Merilyn Sleigh on Jim Watson
  Merilyn Sleigh     Biography    
Recorded: 17 Jan 2003

Oh, of course I do remember him very well. He was the director of Cold Spring Harbor when I was there. He certainly was to some extent a legendary figure around the place and people held a mixture of feelings about him. I think enormous respect for his judgment and achievements, some skepticism about his eccentricities but overall I think he was generally felt to be a fantastic director by everyone who was there. I think my own personal interactions with him were not that extensive. Obviously the staff members and so on had a lot more to do with him. Although, cause we were in relatively close physical location—his office was down the end of the corridor where my office was as well—you’d see him walking up and down the corridor but we certainly didn’t have any social discussions very much that I can recall. I think I might have had a meeting with him at one point just [as] my Australian money was running out so there was interest in keeping [me] there for longer and I was keen to stay for longer.

So I think that I may have, although I don’t recall it very distinctly, had a discussion with Jim at that time about what could be done, whether they could find some money, whether they were keen to keep me there and so on. It all had a positive outcome. They did find money for me and I did stay for about another year after that. But I think I certainly saw Jim performing at various Cold Spring Harbor functions and you know there were all sorts of rumors about his eccentricities like you know one of his very important activities was to go and fund raise. And it was certainly suggested that he you know played upon his eccentric appearance very much in order to foster these relationships but obviously to enormous success given what he did. So I’m sure that a lot of the stories about him were totally untrue, but you kind of see where they might have come from.

Merilyn Sleigh is a pharmacologist, molecular biologist and dean in the Department of Life Sciences at the University of New South Wales. After completing her Ph.D. at the University of Sydney in pharmacology and another PhD in molecular biology at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), she came to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to work under Joe Sambrook as a postdoctoral fellow researching the protein production of SV40. She returned to CSIRO, establishing one of the first laboratories in Australia using genetic engineering approaches to study influenza virus structure, evolution and gene regulation. She has become involved in developing the biotechnological industry in Australia. Sleigh is founding director of the Australian Biotechnology Association and is currently Chief Executive of EvoGenix, a start-up biotechnology company located in Australia.