Recorded: 23 Apr 2001
…I came to graduate school in the fall of 1964 and joined Jim Watson’s lab at Harvard. Another student of that entering class of the biochemistry and molecular biology program was Ann Baker, who I ended up marrying. We have a lot of memories together of Cold Spring Harbor, it seemed like we came to Cold Spring Harbor once a year, at least. This was when Jim was getting more and more involved with the Lab. The biggest set of memories that I have are [from] the course that my wife took here in 1969, an animal virus course taught by John Holland and someone else. The students in this course, in addition to my wife, were Phil Leder and Ann Skalka and Ethan Signer—and so it was quite an interesting group of people. I remember we lived in the basement of the firehouse, and this was at a time before the Lab had any renovation. Actually the lab was pretty run down in 1969, the story was that a month before we arrived, a person in the first floor of the firehouse was taking a bath in the bathtub when the floor broke down and the bathtub fell down into the basement—into the bathtub in the basement. Fortunately nobody was taking a bath on the lower level, so I think they had fixed that by the time we came. That was a very interesting summer, very humid and hot, maybe it’s always that way. I remember going swimming the first day and hung up my suit and it just molded; it never dried. My wife was taking this course which must have gone on for four or six weeks and I was the spouse that would go get the donuts in Huntington every morning and work on converting my thesis chapters into manuscripts. That was the summer of the moon landing so everyone spent a lot of time watching television, watching the moon landing; I think that’s where I had my first marijuana brownie.
If I recall, maybe they were heated too hot, but really nobody had any effect, but since most people had never had one, you didn’t know what was supposed to happen. It was amusing. I also remember something that happened here that summer at Cold Spring Harbor. There was this drink made from alcohol in a quart jar, hanging an orange in the jar with a string and then you would put the lid on, and the alcohol would reflux and it would extract the juices out of the orange, it was sort of an imitation Grand Marnier, only we called it Phix 175 I think.
It was some recipe that somebody came up with for making an orange liquor.
I think the bar was down there, because the Blackford patio, the balcony was different. Just generally speaking the place was pretty run down, it was interesting. It was very informal but it was not nearly as fine a facility it is now.
Richard Burgess is a geneticist who has been an important figure in cancer, microbial, and molecular research. He earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University under Jim Watson in 1969 and went on to work with Alfred Tissieres at the University of Geneva, Switzerland.
He is currently researching RNA polymerases, monoclonal antibodies (MAbs), molecular genetics, computer-based sequence and structure analysis, and biochemistry at the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Reaearch at the University of Wisconsin.