Mary Jane Gething on Barbara McClintock
  Mary Jane Gething     Biography    
Recorded: 16 Jan 2003

Well I didn’t have more than very, sort of brief conversations with Barbara. And certainly never talked about science. But the day when she got the Nobel Prize was amazing. It was a very intense day so. It started off—we had no inkling that it was going to happen and Jim [Watson] was on sabbatical in London. So Joe was the acting director of the lab. And the first thing we knew was we were living in the top of Williams. The sort of Penthouse apartment of Williams and there’s a loud knock on the door. It was Memorial Day I believe. Anyway it was a holiday Monday. I looked at my watch and it was five o’clock in the morning.

So we went—I went down in my dressing gown I guess. And opened and there was this group of about half a dozen people who were journalists. And they had—how they found Williams-5, I have no idea, but anyway, Barbara’s Nobel Prize had been announced. And they were looking for Barbara.

Well, for a start it was five in the morning. And for Joe—Joe knew jolly well that Barbara would not appreciate being you know sort of exposed to these journalists. So he basically told them to go away, said he would arrange a press conference for eleven o’clock and they should come back at 11 o’clock and no he would not tell them where Barbara was and so on.

So we got up and it was Memorial Monday so there was nobody from the administration there. And the phones started ringing. So we gathered a few people who were living around the grounds, Terri Grodzicker was in the Firehouse and I can’t remember who else, but anyway about ten of us ended up going into Nichols and manning or personing the phones in Nichols because they were ringing off…and just basically saying there would be a press conference, you know. It would be at eleven o’clock in Bush hall and so on. And meanwhile it got to about seven o’clock I guess and Terri was deputized to go down and go in the back way, I think, to Barbara’s and knock on the door and tell her ’cause I don’t think that Barbara had a phone. So Terri went and told Barbara. And it was just getting more and more hectic, but some of the admin people started to come in. And then the television stations were calling and saying they wanted to send a helicopter down and where could they land. So my mother actually was staying with us from Australia and as I said before she was a pilot in the Second World War ferrying aircraft around England so she was our most, sort of, knowledgeable person. So we sent her down to the sandpit and she flagged down the helicopters and they landed on the sandpit and then somebody was taking one of the lab vans up and down to the sandpit bringing down the television crews who landed on the sandspit and so it was getting busier and busier on Bungtown Road.

And the journalists were sort of congregating and milling around and in the in the middle of all of this—we were back in Williams at that point and looking down from the windows, which looked down to Barbara’s apartment in Hooper and all of a sudden she must have slipped out in the middle of all this and gone off on her daily walk. She would collect black walnuts or whatever. And she just wandered back down Bungtown Road, this tiny little woman, and walked right through the middle of these journalists and into her house. And they presumably glanced at her and wrote her off. You know, she couldn’t be this; this little old woman couldn’t be the Nobel Prize winner. So she just very calmly walked through them and in.

And then Bush had been set up with microphones, so there was just this huge like a forest of microphones had been set up, and all these journalists in the front and then everybody from the lab all in the back. And there was great excitement.

And then Joe and Terri went and brought Barbara from her apartment in. And again it was very funny because she walked up—everybody clapped and cheered and so on, she walked up to the front and immediately disappeared down behind these microphones because they had set them all up for a normal size person. “And she was about a foot below this. So there was this great bustle, well, I can’t remember whether they got her a box to stand on or lowered the microphones, but she literally just went underneath them. It was a fantastic day. But it was this amazing sort of—for the first few hours almost like being on a desert island or something because there was nobody there but this core group of you know ten scientist maybe who were the ones who lived on the lab grounds who were fending off all the phone calls and my mother waving down he helicopters and things. It was a fantastic day.

Mary-Jane Gething, biochemist is Head of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Melbourne where she earned her Ph.D. in Biochemistry in 1974. Subsequently she went to Cambridge to do post-doctoral work.

In 1976, she moved to London to work on protein sequencing and in 1980, Gething and Joseph Sambrook received a NATO grant for travel to collaborate on virus research. She began working at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 1982 where she continued her research of proteins. In 1985, Gething and Sambrook moved to Dallas to work at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. They moved back to Australia in 1994.

Her current research involves protein folding in the cell and the role of molecular chaperone BiP.