Evelyn Witkin on Jim Watson
  Evelyn Witkin     Biography    
Recorded: 01 Jun 2000

He was here already—in the summers, I guess. He was already Luria’s graduate student. I don’t remember exactly when he started—but I do remember him being around summers and he was Jim! Very much so! He struck me as—in afterthought—of course at the time I wouldn’t have used this, but he seemed to be kind of a premature hippie!—in his attitudes and the way he looked and so on. But he was obviously also—you know there were no stupid people around here in those days.

I would not have guessed from knowing him then—I could have guessed that he’d do very important science. That was not hard to guess. But I wouldn’t have guessed that he would have been so successful in running an institution like this and then raising large amounts of money. Somebody was saying, today I think that, if Cold Spring Harbor had been the way it is now in those days, Watson probably wouldn’t have wanted to come here. It wasn’t his type of place. Yes, it was really surprising to me that he did such an absolute wonderful job of building this place up. And he did it without destroying the essential ambiance. Coming back now; I mean the place was very run down. And now, everything is glossy and sparkling and wonderful. It’s hard to do that without destroying the essential ambiance of the place, and it’s the same. You get the same feeling.

Evelyn Witkin is a leading bacterial geneticist. She earned her Ph.D. in 1947 with Theodosius Dobzhansky at Columbia University for her Drosophila research. Her interests evolved from Drosophila genetics to bacterial genetics, and she spent the summer of 1944 at Cold Spring Harbor, where she isolated a radiation-resistant mutant of E. coli. Witkin remained at the Carnegie Institution Department of Genetics at Cold Spring Harbor until 1955.

In 1971, she was appointed Professor of Biological Sciences at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and was named Barbara McClintock Professor of Genetics in 1979. Witkin moved to the Wakeman Institute at Rutgers University in 1983. Among her many honors are membership in the National Academy of Sciences (1977), Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1980), American Women of Science Award for Outstanding Research, and Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology.