Paul Doty on Jim Watson, Personality & Influence
  Paul Doty     Biography    
Recorded: 22 Jul 2003

Well, he was given to being rebellious and upsetting and not easy to live with from many points of view. But always with some purpose. It wasn’t chaotic at all. For example, there was a time when we wanted very much to bring a certain person into the department and he was spending that year in California. And Jim went there with the express purpose of trying to urge him to come. Well, it turned out that the time he was there corresponding to the end of the term when we have reading period here at Harvard. And there was in the—a rule at that time that you shouldn’t be away during reading period. And so President Pusey heard of his absence and called to ask him to come back. And that made a riproaring fight which ended up, I’d say, I that the rule essentially had silently left the books by the next year. So again in some way a humiliation for him, but it accomplished quite a bit.

Well, I think that secure is not the right word. He was confident, perhaps beyond what was justified. I found him almost totally open. I never felt that there was any cloud that I couldn’t see through. And we are very close personal friends, too.

I remember when Kennedy was assassinated he spent about two days here with me in front of the TV; crying. It was a very emotional period. He had lots of emotion. And I think that the person he is now is of course very different. He’s been a life long learner. And had a view with a changing environment. So that I don’t blame people for not thinking he would succeed at Cold Spring Harbor. But rather it’s a testament to the fact that he could grow into a different situation stimulated always by the goal he had in mind.

Paul Doty (1920-2011), biophysical chemist and activist was an emeritus professor at Harvard University in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and in the Kennedy School of Government. He was also founder of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and the Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard. Experimenting with isotope separation as a graduate student at Columbia University, he became an advocate for nuclear war prevention. Subsequently, he served as a consultant to the President’s Science Advisory Committee and as a member of the President’s Arms Control Advisory Group.

Doty’s scientific research is focused on elucidating the structure and function of large molecules by optical methods. Responsible for hybridizing single strands of DNA to reform an active double-stranded molecule, his laboratory work helped provide the basis for DNA recombination.

Doty met Jim in 1952 in Cambridge. Four years later he had encouraged Jim to join the Harvard Faculty. Their combined insight and innovation was crucial in determining the fate of the newly created molecular biology department. Doty remained on the Harvard Faculty for over forty-two years.