Michael Ashburner on Ed Lewis: Personal Life and Ambition
  Michael Ashburner     Biography    
Recorded: 03 Jul 2003

Ed is a hero. I mean he’s just an amazing man. He’s achieved so much and has had a life—I mean he has been at Caltech, of course, since he was a graduate student except for the period when he was in the meteorological service during the war. But he’s had his share of tragedy. I mean Pam, his wife, who is a wonderful person, has not been well for many, many years now. They lost a son, I think in a climbing accident. Was that Keith? I can’t remember now; but the word indomitable is right for Ed and Pam. Until very recently they traveled everywhere together. I remember Ed turning up in London once with Pam one morning and they stayed in one of the big West End hotels. And Francesca and I had lunch with them. That same day, they had just flown in from SFO [San Francisco International Airport] from San Francisco or L.A. [and] that same day they were going to the opera in the evening.

He’s never established a school, Ed, since Sturtevant did. But he does have people who work with him. But he really wants to work himself. He is—Ed is wonderful. But in some cases like Barbara, in some ways they work best by themselves. Neither Ed nor Barbara were good or are good at getting, at talking in public about their work. I have a photograph of Ed giving a talk at a Crete meeting and trying to explain something with models and Peter Lawrence trying to help him. I mean everyone else was just collapsed with laughter. Ed couldn’t understand why people were laughing at him. Everyone loves Ed. Not only because he is such a great scientist, but because he and Pam are just wonderful human beings.

Michael Ashburner, a leader in Drosophila Genetics and bioinformatics, received his B.A. (1964), M.A. (1968), Ph.D. (1968) and Sc.D. (1978) from the University of Cambridge, where he is currently professor of Biology in the Department of Genetics and a Professional Fellow of Churchill College.

He has been the joint head of European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI), of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and was co-founder of Flybase, the primary online database for Drosophila genetics and molecular biology, the Gene Ontology Consortium, an effort to coordinate biological databases through a defined taxonomy of gene function, and the Crete Meetings, a bi-annual event focusing on the developmental and molecular biology of Drosophila melanogaster.

Among many honors, he is the recipient of the G.J. Mendel Medal (Czech Republic 1998) and the George W. Beadle Medal (Genetics Society of America 1999).

Michael Ashburner