voice, Jim helped us achieve a nuanced understanding of the science and its implications, while effectively skewering anti-egalitarian conclusions that were threatening to become respectable.
A final memory from Jim Crow centers on his beloved viola. Having learned that Bill Dove’s new grad student was taking violin lessons with a member of the university’s resident Pro Arte String Quartet, Jim kindly invited me to join an evening of quartet playing at his home. Regrettably, at that time I was in remedial adult student mode, having played the fiddle only sporadically through college. Worse, my previous exposure to string quartets comprised a few sessions back in tenth grade. With the opening bars of one of Beethoven’s Opus 18 works, it must have been obvious to Jim and two regular partners that, even playing second violin, the new kid was in musical waters over his head. With perfect grace they frequently rescued me from drowning. By the end of the evening, we even made a credible go of Antonín Dvořák’s “American” String Quartet, with Jim reveling in its rich viola part.
More than 30 years later a visit to Madison afforded a last opportunity to talk, but, alas, not to play, music with Jim. By then I had evolved into a competent chamber music addict and had learned to switch hit between violin and viola. I showed Jim a photo of the viola that a French luthier recently had made for me. We compared its dimensions with Jim’s “career” instrument, the large (about 3/4 inch longer than mine), chocolate-toned viola he had acquired from the Pro Arte’s Bernard Milofsky. Its distinctive voice in Jim’s hands, like the lucidity of his writing and teaching, remains etched in memory as a lifelong standard to emulate.
From Jim Bull:
Professor of Molecular Biology
University of Texas-Austin
I got the news on the 5th. Sad, but at the same time, it's difficult to imagine that anyone could have lived a fuller life that benefitted so many people. My recollections of Jim continue to inspire me, both for his intellect and his generosity.
I cherish the days I had with him (1977-1981, with two of the winters spent in Sussex). I did not — and don't — belong in the leagues of the many scientists he trained, and it was amazing to have been accepted to work with him as a postdoc. Luckily, I had Russ Lande, Ken Aoki, Sasha Gimelfarb, Bill Engels, Ellen Wijsman and others to help me along. The lab also had a long-time associate, Raissa Berg, a Drosophila biologist who had worked with Muller in Russia; she knew lots of historical anecdotes and had considerable insight on early theories on sex determination (of special interest to me). Carter Dennison and Charlie Cotterman were Genetics faculty who interacted with the lab extensively; Walter Fitch (Physiological Chemistry, now called Biomolecular Chemistry) was an occasional visitor, seeking mathematical advice and muscle tissue for myoglobin. I knew all these associates well, but I got to know Charlie quite well.
There was more than one occasion on which I went to Jim with a question about some idea I was working on and he gave me a response that I not only failed to understand, but that seemed far afield from what was likely correct. After working on the problem for months, I eventually came to realize that what he had said was right. By the time I left Madison, the frequency of these events had probably not diminished, but the turnaround time for me to see the legitimacy of his answer had shortened immensely.
Then about 7 years ago, I sent Jim a theory manuscript to look over as a courtesy, as I thought he might be interested. The manuscript was either submitted or in press, definitely not at an early stage. He wrote back with several insightful comments, even noting that one of our figures was incorrect (he was right). Somewhere in the years of aging, I fantasized he might drop to my level, but it never happened.
The Crow and Kimura book was the bible of population genetics theory. Thus it had always seemed to me that Jim would emphasize theory whenever discussing biology. I was quite surprised to discover that he had a strong interest in experimental work, and he had a big influence on my pursuit of experiments that stuck with me for the remainder of my career. The experimental work I was doing in his lab was on temperature-dependent sex determination in turtles, and he kept asking mechanistic questions that led me to do several experiments I would have otherwise neglected. In this respect, he was quite different than John Maynard Smith (with whom I worked during the same period of time). And I never published with Jim — he was not one to put his name on papers to which he had not contributed. Indeed, I don't recall if he published with the other postdocs and grad students in the lab.
My older sister had taken Genetics from Jim maybe 6 years before I arrived at Madison (this would have been around 1971). On the first day of class, Jim had the practice of photographing the ~300 students in his class, 3 at a time with name placards, and he would study those pictures to learn student faces and names. My sister said there was a legend from a previous year that, on something like the third day of the semester, a student was in the back row smoking; when Jim walked in and saw the individual, he spoke aloud to the effect that "Mr. Johnson, there is no smoking in class." The students were stunned and figured that he already knew ALL of them by name inside of 2 days. I once mentioned this rumor to Jim; he laughed and did not recall the event, but figured the student must have been one of the few photos he had studied to that point in the class.
I was very privileged to have had time with Jim and with others in UW Genetics, and I appreciate the support (tolerance) I was afforded back then.
I am sorry for our loss and send condolences to his Madison colleagues, who will miss him even more. Jim was clearly maintaining a strong presence there to the end. It would have been wonderful to have shared his insights for so many years.
From Wai Y. Tan
Department of Mathematical Sciences
The University of Memphis, Memphis, TN
It is indeed very sad to learn that our great teacher has passed away.
Prof. Crow was a great man, a great teacher and a great scientist.
From Kenichi Aoki
Department of Biological Sciences
The University of Tokyo
I am deeply grateful to Millard Susman for taking the time to write me about this sad news. Someone contacted the National Institute of Genetics in Mishima, Japan, where Jim Crow was a frequent visitor, and I had heard from them several days ago. His many Japanese friends including myself are in a state of collective shock at the moment. I will forward the fine obituary to them in case they have not seen it.
In addition to the four years I spent as a grad student, I had many opportunities to enjoy Jim's company during his frequent visits to Japan. Someone once said of JFK that he had the talent of enjoying himself and adding to the enjoyment of others. This applies perhaps even more strongly to JFC. On one occasion we went with John Wakeley to a beer hall in Tokyo where they had live performances by accordion players, violinists, and opera singers making a little on the side. Jim immediately became friends with the performers and got up on the stage with a borrowed violin. Unfortunately, the place had closed down on his next visit.
On his last visit when he was accompanied by his daughter, Cathy Rasmussen; we went to the Ueno zoo near the University of Tokyo. He had fond memories of the gorilla cages, which he had previously gone to see with Ann. And that is the last time I saw Jim.
From Marjorie Russel
Laboratory of Genetics
What a special person he was. I last saw him a few years ago when he came to Rockefeller for some memorial tribute to Lederberg. He gave a lovely talk, and as best I could tell, he hadn't changed AT ALL over the years. Of course when I took an introductory genetics class from him, I must have been 22, and my conception of older adults has evolved a lot since then.
Still, a long, healthy life filled with work and play that he loved — plus a very short final period — is pretty good.
From Elaine Johansen Mange
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Arthur and I have so many wonderful recollections from our years in Madison (mid-1950's to 1961), which Rayla Temin agrees was a truly golden period for Jim's students. One delightful example: While recently exchanging some memories with old friends, I learned that in 1956 Augie Mueller and Jim had met weekly to study finite mathematics together! It's all the more interesting because Augie was then a grad student of Dr. Harold Wolfe in the zoology dept., rather than being in the genetics dept.
Most people think that huge universities can't possibly provide opportunities for close interactions between professors and undergraduates. But Jim would sometimes invite the very top performers in his general genetics course (of ca. 150 students) to participate in a special small seminar group that he organized just for them. They were also given opportunities to do research projects. Among these students, Dan Hartl, Joe Felsenstein, Carter Denniston, Bill Engels and several others went on to become prominent geneticists themselves.
Jim also encouraged students to ask questions during his lectures, and had the gracious habit of turning some prosaic questions into much more sophisticated ones. But there was a limit to his renowned patience — and one day, after a long-winded query from one student, he responded: "Either that's an immensely profound question, or you haven't listened to a word I've said for the past 20 minutes!" The rest of the class broke into wild applause, because for weeks this guy had been making a real pill of himself. (As a genetics TA, I was a witness to this event.)
Crow's Genetics Notes, regularly revised and translated into many languages, were originally spiral-bound and printed on only one side, with a blank page on the right so that students could jot down additional notes. He told me once that — in a typically thoughtful gesture — he had asked the publisher to print some copies with the blank page on the left side, for the benefit of lefties (such as myself) — but they wouldn't do that. This highly popular publication sold well for decades, and could perhaps have made him wealthy if he hadn't donated all the proceeds to the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.
Money wasn't a major concern of his. When the Medical School nearly blew up at one point because the surgeons on the faculty threatened to quit if their additional outside salaries were capped at what seemed to most people like a colossal sum of money (maybe ca. $75,000?), Jim was appointed Dean of the Medical School partly in order to mediate and solve that problem. He was amazed at their demands and said he couldn't imagine what he'd do with that kind of money or even a fraction of it.
One evening during the period when the new Medical Genetics Dept. (also headed by Jim) was moving from the small brick Genetics Building on Henry Mall into its newly constructed quarters in the Medical School, Arthur and I were returning with Jim to our new lab from dinner in the med school cafeteria. As we passed by the occasional chains dangling from emergency shower outlets in the hallways, we all confessed that we felt tempted to pull one to see what happens. "Let's do it!" Jim said as he yanked at one of them in our corridor. A deluge of water poured from the ceiling, but then neither he nor Arthur (getting showered while trying) could figure out how to turn it off! Since the floor of this hallway was piled high with boxes of materials that hadn't yet been moved into our new quarters, the situation started to look rather dicey as a small flood of water began to threaten them. We managed to find some mops & buckets in a janitor's closet and did some frantic mopping. Jim also called the janitorial staff for help, and from them we learned that there were no turn-off switches for those emergency vats of water built into the ceiling! Once opened, they just emptied out their full ??-gallon capacity. Needless to say, Arthur and I were glad that Jim — rather than one of us — had pulled that chain...
Our religiously observed daily coffee breaks in the lab were always fun, where we discussed genetics, politics, and anything else that came to mind. One recurring topic was the design of generic graphs and charts that were vague enough to explain virtually anything.
The outside socializing was terrific, too, and amazingly democratic: Parties might include professors, visiting luminaries, postdocs, grad students, lab assistants, and even occasional secretaries and dishwashers. Once in a great while, when planning a special party, we'd ask Jim & Ann if we could have it in their home — and they usually agreed. As others have noted, Ann was as warm and welcoming as Jim.
The idea for one party was hatched after Jim returned from a big event in NYC where H. J. Muller had been honored on his 70th birthday. But during the final banquet Muller passed out and had to be hospitalized because (anticipating excitement & stress) he had taken some extra blood pressure medication. From this happening Jim concluded that 70-year-olds should probably celebrate that milestone when they're young enough to relax and enjoy it. So we decided to throw a surprise 70th birthday party for him on (I think) his 45th — complete with speeches, fake telegrams of congratulation, silly gifts, etc. [Two sample telegrams, probably composed by Larry Sandler, went something like this: "Happy Birthday, Jim! Hugs and kisses, Boopsie." "Happy Birthday, Jim! Who's Boopsie?? Love, Ann"] He quickly entered into the spirit of the occasion, and we all had a great time. Twenty-five years later we attended a big symposium in Madison that celebrated his actual 70th birthday, culminating in a banquet that he survived with aplomb.
Jim's sense of humor could be impish at times. One day he returned to the lab after lunch at the nearby Rennebohm Drugstore, looking very pleased with himself. When we asked what was up, he explained that he had noticed a sign over the big magazine rack in the drug store, inviting anybody who was offended by any of their offerings to complain to the management and get said magazine(s) removed. So he asked the manager to remove Time magazine from the rack because he was deeply offended by its politics. Needless to say, that didn't happen.
Music was extremely important in the lives of both Jim and Ann, and I think I recall his commenting in the biographical notes with his Scientific American articles that he settled on a scientific career after deciding that he might not have what it takes to be a professionally performing musician. But they shared their love of music with his students and others. Ann not only invited me to join her in singing with the Madison Philharmonic Chorus, but gave me a ride to and from rehearsals every week for a couple of years.
Decades later, to celebrate his 90th birthday Jim gave a viola recital for the Genetics Dept. I e-mailed him to ask whether it had been recorded. His response: “No, thank God, because I made some bloopers. Nevertheless, the audience loved it.” Thereafter he continued to perform regularly for his colleagues and also for fellow residents of the retirement home where he moved after Ann died.
Jim was very good about keeping in touch with former students, always responding quickly to any communiqués he received from us and others. He even took great interest in our son Steve when he was an undergrad at Wisconsin. (Steve was also lucky to have the Abrahamsons and Temins as surrogate parents during that period.) Jim attended both Steve's Phi Beta Kappa induction ceremony and his senior history thesis defense (where, Steve says, he asked some of the best questions) and afterwards wrote us congratulatory notes saying he felt very grandfatherly. Of course we were deeply touched.
Although we communicated only now and then, the last e-mail I received from him arrived on Nov. 23, 2011, soon after the untimely death of Lynn Margulis at age 73. He wrote: "This is sad news, but less sad than a lingering illness. She was a magnificent character — one of a kind." Of course, the same can be said for Jim, many times over.
From Krishna Dronamraju
President, Foundation for Genetic Research,
I was introduced to Jim Crow by Victor McKusick from Johns Hopkins in the summer of 1965. We were both in Bar Harbor to speak in the summer course on medical genetics which was organized jointly by the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor. Like many others, I was greatly stimulated and impressed by Jim’s enthusiasm and intellect. Jim adored my mentor J.B.S. Haldane, whose ideas provided the foundation for the genetic load theory as well as the cost of evolution and many other areas of population genetics which deeply influenced Jim’s career and success as a scientist. Anyone who met Jim for more than five minutes would certainly hear him mention Haldane’s name. At least that was my impression.
Another fact I recall was his comment on left wing scientists. I moved to live permanently in the United States in 1963 when the cold war was going strong. Whenever I spoke about my mentor J.B.S. Haldane’s scientific work in my lectures someone in the audience invariably interrupted me saying “But wasn’t he a Communist?” and I always replied: “What has that got to do with his scientific work?” I was irritated by such comments. My connection with Haldane was on a scientific basis, but I did not share his politics. I presented my problem to Jim saying that there is some hostility towards Haldane. He instantly replied: “Don’t worry about it; all the best scientists are communists.” He was referring to the fact that the two heroes he worshipped, two great geneticists — Haldane and Herman Muller — were both Marxists and communists during parts of their lives. Many years ago, I was with Jim in Japan at the Twelfth International Congress of Genetics. I organized a Plenary Session, the Haldane Memorial Session — to pay tribute to my late mentor. It was an evening session and was well attended. Motoo Kimura, as chairman of the program committee, invited Jim to chair that session, and the speakers included Sewall Wright, John Fincham and me. It was certainly one of the happy times in Jim’s life.
Jim was a prolific writer. He contributed chapters to two of my books and a fine Foreword to another, “Selected Genetic Papers of J.B.S. Haldane” (Garland, New York, 1990), as well as a Preface to a fourth book, “What I Require from Life: Writings on Science and Life from J.B.S. Haldane” (Oxford university Press, 2009).
I dedicated my latest book, “Haldane, Mayr and Beanbag Genetics” (Oxford University Press 2011) to Jim and his longtime friend and colleague Motoo Kimura. Jim responded: "You have done a fine job of synthesizing a great deal of material and making sense out of it. This was a very interesting argument, carried on in a friendly way at a high intellectual plane, which you bring out. I am very pleased to have the book dedicated to me and I am sure that Motoo would have felt the same way.”
I always found Jim to be helpful with advice when approached. He was a man of high ethical and moral principles. I am so very glad that I visited him in Madison in June 2011. My wife and I took him out for lunch and later he gave us a guided tour of Frank Lloyd Wright – designed Unitarian church near the campus. As we said goodbye we knew that this would be the last time.
From Allen Laughon:
Professor, Laboratory of Genetics
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Jim was a big influence on students, which included me, back around 1980...
Midway through my graduate student days in the Biology Department at the University of Utah, a notice appeared announcing a seminar to be given by James Crow from the University of Wisconsin. Crow was a big name, famous for his work in population genetics, but I had never heard of the topic, something called hybrid dysgenesis in Drosophila. In anticipation of a big crowd, Jim's talk was held in the Chemistry auditorium, a much larger room than the modest lecture hall in our own building. And crowded it was, people sitting in the aisles, standing in the back; it was the most oversubscribed seminar I had witnessed on that campus. Jim was appreciative, and returned the favor with a captivating account of how a curious hybrid sterility phenomenon led to the discovery of P elements and their regulation by what would eventually turn out to be heritable small RNAs. He cheerfully took no credit for the work presented, acknowledging instead Bill Engels (who trained with Jim before taking a faculty post in the same department), John Sved, Margaret Kidwell and others. The audience paid no heed and erupted in thunderous applause followed by many eager questions. Everyone seemed to sense this was the vanguard of momentous events to follow, which of course was exactly what happened with P elements transforming (literally) developmental genetics. Jim couldn't have been more pleased.
From Xin Sun:
Associate Professor, Laboratory of Genetics
University of Wisconsin-Madison
In the past few weeks as I walk through the halls of the department or stop by the mail room, I kept expecting to run into Jim, in his usual friendliness. What I will miss most is his masterful way of blending exceptionally insightful comments into casual hallway conversations. One such conversation I had with him was on mutant allele inheritance imbalance of Fgfr, a gene that my lab studies. Jim knew much more than I did. The information that he offered in our five minute conversation was so fascinating that I went home and did more reading. I discovered that Jim knew the latest on this topic, as I am sure he was with a vast array of topics, science, music or others. A truly remarkable mind.
From George Allez:
Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies
Thank you for sharing the sorrowful news of Jim Crow's death.
He was a remarkable man, probably the most brilliant I ever met, and he was kindly and modest to a fault.
A few years ago he mentioned to me that he had heard that the Lyric Opera had cancelled plans to perform Montemezzi's "L'Amore dei tre Re," and he was sorry to hear this as the opera is rarely performed in the USA and he was unfamiliar with it. The only recording of it (an excellent one) had been withdrawn from circulation years earlier.
I happened to chance upon a new copy of the opera still in its shrink-wrap. I bought it and left it in his mailbox at Genetics and some days later he told me how much he had been enjoying it, the more so because Anna Moffo was a favorite of his, and that he shared my view that it was unjustly neglected in the USA.
He will be greatly missed.
From Harvey Black:
Science writer, Madison, Wisconsin
I am saddened to hear of Jim's death. I'm glad his death was peaceful; he always seemed to me to be a man who lived a peaceful (though certainly intellectually vibrant) life.
As a reporter, I knew him only slightly, but he was always gracious and friendly with me. I would seem him at various seminars and meetings after he retired — such as Darwin Day — and I think at one of them I went out to lunch with him and Seymour Abrahamson. I was always impressed at his attendance at such meetings. He is an excellent role model for scientists and everyone else.
From Daniel Hartl:
Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology
Thank you very much for your message. What a wonderful and full life, how very well lived. Would that we all could have such a legacy.
One consoling thought is that Jim saw the "teaching and mentoring" piece before he died, where finally I was able to say publicly how much I (and so many others) owed him.
Yours very sincerely, and sadly,
From Richard (Rick) Shore:
Department of Radiology
Children’s Memorial Hospital, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Paul Sondel called me last night to let me know about Jim. We almost got to see him a few weeks ago.
Although we do not get to Madison as often as before, we try to visit him at least yearly.
We had just exchanged e-mails and arranged for lunch on December 23. While driving up from Chicago, I called to let him know when we would arrive — only to find out that he had forgotten and did not feel up for it. In a follow-up note he mentioned that he had been getting quite short of breath with the slightest exertion, possibly from aortic stenosis he thought. We looked forward to another time, but that is not to be.
Jim was not only the most outstanding in influential professor that I have encountered either at the UW or elsewhere, but one who exemplified humanity in every interaction I have had with him or observed him have with others. As a teacher, he was impeccable. Not a word out of place. Every thought seeming so intuitive, no matter how difficult it may have actually been. He was a constant teacher. Beyond the classroom, lab, and seminars, every discussion with in the hallway or at lunch was a constant educational experience. Despite an outrageously heavy administrative and academic load, his willingness to devote the time to each and everyone that he dealt with and let them know that he a genuine interest in them was absolutely second to none.
It was a joy to continue to visit him periodically over the 40 years since graduating the UW. Each time I would be amazed by his continued involvement in genetics. Just sitting there listening to him he would make me feel as though I was still part of a community that I had left decades ago. By the time my sons got to the UW, he was no longer teaching full courses, but they were fortunate enough to still have some exposure to him as a guest lecturer.
A giant in his field, he was the greatest teacher one could ask for. By his example, he taught me what kind of a person to strive to become. I will miss him dearly.
From Audrey Gasch
Laboratory of Genetics
University of Wisconsin-Madison
It’s hard to imagine this place without Jim. He was quite honestly the nicest person I’ve ever known. I have many fond memories from the last eight years: running into him in the hallway, chatting at seminars, going out for a friendly dinner at his favorite Irish Whiskey bar. He was so incredibly modest – he frequently said that he never really did anything special his long history, aside of recognizing talented people and giving them support to do great things.
Of course, none of us believed this simple story – Jim was truly brilliant – but it was indeed true that Jim was incredibly supportive of others and modest beyond reason.
He was such a wonderful, positive, cheery, funny person, and it makes me happy to think about what a wonderful, full life he had. I will really miss him.
From Steven Orzack
President and Senior Research Scientist at the Fresh Pond Research Institute
Many thanks for the lovely photo and for the link to the Pandasthumb obituary. All of this makes me sad. I think Jim died too young, no matter what solace we can take from the pleasure in life he appears to have had even to the end.
As Joe knows, Elliott Sober sent me the following the other day:
Also, did you hear that Jim Crow died two days ago? I had lunch with him last month and he was totally lucid and interested in talking about a wide range of topics. He couldn't walk more than ten paces then without getting out of breath. I think he had congestive heart failure, though I'm not sure if that is what killed him. He was cheerful even about getting old and facing death.
For what it is worth, the last email I got from him was memorable in terms of displaying his engagement and enthusiasm:
On Nov 7, 2006, Orzack wrote:
I hope you are well. I seem to recall that you've had your 90th birthday recently. Happy belated birthday wishes!
Among my friends, you are still junior to Nathan Keyfitz; he is 93 and wonderful to talk with.
I've attached an article on the human chromosome number. You came to mind because of the involvement of Painter. Did you ever discuss this with him?
I look forward to hearing from you.
all the best,
And Jim Crow replied:
Thanks for the interesting paper. I enjoyed reading it and look forward to a more careful look. Yes I did pass my 90th. I am glad to hear that Nathan Keyfitz is going strong at 93. He is a good friend, although I haven't seen him for several years.
As for my memories of Painter: I don't remember ever discussing the work with Fisher, although he did lecture on this subject. I remember that he mentioned whether the chromosomes (which came from the mental hospital in Austin) came from a white or black. He placed great emphasis on the techniques, especially the fixing fluid, which was a modification of his own. He also emphasized the importance of getting the tissue into fixative as son as possible.
I never questioned the number 48, nor did anyone else in the class.
There were several reasons for his incorrect count that immediately became apparent when the 46 number became established.
(1) Painter used serial sections. Since a chromosome might be lost in the next section the custom of taking the larger number as being more likely correct made sense. It is interesting that he reported some very clear counts of 46.
(2) Most geneticists were conscious of polyploidy and 48, being a multiple of 6, 12, and 24, makes sense.
(3) I did see some of Painter's slides. I vividly remember some in which the precocious separation of the X and Y was very apparent. Painter was astute enough to prefer meiosis and thereby halve the numbers. But he may possibly have regarded the X and Y as separate tetrads. (This is unconvincing, however, since Painter was probably conscious of the small Y chromosome from his discussions with von Winiwarter.)
I never talked to Painter after the correct number was established.
This is not the only mistake that Painter made. Davenport suggested that "mongolism" was due to trisomy and sent some tissue to Painter, who could find nothing wrong. This is reported in Davenport's paper in the 1932 International Genetics congress.
Best wishes. Jim
Of course, he was correct about Davenport's paper.
On a more personal note, what I remember best about him was his graciousness. After I got my PhD, Jim arranged a fellowship for me at Wisconsin to work with him. During the arrangements, he got a letter from Dick Lewontin, my advisor, discouraging him from offering me this fellowship (Lewontin and I had a very difficult and unpleasant relationship). Jim would have none of it and made sure that Lewontin knew that I was welcome as long I worked hard and did good work. Despite the arrangements, the timing was such that I was not able to take the fellowship, but I have never forgotten Crow's kindness and support for a new person in the field whom he had met just once previously. Even though I did not have the opportunity to take the fellowship, he and I would talk during the time I was at the university of Chicago and later when I visited Madison for a semester.
What a great guy!
From August Mueller:
Department of Biological Sciences
Binghamton University, SUNY
The death of Jim Crow comes as a surprise as I got an email from him December 20, 2011 after he spotted my name on a the list of people contacted by Elaine Mange concerning the death of Lynn Margolis. He indeed was the most impressive teacher I have ever encountered. Period.
The experience of taking his introductory genetics course while a graduate student at Wisconsin led me to direct my efforts toward teaching genetics at least 50 times, always attempting to do nearly as good a job as he demonstrated so very well.
His GENETICS NOTES were an example of real clarity.
Jim found out I had been a math major as an undergraduate and inquired if I had ever had a course in FINITE MATHEMATICS. The answer was NO, and so the two of us purchased a text book INTRODUCTION TO FINITE MATHEMATICS and met once a week for a semester, working all the problems and teaching ourselves much about the subject. Perhaps the best math course I had ever encountered. Only recently when looking at internet information on Jim did I realize that perhaps his interest in the subject may have been sparked at Dartmouth, as the book was authored by two Dartmouth mathematicians.
I will also never forget how supportive he was to the great social atmosphere of graduate students as he and Ann often attended our infamous Friday night gatherings at various venues. We mixed with so many very famous biologists at those graduate student socials. What a unique opportunity!!
I recall meeting Avrion Mitchison at such a party, and later I spent a year with Av as an NSF Postdoc at the U of Edinburgh in 1960. I think many of us were at Wisconsin at a very unique time and only now appreciate just how unique it was. Jim Crow was a definite part of that.
Talk about old memories. Every so often I recall our going through the finite mathematics text in 1956. We all have a lot of history.....
From Terry Haller:
Businessman and Cultural Community Leader
I was greatly distressed to learn of Jim Crow's death. He was one of my heroes, and I was proud to count him as a dear friend.
Every year I brought Jim to one or two plays at American Players Theater (and Ann too when she was alive). His favorite playwright was George Bernard Shaw — he just loved Shaw. Every time I saw him then, he would tell jokes I had heard once or twice before, but I still laughed.
Jim was not only a great scientist, he was a great humanist also. His lifelong devotion to music was deep and passionate (as was Ann's). He was a gentle man who radiated kindness and good humor. He was very generous in community affairs with both his time and money.
And Jim would laugh at my assertion: And now, my one link to the O.J. Simpson case is gone! Jim, a DNA fingerprinting expert, is the only person I have known who was asked to testify at this infamous trial (he wisely refused).
He once told me that the single biggest factor in the boost in musical quality of the Madison Symphony upon John DeMain's arrival in 1994 was Jim's decision to hang up his viola that year and retire from the orchestra.
I will miss him!
From James O. Allen:
Department of Biological Science
University of Missouri, Columbia
There was one productive man.
A good partner to Sewall Wright.
From Dave Nelson:
Department of Biochemistry
I had not heard about Jim, and I'm terribly sorry to hear it. He was a good, kind man and an extraordinary scientist, a combination that is rare and wonderful.
Yes, it seems unthinkable that he is gone. I can only imagine how it must feel to you to have lost him.
From Chuck Langley:
Department of Evolution and Ecology
University of California-Davis
Thanks for the copies of your letters. Like you I have been thinking of Jim. His natural generosity was amazing in its depth and scope — like the sun.
We are so lucky to have shared parts of our lives with Jim. In this time when it is so hard for colleagues to envision even reciprocally fair interactions among their peers, Jim's approach inspires and sustains me.
In difficult situations my feeble emulations of Jim's approach are often the best I can hope to muster.
I am thankful for his mentoring.
From Bill Stone:
Unit of Genomics of Complex Diseases
Hospital Sant Pau. Barcelona (Spain)
What can be said but that everyone should live a life like Jim did.
He was my role model and I loved him very much. He made a difference in so many lives. He will never be forgotten.
From Sally Chisholm:
Pro Arte Quartet
Jim was the first person I met outside the School of Music when I arrived in Madison. Introduced as Jim Crow, a valued member of the Madison Symphony! We immediately became close friends. One of his favorite recollections was the prank of his colleagues whose anesthetized fruit flies, surreptitiously installed in his viola before an opera performance, began to swarm out of the sound holes at just the precise moment of the viola solo — the perfect joke on him, and the perfect timing.
From the image of previously anesthetized fruit flies swarming out of the sound holes of his viola during a concert, compliments of his science colleagues, to a standing room only audience for his performance of the Franck Sonata at age 94, Jim Crow's mark in the Madison musical life touched everyone. Renowned as a concertgoer, his absence was notable, and usually to receive a national or international honor. As a philanthropist Jim was immensely influential, supplying the first private donation to a program for low-income children to receive music instruction, and one of a handful of generous contributors to the Young Artist Competition of the Madison Symphony. At the age of 92, he performed a virtuoso duo with a 17-year-old violinist, making this a concert of youngest and oldest members of the Genetics Department. He commented, “It's not how well a 92 year old plays, just that he can.”
For the Pro Arte Quartet Jim was a special musical friend. Concerts began only after a quick wave from backstage to Jim in the audience. Concerts with guest artists ended with late night pizza and stories. When 88-year-old Robert Mann of the Juilliard Quartet supplied names for Jim's stories, and 92-year-old Jim supplied those for Bobby, Jim exclaimed, “Between the two of us we have one magnificent mind!”
For the past decade, we [the Pro Arte Quartet plus Jim Crow] have read chamber music to celebrate New Year's Eve, polishing off the Mozart G Minor Viola Quintet as midnight approaches. With champagne glasses raised, Jim would give the first toast: “I hope for more peace in the world, and something selfish — one more year of life for me.” There was no better way to ring in a new year than with great music and Jim Crow. This year, since Jim would not be able to come, we did not read our Mozart, but at midnight toasted Jim for the joy that every year of his life has given us.
From Irwin Goldman:
Department of Horticulture
Jim was a scholar in the best sense of that word.
We in the plant breeding community saw Jim as one of our own, despite the fact that he was a population geneticist who worked on Drosophila. He seemed to understand our challenges better than we did, and he had a deep and profound knowledge of heterosis and many of the phenomena that continue to perplex modern plant breeders. He knew many of the most important figures in our field, some of them very well, and seemed to have an intuitive feel for the genetic control of the traits we cared about.
His writings and lectures on East, Vavilov, and many others are absolute staples in the teaching of plant breeding around the world. And he was an enthusiast about these topics. He once explained the basis of genetics to a "Mr. Jones," whose son was one of Jim's students at Dartmouth. Little did Jim know that this "Mr. Jones" was Donald F. Jones, one of the founders of modern hybrid corn!
Above all though, Jim was a great gentleman. He had encyclopedic knowledge and a brilliant mind, but he never made anyone feel bad about their own lack of understanding. He had that most rare of qualities — deep human compassion. He brought people up.
We were so lucky to have had the chance to be inspired by him, for he enriched our minds and our lives and made this campus the center of the genetics universe, especially for us plant breeders!
From Sumonta Promboon:
Distinguished Member of the Commission on Higher Education of Thailand
Advisor and a Founder of the Genetics Society of Thailand
Former President of Srinakharinwirot University
I am so sorry to hear that one of the great scientists, Prof. James F. Crow, has passed away. It's such a great loss especially to our Genetics community.
I was a student in his Genetics 560 course in 1966. His lively and inspiring teaching is still fresh in my mind.
To his students, he will always be remembered, not only as a great scientist, but also as a loving and kind teacher.
From Renata Laxova:
Departments of Medical Genetics and Pediatrics
1).We were discussing potential candidates during a faculty meeting. Jim thought and spoke about several and then said, with characteristic movements of all five fingers of his right hand: "I am in favor of this one. He scintillates!" The word was so characteristic of Jim's language. His candidate was hired and he scintillates to this day.
2). At the end of a lecture or presentation in recent years, Jim always put up a last slide crediting "The Department of Social Security Administration" with support for his research. The audience never failed to laugh.
3) We always loved the particular weekly Colloquium around the time of his birthday when Jim usually invited a young musician and, together, they played a duet. This, he said, was a gift of music "which, as opposed to all other birthday presents, no one could return or regift." Dear Jim. His viola was another of his egos with which he so generously enriched our lives and souls.
4) This is a memory about Jim, the master of clarity and understatement. Ann played the clarinet. The Pro Arte Quartet plus clarinetist played the Mozart Clarinet Quintet at her memorial at the Unitarian Church here in Madison. A few days later I saw Jim and commented about the exquisite beauty of the performance. "Yes, wasn't it?" he said, "it could almost make one feel emotional!".
5) In the days when Jim still taught Genetics 466 or later 560, he stopped me one day in the hallway. "Congratulations," he said. “One of your genetics counselling students received the highest score in my class this semester. Her name is Margaret*." (His class consisted of over 300 students). I recognized the name and was somewhat surprised. So I plucked up my courage and asked whether he was quite sure that it was Margaret who had received the highest grade. Jim was (understandably) indignant. "Of course I am. I know them all from the photographs I take at the beginning of the semester. And I also know what most of them are studying!" I knew Margaret well. She was indeed one of our trainees in genetics counselling. She also happened to have Turner Syndrome. I knew she was bright, but in those days, the clinical community was convinced that girls and women with Turner Syndrome were mentally retarded or at least somewhat developmentally delayed! Thus Dr. Crow once more provided the proof that was needed to convince ignorant clinicians.
* Margaret was not her real name.
6) My brain, which recently has come to resemble Swiss cheese more and more closely, now has a huge lacuna, an empty space which for over 35 years housed my comforting and admiring and -yes- loving thoughts and images of Jim. He was always there, with his usual gentlemanly demeanor, (in white shirt, grey suit and tie) standing or sitting erect, looking directly — his eye contact was exceptional — with curiosity and interest, anticipating a question or comment. His responses, his language in general, whatever the subject (music, science, world or local affairs, end of life) were always polite, clear, concise, carefully considered and frequently funny. The lacuna expands, as I realize what our world has lost. I hope that perhaps our cumulative memory of his enormous legacy will eventually leave us with diminishing pain as well as the respect, admiration, encouragement and awe that, personally, I always experienced after contact with Jim.
I find it impossible to clarify my own thoughts about Jim as I attempt to define my loss. It is too early and the loss is too great.
From Robert Graebner, M.D.
Department of Neurology
Jim told me that the human had 48 chromosomes, so we go back a long time! In recent years we crossed paths many times in support of the UW Music School and the Pro Arte Quartet. Often lost in his many other accomplishments is his tenure as Acting Dean of the U.W. Medical School during a divisive era, where his mature demeanor proved very effective. You are remembered fondly, Jim!
From Mara MacDonald
Laboratory of Genetics
I worked with Jim Crow in Biocore before coming to Genetics. It was the Fall of 2000, when he had just learned his wife had cancer. He confided he would not have accepted the teaching for that semester if he had known about his wife before making his commitment.
Jim used black-and-white overheads in his lectures, and asked me to turn them when he was ready for the next one.
When I came to Genetics, Jim would often ask me to take care of his overheads for him. One day he came to me to ask if I could teach him Power Point. He was giving a talk at CalTech and wanted to impress them with his ability to use state-of the art computer software. Before I was able to teach him, he had taught himself how to create a PowerPoint presentation. I privately thought: Jim would start to use color in his presentations! I am a color fanatic. When I saw Jim next when he gave a presentation, it was in black-and-white—all through it. Evidently, showing the folks at CalTech he was computer savvy was more important than creating attractive slides.
He did carry copies of overheads with him, in case the computer didn’t work.
From Douglas Furteck
Malaysian Cocoa Board
Center for Cocoa Biotechnology Research
My colleagues at the Malaysian Cocoa Board - Center for Cocoa Biotechnology Research know that lessons I learned from Dr. Crow 30+ years ago are the basis for our Malaysian Renaissance Cocoa (MRC) program: rapid creation by metabolomic analyses of individual cocoa embryos of beans unlike any others on earth today. Dr. Crow taught me how to unleash the genetic power of the cocoa tree.
Here is an excerpt from an article I wrote recently for The Sabah Society, a local civic organization in Malaysian North Borneo.
Two important features of MRC: Generation 2 trees distinguish them from ordinary trees now in production:
1. MRC: Generation 2 trees are populations of trees, rather than individual clones. Our populations will be continuously improved, unlike clones, which are static.
2. Each of the various populations will be highly genetically diverse, but share an enhanced bean trait:
¨ Intense cocoa flavor
¨ High aroma notes (fruity or nutty or floral or spicy, etc.)
¨ High flavanols for antioxidant health chocolate
¨ High caffeine for a stimulating beverage (to partially replace coffee)
¨ Low theobromine and caffeine for low bitterness
¨ High cocoa butter (the most valuable component of beans and the most expensive edible lipid)
¨ Large beans
¨ Powder with unique color (e.g. reddish)
¨ Other unique characteristics, such as high in compounds that relax people
Dr. Crow will smile in Heaven when he sees the Renaissance Chocolates - as well as the Renaissance Coffees - his guidance helped to create.
From Katrin Talbot
Madison Symphony Orchestra
I had the honor of sharing a stand in the Madison Symphony viola section with Jim Crow for many years, and my duties included, beyond the usual expectations, NOT getting the giggles with Jim, when we would consistently make the same mistake together; it must have been in our scientific reading of the score (I was in a graduate science program at UW), but we would inevitably pluck a certain notated articulation when we should have bowed it. His benevolent spirit was one that kept the orchestra honest for so many years, and, even after he retired, we knew he was listening hard to every concert, with that viola twinkle in his eye. I also believe that he proved a theory he did not intend to ever publish: that a lifetime of science and music has a direct line to the fountain of youth.
From Marc Fink
School of Music, UW-Madison
Oboist, Madison Symphony Orchestra
What I recall so vividly is that whenever any of my students (or other School of Music students) performed in the Great Hall Auditorium at Capitol Lakes, Jim was always in the audience. He loved to hear the students perform, and would always congratulate them in person following their recitals and concerts. In some cases, the students had no idea that this Capitol Lakes resident was one of the most eminent geneticists in the world. He was so humble, and had the incredible ability to make one feel completely at ease when speaking to him. He was a jewel. His viola recital at age 94 (or 95?) at Capitol Lakes was an inspiration to all of us privileged to attend.
From Howard Karp
School of Music
Years ago, I was told that Jim Crow, being honored for accomplishments in Genetics, did not go to the ceremony, opting instead to perform in the Madison Symphony, in which he was a long time member of the viola section.
From Brian Charlesworth
Institute of Evolutionary Biology
University of Edinburgh
My personal interactions with Jim go back to my time as a postdoc with Dick Lewontin at the University of Chicago (1969-1971), when he visited the Lewontin lab. I subsequently visited Madison and gave a talk on my work on selection in age-structured populations (probably a pretty poor one). As with all subsequent interactions with Jim, I was impressed by his charm and his friendly manner, by his keen interest in the work of others, by his incredible range of knowledge of genetics and evolution, and by his ability to discuss science (and anything else) on an equal footing with people of all levels of seniority. He was consistently very encouraging to me during my subsequent career in population genetics, as of course he was to many others in the field, most famously Motoo Kimura.
His work on the rate of occurrence and the fitness effects of deleterious mutations inspired much of my own later research. This is still a very active area of research, involving the latest molecular and statistical genetic techniques, and has many important implications for both evolutionary genetics and medical genetics. The work of Jim and his collaborators, extending the pioneering insights of J.B.S. Haldane and H.J. Muller, was pivotal in providing a fundamental basis of both theory and experimental data for this field. In addition to his numerous research papers on this and other areas of population genetics, Jim’s lucid reviews, as well as his two major books, did much to organise the field.
I sincerely believe that Jim was one of the most noble people I have ever met; it’s a pity that he wasn’t cloned.
From Jan Klein
Tübingen, Germany (Tubingen):
Although I have known Jim Crow for many years, my personal contacts with him had been rather limited, perhaps because of my long stay in Europe, followed by my resolve not to travel any more. The more I treasured the rare contacts, however! In my memory Jim will remain as perhaps the last of a generation of gentlemen--scientists, to which belonged also George Snell Robert Irwin, Jack Stimpfling, and a few others, whom I had known and who are now all gone. I use the word "gentleman" here in the sense of a "courteous, gracious man with a strong sense of honor", and strong respect for the past. Jim had all these qualities and many more and it is for them that I will miss him whenever I will be exposed with the horse-trading business into which science is now turning.
From Jonathan Hodgkin
Genetics Unit, Department of Biochemistry
University of Oxford
I was deeply saddened to learn of Jim Crow's passing -- he was a truly admirable human being, both as a scientist of extraordinary breadth and insight, and as a delightful person.
From Frank Stahl
Institute of Molecular Biology
University of Oregon
Writing for Perspectives was a pleasure because I was confident that my contributions would be treated with constructive criticism delivered in a most palatable manner.
From Matthew Meselson
Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology
I wish I could better express my admiration. One of the greats, Jim brought a rare clarity to all his work.
From Antony Stretton
Department of Zoology
What an amazing, wonderful man. One of the many things I loved and admired about Jim was his use of language. In 1984 he was a founding member of the Zoology Reading Group. We started with the “Origin of Species”, but then went on to read Wallace, Goldschmidt, Mayr, Dobzhansky and many others. Jim seemed to have a limitless collection of stories about people, but he also was a master at summarizing the experiments and the ideas behind them. It was just wonderful, and everyone, students and faculty alike, fell in love with him. His writing was not only extremely clear, but it was as lively and entertaining as his conversation. His use of words was exact. I still treasure the twinkle in his eye when we connected, realizing that we each KNEW that “comprise” is a transitive verb.
From Barry Ganetzky
Laboratory of Genetics
To me, the circumstance in which Jim's erudition and scholarship were always on best display and where he never ceased to amaze me, literally until the day he died, was his amazing participation at seminars. Regardless of speaker, regardless of subject area, regardless of technique, regardless of organism, there was hardly a seminar he attended at which he was not among the first to pipe up after the seminar with a brilliantly insightful question, more often than not, coupled with a comment in which he was able to link whatever the current results were, with some important (and likely overlooked) observation made by someone else 30, 40, 50, or 60 years ago. His depth of knowledge, his amazing breadth, and his adept ability to synthesize and link disparate bits and pieces of information, remain unmatched in my experience by anyone else I have ever met. I was lucky to have known Jim and to have experienced his unparalleled scholarship firsthand. It is hard for me to imagine departmental seminars that will no longer be enriched and enlivened by his presence.
From Sean Carroll
Laboratory of Genetics
I will offer an anecdote about the kind of person Jim was to me, something that reflects how generous, thoughtful, but amazingly knowledgeable he was through all of his days:
About five years ago, I completed the manuscript for a book on evolution. I hoped that Jim might have a chance to glance at some parts to see if they were historically and scientifically accurate. When I went to see him with the manuscript, he was all smiles and enthusiastic as ever. I then went away on vacation. When I came back, there were twenty pages of typed notes waiting for me, with several references to classic work, anecdotes, and other gems of evolutionary genetics.
If I am able to reach 90, I would be lucky to have 5% of the energy, grace, enthusiasm, curiosity, and wit Jim had.
They just don't make them like Jim Crow anymore.
From Donald Waller
Department of Botany
I can think of no warmer or more encouraging colleague, nor one that I respected more. It was a privilege and an honor, as well as humbling, to teach with Jim. His lectures combined mathematical rigor, biological examples, and personal anecdotes in a wonderfully clear and engaging way. I tried never to miss his lectures as I always learned as much as any student. Jim had a remarkable ability to recognize and encourage talent. He brought joy to his science, and science brought joy to him.
Laboratory of Genetics
1. When I was hired here, I had not been here for even a week. I went to an evening chalk talk in the McArdle Labs. Jim Crow was in the audience. Afterwards, he invited me to his home for a glass of wine with him and his wife Ann. They then drove me home. After that, he contacted me on a regular basis. I met with him and we discussed my research (which was nowhere near his area of interest), teaching, and getting settled as a new Assistant Professor. This was long before we had a formal mentoring program in our department. Jim took it upon himself to make sure I was mentored. From that first week here, I knew I was at the right place due to Jim's friendly and caring approach. It is really because I this experience that I established a much more extensive and formal mentoring program for junior faculty once I became Chair of Genetics.
I am told by junior faculty that the mentoring they receive is very important to them. I believe it, because it was important to me when I was at that place in my own career.
2. With regard to my Perspective article, Jim did a wonderful job editing the perspective. He actually read in detail many of the key papers I cited. Because of that he was able to guide me in producing informative figures for the perspective that would allow an outsider to understand the figures and text. As for the political undertones in the perspective that were implied but not directly stated in the final version of the article, Jim was supportive. In fact, in the original submission, he was also supportive of including direct political statements. Although the journal chose to ask me to delete the direct statements, which some deemed overly critical of NIH, Jim had no problem including them.
Laboratory of Genetics
[The following was sent in response to a request for comments that might be useful in preparing an obituary article for Science.]
Here are three thoughts that others might like to know about Jim's thinking. These ideas came from my discussions with Jim during the last 6.5 years of his life. I hope they are useful.
1. Jim was concerned that some of the fundamental controversies raised in the early years of population genetics were not resolved by advances in molecular biology and mathematical theory. In particular, he pointed to the causes of genetic variation and the way selection operates as unsolved questions worthy of attention.
2. Jim thought that graduate students should be trained to think broadly and understand general concepts from across the sciences. He noted that the recent trend in genetics has been to encourage graduate students to learn more about less.
3. Though Jim retained a broad interest in genetics, a few topics seemed to captivate his scientific attention toward the end of his life. These topics included the relative roles of additive and non-additive variance in evolution, pre-meiotic selection for mutations in the male germ line, and a way of modeling the effects of natural selection on multiple loci called quasi linkage equilibrium.
Terrence W. Lyttle
Professor of Genetics
University of Hawaii
"It is hard to say goodbye to someone who has had such a major effect on one's life. I knew Jim from the very first week I was an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin. Scared to death by my first two calculus lectures, I wandered into Jim's office and asked him if you really had to have calculus to be a geneticist. Jim took the time to chat with that frightened freshman and convinced me that, yes, calculus would be a good thing to have! I remember this kindly patience most about Jim - I never heard him say anything harsh about anyone or lose his temper. He was, in fact, the perfect teacher and later, friend, and I attempted to be as much like him as possible in both my professional and family life. I only wish I had another afternoon with him to tell him that and to once more chat about evolution and music. He is, and always will be, much missed though he will be ever in my thoughts
From Maximo Drets, MD, PhD
Instituto de Investigaciones Biológicas Clemente Estable
Many thanks for your recent message informing me of the death of Professor Crow. This sad news shocked me because I had a very close friendship with and admiration for Professor Crow. I will always remember him as a real gentleman in every respect.
Happily, a very productive and close relationship grew between Eeva Therman, Prof. Crow and me that during my stay in Madison. It all started when Eeva generously passed me a number of handwritten pages by Klaus Patau describing a case of a woman carrying a very unusual telomeric 6;19 translocation with a tendency to break at the fusion point. Besides, she presented numerous abnormal chromosomes, all of them apparently derived from the translocated one. It was evident to me that Prof. Patau tried to develop a hypothesis through a statistical interpretation to demonstrate that all the aberrant chromosomes were derived from the translocated and fragile chromosome and that all the aberrant chromosomes were in equilibrium. But, unfortunately, he died while developing the model, leaving his notes unfinished.
Eeva told me that it would be hard to write a paper using these data because cytogeneticists could understand the description of the chromosome abnormalities but not the mathematical formulas and the hypothetical model developed by Klaus. For people familiar with mathematical models, the opposite was true. Therefore, Patau’s notes had been put on the shelf.
After reading these unusual but extremely interesting data and studying the slides still available at the lab, I decided to buy an HP programmable calculator and start trying to relate both the chromosome findings and the model developed by Patau in order to test his hypothesis. After working for several months and developing a considerable number of computer programs, I was able to write a first version of a manuscript, but, as you can imagine, the formulas I used were somewhat primitive, reflecting the limited knowledge I gained in high school when I was very young. So, I discussed my tentative manuscript with Eeva, and she decided to give it to Professor Crow for a critical review. I remember that I gave him our manuscript on Thursday afternoon (January 14, 1983). Two days later I went to the Lab and met Prof. Crow, who told me that he had left his review on my desk!! I could not believe that he dedicated so much time on my manuscript, producing in only two days a review that was a real masterpiece and a profound scientific analysis of my contribution. I still have the fantastic, detailed, and outstanding four-page analysis that he produced on his computer, which is filled with valuable suggestions. He started
“I have read your paper and find it very interesting...”
The critical main point was the analysis of the model by Professor Crow to explain the different aneuploid types. He rewrote all the formulas that I had produced in a very primitive way, polishing the mathematical aspects of my manuscript and showing that, despite my naiveté, I had obtained correct results. As you can imagine, his review had an unforgettable impact on me, not only for his generous cooperation with us but also for the scientific rigor of his work. As expected, the paper was immediately accepted for publication, and the comment of the referee was,
“This is an excellent paper which can be recommended for publication in CHROMOSOMA without any qualification. The results described about chromosome morphology, mitotic segregation, non-disjunction and the origin of telomeric associations are of general interest for vertebrate cytogenetics and significant not only for human cytogeneticists.”
I was very fortunate to inherit the notes written by the late Klaus Patau, thanks to the Eeva’s generosity, and to have the opportunity to learn so much statistical analysis from Professor Crow during my stay at the Genetics Building. In brief, the only contribution I made was to try to put everything together: cytogenetics and statistical analysis.
My personal relation with Eeva and the rest of the friends I made of Madison was the reason why I decided to make a stop-over in Chicago in 1999 order to visit all of you. I still remember my visit to your house and the wonderful dinner that Eeva and Crow offered me (April 4, 1999) in a restaurant close to a lake that I will never forget. During the dinner we talked a lot about our families and our research work. I remember that Eeva was very surprised by the production of subtelomeric holes I had obtained by prolonging the incubation exposure of chromosomes in the T-banding solution. Attached is a photograph I took there (in spite of Eeva’s classic reluctance to these things). Unfortunately, my flash did not work properly, and the quality of the picture was low, but at least you can see them seated at the restaurant table.
From Hiroshi Nishida
It is sad news that Dr. Crow died. I took his Genetics General Genetic course while working on my MS degree and liked both the man and the lectures.
He loved music, and once hosted a small recital at a Madison church where a young Japanese cellist played. The soloist was invited by Jim. Tomoko and I attended. The concert was great, and the soloist was terrifically excited to be playing in Madison. He has since become one of the top cellists in Japan and the world. Jim obviously had a good eye for brilliant young musicians as well as for brilliant young geneticists.
We will all miss Jim very much. Our only comfort is that his death was peaceful.
From John Jensen
My what an influence and Jim took time even with lowly undergraduates. Remember fondly lectures on genetics of IQ to UW Psychology Dept., Nature vs. Nurture. Well, he stood tall in defence of Genetics.
Such an open mind and example of humanity.
From Qiang Chang
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Genetics Department
To me, Jim was a true thinker who kept thinking till the very end. He gently asked me the same question on three occasions. The first time was on my second interview. The second time was shortly after I arrived in Madison. The third time when he and I met to go to dinner with John Pool during his interview. The question was "why is the mutation rate so high in the male germ line in Rett syndrome families?". I wish I had asked Jim where his question was coming from AND what ideas he had for going after the question. We may have missed a major discovery. I cannot believe I let it slip away. Jim is like someone you take for granted yet suddenly realize how essential he is until you lose him. To me, Jim left an unsolved question. Hopefully I can bring the answer to him one day.
From Christopher Mayne
Calvin Williams Laboratory, Department of Pediatrics
Medical College of Wisconsin
The thing I remember most about Dr. Crow is how every time he was in a room graduate students in their 20s would flock to him to converse with him and hear his stories. When I first joined Genetics, I remember having a gathering where a scheduled portion of the evening was "Conversations with Dr. Crow." We new graduate students sat at the floor by his feet and introduced ourselves, and without fail he had a story relating to the school or city each and every one of us were from. We sat and listened to his stories for quite some time, all of us engaged and amazed despite the many generations between us. Dr. Crow was a genius who you would never know was a genius. He loved to meet, and could somehow relate to 20 year-old students. He was a renaissance man and scientific polymath without a speck of ego. I would see him nearly weekly at Madison because even in his 90s, he never missed seminars (even by students like me) and was always in his office writing one of the dozens of papers he would publish after retirement. He was a wonderful person, and I am honored to have met him.