Recorded: 03 Jul 2003
The last time I saw her was a few months before she died. The lab had just published the festschrift to Barbara. And if it hadn’t been published— John [Inglis] gave me a copy. The press only had a couple of copies but John gave me one. I thought it would be great if I could get Barbara to sign it. Barbara was living in Hooper, of course. I went to see Susan [Cooper] —because Barbara, this really was a few months before she died, she was quite frail then. I went to see Susan and said, “I’d like to see Barbara” and she fixed it up. Susan said, “You can’t stay more than ten minutes.” I said, “okay.” I went down and Barbara came and let me in and we sat down and we’re talking and I said “I’ve got this book with me.” I said, “Barbara, it would do me a great pleasure if you would sign it for me.” [Barbara said] “I don’t do that sort of thing. No, no, no, no. No, no. Don’t do that,” and we talked and I said, “Don’t worry.” We talked and we talked actually mostly about her early career when she was a meteorologist before the war or during the war, the early part of the war. We talked and we talked and every now and again she’d look at the book and say, “I’m sorry. I don’t do that.” I said, “Barbara, relax. It doesn’t matter. You know, don’t worry about it.” We talked for about an hour and a half. I eventually said, “Look, Barbara. I have to go.” I didn’t, but I felt I had to get away. She said, “Okay, well give me the book” she said, “Do you have a pen on you.” I gave her the book and she wrote in the front. I thanked her very much and I walked out. Then I opened it. It said, “To Michael, may he have all the success he deserves.” Oh, she was sharp. She’s great. That’s the last time I saw Barbara and she died a couple of months later, I think.
Michael Ashburner, a leader in Drosophila Genetics and bioinformatics, received his B.A. (1964), M.A. (1968), Ph.D. (1968) and Sc.D. (1978) from the University of Cambridge, where he is currently professor of Biology in the Department of Genetics and a Professional Fellow of Churchill College.
He has been the joint head of European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI), of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and was co-founder of Flybase, the primary online database for Drosophila genetics and molecular biology, the Gene Ontology Consortium, an effort to coordinate biological databases through a defined taxonomy of gene function, and the Crete Meetings, a bi-annual event focusing on the developmental and molecular biology of Drosophila melanogaster.
Among many honors, he is the recipient of the G.J. Mendel Medal (Czech Republic 1998) and the George W. Beadle Medal (Genetics Society of America 1999).