Recorded: 01 May 2000
Amar: My wife, she came from India and is, of course Indian. The wives of my colleagues essentially adopted her and spoiled her very quickly in the Western line of thinking. For example, I taught her how to drive on a MGB, which is a standard shift and she did fine, until she met Becky Hicks and, I think, Ann Strathern. They both ganged up on her: “In our country you don’t learn to drive from your spouse-from your husband! And also women here don’t drive standard shift!” The very next day I had to arrange a loan from the local bank and get a Chevette, [a] cheap automatic car. So is credit to the wives.
Another thing at that time, which was extremely important for all of us, [was] that the wives, spouses, and kids used to run around at lunchtime, and they all came. So your day could be really long, but it’s broken by your family’s things. Before I was married, I hung around with their families so I felt a part of it. So it’s automatic that their spouses would get my spouse…
Jeff: You are certainly aware of the fact Cold Spring Harbor is every-minute-of-every-day-kind of science. Steve Hughes who we’ve heard mentioned a couple times here was our next door neighbor in that building, the DeForest apartment building. His family and my family were as close to being one family as you could. We ate dinner at least four nights a week and our kids were about the same age and raised. Amar made a really important point: Because we went back to the lab really almost every night and stayed routinely until after midnight, it was very important—Blackford Hall served a very important purpose. And that purpose was that your family life was in Blackford Hall. That’s where you got to see your wife and you got to see your kids. That was a real key component to it.
Amar: The Johnsons had left a long time ago. We started ’78 to ’88. Another thing: When I was single, thanks to Jim and Liz [Watson], I remember, They used to go around and see—the lab was small at that time—see who’s single. On Christmas or Thanksgiving or something, they’d bring [you] in and they would fill you up with everything. That was really powerful! You meet your employer. Jim Watson, he was actually very, very nice to all the people. Before we had kids, my wife also had treasured going there and opening your heart on Christmas night. It was absolutely wonderful. There was nothing you can replace the memories with. That was a special kind of person and family to say, “You all come.” The very young people and all international [people] and everything. That was really good for the morale. Otherwise Cold Spring Harbor is an isolated place; there is an imaginary wall. You can’t leave.
Jeff: I went for months at a time with the same few dollars in my pocket. I literally would go months without spending any money at all.
Amar: Beer was a quarter! Not like now!
.Jeff: Because I was always in the lab. Whatever shopping was done, was done by my wife. It was, as a social environment it’s cut off quite a bit from the rest of the community around it. There were a few occasions where you met some of your neighbors, but not very many.
I think that my interactions with the neighbors was accelerated substantially when I helped found the environmental education center that’s at the fish hatchery there. Jim came to me one day, and he asked if I would get involved in the transition of the fish hatchery from a state-run facility to an environmental education center. And I did. I got involved in raising money for that, and writing grants for that, designing some things. That put me in contact with the community that had also an interest.
Aside from that, the scientific community was a lot smaller then than it is now. The majority of the people lived on the grounds. As I said, Blackford Hall was an extension of your kitchen, and it was an opportunity for interactions with your family and those families with each other. It became a…
Amar: …collective family.
Jeff: …a collective family in a lot of ways.
Amar Klar and Jeff Strathern worked together in the Cold Spring Harbor Yeast group from 1977 till 1984 where they made outstanding discoveries about the mechanism of mating type switching in yeast.
Amar Klar, is a leading yeast geneticist, concerned with the molecular biology of gene silencing and mating-type switching. Klar came from India to the University of Wisconsin in 1975 to receive his Ph.D. in bacteriology. From 1977 to 1984, he worked with Jeff Strathern and Jim Hicks in the Cold Spring Harbor Yeast Group studying the mechanism of mating type switching. Klar served as Director of the Delbruck laboratory from 1985 to 1988.
He left Cold Spring Harbor to join the ABL-Basic Research Program as Head of the Developmental Genetics Section. In 1999, Klar joined the National Cancer Institute Center for Cancer Research and is now a Principal Investigator in the Gene Regulation and Chromosome Biology Laboratory at NCI-CCR.
Jeffrey Strathern, a leading yeast geneticist, obtained his Ph.D. from the Molecular Biology Institute at the University of Oregon in 1977 and then moved to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where he became a Senior Staff Member with the yeast genetics laboratory.
In 1984, he joined the ABL-Basic Research Program at the NCI-FCRDC. His research remains centered on aspects of gene regulation and genetic recombination as revealed by studies in yeast. In 1999, Strathern joined the Division of Basic Sciences, NCI. Strathern worked together with Amar Klar and Jim Hicks in the Cold Spring Harbor Yeast group from 1977 to 1984 where they made outstanding discoveries about the mechanism of mating type switching in yeast.