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Transcript: William H. Danforth, 2007

Please note:  The Becker Medical Library presents this oral history interview as part of the record of the past. This primary historical resource may reflect the attitudes, perspectives, and beliefs of different times and of the interviewee. The Becker Medical Library does not endorse the views expressed in this interview, which may contain materials offensive to some users.

[This oral history consists of two interviews recorded on April 24, 2007 and June 18, 2007. The interviews were transcribed and edited by the interviewer, Sondra Schlesinger, in 2008. The transcription was corrected and annotated for clarification after additional review by William Danforth in 2008.]

[Beginning of the first part of the interview recorded on April 24, 2007.]

Schlesinger:   We really have to start at the beginning, Bill, though it probably would be more like grade school and high school and I’ll ask you the question about some of the impressions you had growing up in St. Louis. It must be hard to think about that, so more specifically what school did you go to?

Danforth I went to, what was then called, St. Louis Country Day School. It was an all boys’ private school with small classes. I think we graduated 27.

Schlesinger:  27 students?

Danforth:  27 students. Graduated in 1944, and WWII began, of course Dec 7th 1941.

Schlesinger:  If you were in the United States, otherwise it began much earlier.

Danforth:  That’s right.

Schlesinger:  How aware were you of the war when you were in high school?

Danforth:  Very aware

Schlesinger:  In what way?

Danforth:  Well, everybody was aware of the war. I followed it from before America was involved. I was very caught up in the Battle of Britain, followed all the words of Winston Churchill, who inspired me. In order to get us ready for military service, our school required uniforms and close order drill.

Schlesinger:  Was your family politically active?

Danforth:  No, not particularly. I had 3 older male cousins, one in the Navy, was a skipper of a MTB, a PT boat skipper. One in the Marines fought on Iwo Jima, one in the 10th Mountain Division, and was killed in Italy. So I was pretty aware.

Schlesinger:  Now when you were in high school, and you said you graduated in 1944, was there a consideration of your going into the service?

Danforth:  Yes, I went, as did most of my classmates, right into the service.

Schlesinger:  Before college?

Danforth:  Before college, but I went into a training program and was assigned to Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri and was there for 16 months and then the war ended, after the dropping of the atomic bomb. So I didn’t really do anything much in WWII except go to Westminster College.

Schlesinger:  Before we go to your college years were there any impressions that you remember. What were you thinking about the future? Did you already think about going to medical school?

Danforth:  Yes, I decided I wanted to be a physician.

Schlesinger:  When and why did you decide that?

Danforth:  I decided probably when I was a sophomore or junior in high school.

Schlesinger:  Was there any particular mentor or specific incident that led you to that?

Danforth:  When I was maybe 15 or so my parents thought it would be a good idea for me to see someone who was then sort of a hero of his day, Dr. Tom Spees, who took care of patients in the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky. So I went down and spent time with him and we went around and saw all these really poor kids, both black and white. I saw pellagra, riboflavin deficiency, rickets – something I never saw anyplace else. Then I read “An American Doctor’s Odyssey” by Victor Heiser. Do you know that book?

Schlesinger:  No I don’t actually.

Danforth:  It was very arresting for a young kid to read. Heiser worked with the Rockefeller Foundation, traveled around, and saw various parts of the world. He was involved in the eradication of hookworm in the Southern United States.  I learned about hook worm and how that was handled and treated. You know it’s amazing the advances that medicine made in the last decade, it’s just fantastic.

Schlesinger:  We’ll have to get to that. When you were at Westminster, were you able to study at all?

Danforth:  Yes, it was like going to college.

Schlesinger:  So they allowed you to study other things than military duties?

Danforth:  Yes,, I was in a pre-medical course, and, so it was military in the sense that we had to be in bed at 10, there were bed checks, and we had to stand watches and march around and things like that.

Schlesinger:  Well, we are skipping over that period very quickly so I’ll just ask you one last time if there are any other memories that you have before you went to college that you feel were very influential in your future?

Danforth:  Well, I grew up with a charismatic grandfather, who had a profound effect on all his grandchildren.

Schlesinger:  And his name?

Danforth:  His name was the same as mine, William H. Danforth. And he was a very inspiring sort of person.

Schlesinger:  Well, you should say something about him; after all it’s wonderful to keep that memory.

Danforth:  Well, I can. He had lots of slogans:  “my own self at my very best all the time, stand tall, think tall, smile tall, live tall.”

Schlesinger:  Did he live long enough to see you become a doctor?

Danforth:  Yes, he died on December 24th, 1955. So I knew him quite well. And I’ll give you one incident. When I was a kid he came over to my house and he said: “Do you have a dictionary?” and I said: “yes.” He said: “Would you now look up the word impossible” and so I did. And he said: “Now would you go get a pair of scissors and cut that word out.”

Schlesinger:  If we move now to college, how did you choose Princeton?

Danforth:  My father had gone to Princeton and I knew that I wasn’t going to get to pick any college right away. So I applied to Princeton and was accepted. Then, of course I didn’t go until after the war.

Schlesinger:  Did all your brothers go to Princeton?

Danforth:  Jack did and Donnie did. Don actually graduated from Washington U but he spent some time at Princeton.

Schlesinger:  And what did you study at Princeton? Were you pre-med at Princeton?

Danforth:  Yes, I studied biology, I came in late and the semester had already started.

Schlesinger:  Was that because of being in the service?

Danforth:  Yes. I was under the belief that all pre-meds had to be biology majors, so I just signed up for biology.

Schlesinger:  Can you even remember what biology was at that time? Did you even learn that DNA was genetic material?

Danforth:  No, nothing like that. We did some genetics of fruit flies. But, that was observation.

Schlesinger:  Were there any professors that were inspirational for you at Princeton, anybody that you want to remember?

Danforth:  Well there were, yes, I was more turned on actually by some of the other courses.

Schlesinger:  Like what?

Danforth:  Well, history, sort of an introduction to cultural thinking, that sort of thing.

Schlesinger:  Was there anything in particular more specific about history, or professors, that was inspiring?

Danforth:  Well, I was sort of a typical college student. I guess, I was absolutely bowled over by new ideas, things I’d never thought of, learning things. I remember exactly where I was when a fellow student told me that in history things were related, music and the way people were thinking and literature and politics and all these things were related. I never thought of that before. It was the most astounding thing I’d ever heard. That was the kind of thing. I did not grow up in a family that spent much time talking about intellectual things or cultural things and I was just bowled over.

Schlesinger:  Bill, I don’t know very much about Princeton, but they have eating clubs or something like that. Were you a part of anything like that?

Danforth:  No, I wasn’t a very good Princeton student; I wasn’t a typical Princeton student.

Schlesinger:  Maybe that’s better?

Danforth:  I don’t know. I just wasn’t into that sort of thing.

Schlesinger:  Did you do anything extra curricular at Princeton?

Danforth:  At Princeton. Not really, I played football in high school so I decided to try football in my first semester at Princeton. I was late coming in and the squad was already scrimmaging hard. About the first or second play I was mouse trapped by two guys and ended up in the infirmary, unable to walk for a while and that was the end of my football aspirations. The two guys who did it both ended up in St. Louis and became friends of mine. One of them was Dunk Robinson, he was on the house staff at Barnes, the other was named Boots Smith, who was a great big guy, he lives here still in St. Louis, his wife was a good friend of Ibby’s.

Schlesinger:  Over the summers did you do anything that would be worth mentioning?

Danforth:  No.

Schlesinger:  Did you come back home to St. Louis?

Danforth:  Yes.

Schlesinger:  How long were you at Princeton?

Danforth:  I spent 4 semesters at Princeton, not quite 2 years. Everything was pushed together during the war and right afterwards.

Schlesinger:  And you never wavered from your idea of going to medical school?

Danforth:  No.

Schlesinger:  And so did you apply to any other medical schools beside Harvard?

Danforth:  I applied to Washington U, I think that’s all.

Schlesinger:  When did you go to medical school?

Danforth:  I entered in the fall of ’47.

Schlesinger:  And so now you are a freshman medical student at Harvard. And so I’ll ask you the same kinds of questions as I did before: What were your impressions? Who were your mentors?

Danforth:  First of all I was very impressed with my classmates, they were a very bright group.

Schlesinger:  Do you remember how many students in the incoming class?

Danforth:  I think about 120, more were added later. Some were from two year college medical schools, others were transfers.

Schlesinger:  Was the program pretty much the way it was here in the ‘60s, that is, were the first two years basic science?

Danforth:  Yes, pretty much so. It was the first time I had ever had to work hard.

Schlesinger:  Because you had to memorize all of the anatomy?

Danforth:  Memorizing things like that were not easy for me. Memorizing anatomy, memorizing neurobiology was hard for me.

Schlesinger:  In medical school at that time did you get to see patients at all during the first two years?

Danforth:  No

Schlesinger:  I think even when I was starting here you didn’t get to see patients for a while.

Danforth:  That’s right.

Schlesinger:  What about the summers during medical school? What did you do?

Danforth:  I didn’t do much, we had one summer where we were supposed to do something in the area of public health and I went up to Hannibal and studied their emergency system in Hannibal, Missouri.

Schlesinger:  Did you maintain any contact with Tom Spees?

Danforth:  No, I didn’t.

Schlesinger:  Were there mentors at Harvard that you remember having an effect on you?

Danforth:  Yes, I mean there were really some very bright and capable physicians there and I was influenced by them, but I didn’t have any sort of special relationship. I was probably most influenced by John Merrill. George Thorn was the chief of medicine then, he looked like a medical student. Sam Levine, a noted cardiologist was a hero.

Schlesinger:  So at that point one of the questions I was going to ask you was what led you into cardiology, because apparently that was what you specialized in?

Danforth:  That really came later. I was trying to decide what to do. I knew I’d never be a neurologist, I didn’t like memorizing all the anatomical features, but numbers came easily for me, I like to quantify, I liked learning about the physiology of the kidney and lung.

Schlesinger:  I wonder if we should take a slight tangent, although I think I’ve read about this before, so you’ve talked about it before. I think you knew Ibby already when you were in medical school, or where did you meet her?

Danforth:  I met Ibby during my senior year in Princeton. She went to Wellesley College and she was visiting Princeton with a St. Louisian.  My best friend at the time and we just bumped into each other on a walkway. I knew I was going to Harvard the next year, and so when I got there I remembered her and I called her up to ask her for a date.

Schlesinger:  So she was not from St. Louis?

Danforth:  She’s from St Louis; I didn’t know her here though. She was with the St. Louis young man that I knew. The first time I asked her she said no and we didn’t actually have a date until December of 1949. She was busy and booked up and we just never got together, then we had our first date then. We were married the next September.

Schlesinger:  Now in ’49 you were still at medical school. When did you graduate medical school?

Danforth:  I graduated in ’51.

Schlesinger:  Then after you were married, she came back to Boston with you?

Danforth:  Yes.

Schlesinger:  Must have been a hard year for her, because the last year of medical school must have been one when you weren’t home very often.

Danforth:  I used to get home sometimes at midnight and I’d wake her up and she’d get up and we’d have dinner together. We went through those challenging days, the next year was internship. After that I went into the Navy and was sent to Korea. Those first years were a little hard on her.

Schlesinger:  Let’s go back a little bit. Did you intern at Harvard?

Danforth:  I interned at Barnes.

Schlesinger:  That’s what I thought. So you graduated medical school and was your decision to go back to St. Louis easy? Difficult? Had you always assumed you’d go back to St. Louis?

Danforth:  No, I didn’t have any assumptions at all. In those days you applied for internships and on one day everybody got telegrams.

Schlesinger:  Instead of e-mails!

Danforth:  You saw where you could go. I ended up back in St. Louis, which was fine with me.

Schlesinger:  Then you came back here and did a year of internship. And then, why did you go into the Navy?

Danforth:  I was in the naval reserve, I owed the Navy, I owed the Country something, so I got orders to report on August 28th

Schlesinger:  Of what year?

Danforth:  1952. I was assigned to the Great Lakes. We thought we were going to spend a year there, but I got orders as soon as I got there to be a medical officer to four destroyers. So then I went to Norfolk Virginia.

Schlesinger:  Was Ibby with you then?

Danforth:  Yes, we went to Norfolk Virginia and then our destroyer division, in fact the whole squadron, went to Korea. We went out through the Panama Canal and came back through the Suez Canal.  

Schlesinger:  I’m just curious, as an officer in the Navy, did you have any thoughts about the war itself? I mean were you concerned about what we were doing, or worried about the Soviets?

Danforth:  Nobody’s ever asked me that before. I guess, yes, in the first place I told you my three older male cousins had been in WWII and one was killed. I felt that I’d been young and had missed everything. I felt that I hadn’t done what a young man ought to do, I was kind of happy to do something in a war. There were no Naval losses as in World War II, but we used to go in and shoot up things and we’d get shot back and you’d see a splash it made you feel good being in some sort of danger, especially when nothing hit. It all seemed part of what I’d grown up with, reading about war and so on. You know wars are awful things. We did patrols and, one of the jobs was to keep the North Korean and Chinese boats out of the area. Then one evening there was a Korean fishing boat, it was not too far away. They did not fly the right signal flags; so we blasted them. I thought to myself, these are probably men out trying to catch a few fish to feed their kids, and that changed my whole idea about war. It made me very close to being a pacifist from then on.

Schlesinger:  I wonder how many other people were affected that way.

Danforth:  I don’t think very many on that ship. I didn’t talk about it with anyone. I played football when I was younger, it’s sort of like that. People get caught up in it, and they cheer when they hit something. It’s a different experience. People can get caught up in it. The context, what others are doing around you has a major effect on what people do and what they think.

Schlesinger:  Well, that was an interesting comment that you made, about your response to that.
Were you taking care of patients during this time?

Danforth:  There really wasn’t much to do, I was on a ship with 300 healthy young men and there weren’t a lot of medical problems so I, of course, got bored. I’d ride one ship and then another, and I prevailed on some of the captains to let me functions like a regular line officer. So I would stand watches and con the ship. I learned how to plot relative motion, decode messages and things like that. And, it was interesting; it was a fascinating way to learn.

There were four destroyers and each of the ships had very different personalities, which reflected the personalities of the captains. It was amazing. Those were lessons that I took with me for the rest of my life. One ship had a captain who was a competent bright sort of daring guy. After being ashore he’d stumble aboard totally drunk. His executive officer was an alcoholic. You couldn’t drink on the ship but they did when they went ashore. And that ship always ran well. The officers’ moral was high and the venereal disease on that ship was astronomical! Another ship was run by a Polish Catholic who would sit on the bridge reading Thomas Aquinas. He was very formal, very kind. I think they had four cases of venereal disease on his ship. It was just absolutely incredible. He was nice to his officers and gave them responsibilities, unlike some of the captains. But they didn’t do a good job, they ran over a fishing vessel, and it cost him his career. On another ship the officers thought the captain was a coward because he wouldn’t go in close enough to shore when we were shooting harbors and they despised him. Some of them wouldn’t eat at the same sitting when he ate. They’d rather go without than share a meal with him. [laughs]

Schlesinger:  You could write a book about these experiences.

Danforth:  Yes, so I always thought those were good lessons when you start worrying about how to organize a university.

Schlesinger:  Right. So perhaps we should move to Washington University now. When you finished your service, did you come back to the States after Korea and still continue to be in the service?

Danforth:  Yes, I spent a year as a medical officer in a Navy hospital in Bainbridge, Maryland. I was assigned to a dependents’ emergency room that was mostly pediatrics and OB. I loved pediatrics, I just loved working with children, I loved working with the parents. I came back to St. Louis – and I was again late, I didn’t get back until around October. I went to a residency in internal medicine but I was sort of determined that I’d try pediatrics. So the next year I went to Children’s Pediatrics, but that was such a stultifying atmosphere that I left and went back to internal medicine.

Schlesinger:  Should I ask who the chairman of the department was?

Danforth:  Alex Hartman. There are plenty of stories about Alex Hartman. He was brilliant, but he couldn’t tolerate any creativity or anyone who didn’t follow exactly his line.

Schlesinger:  Another lesson for you.

DanforthThat’s right. I was in internal medicine.

Schlesinger:  But still just doing clinical work

Danforth:  Yes.

Schlesinger:  Let’s just make sure we have the years. Your residency was what years?

Danforth:  I think I finished residency in the summer of ’57 then I went to work with a guy who did cardiology and pulmonary work. You know things weren’t quite as specialized in those days. I went to work with a guy named Bernie Bercu, who was wonderful.

Schlesinger:  Okay, so when you said you went to work, what does that mean?

Danforth A sort of a fellow.

Schlesinger:  A fellow, but this was all clinical work.

Danforth Almost all clinical work, but we did a little research, figured new ways of measuring cardiac output and stuff like that.

Schlesinger:  I think my question really is, how did you decide that you should go work in Carl Cori’s department?

Danforth Well, then I went to the Veterans Hospital.

Schlesinger:  Was this part of the residency program?

Danforth No I had finished my residency and fellowship with Bernie Bercu. I became a junior faculty member. I worked, at the John Cochran Hospital. The chief of the service was Richard Bing, a talented man who did a lot of research, but then not always so good.

Schlesinger:  Did you know at the time that it wasn’t so good?

Danforth:  Well, I began to figure it out. Richard Bing then left, and he went to Wayne State University. While Richard Bing was here in St. Louis, he met Ernst Helmreich and Richard was trying to latch onto people who could help him in his research and Ernst came in to do some research.

Schlesinger:  Ernst came to the Veterans Hospital?

Danforth He came down to the Veterans to talk about sugar metabolism and what the problems were. Richard Bing and Ernst Helmreich and I did a paper together and that’s when I first became friends with Ernst. We liked each other and I hadn’t skied for some years and Ernst loved skiing and so we decided to go skiing and our families got very close together. Ernst was working with Herman Eisen. He had worked in the Cori lab before and Cori wanted him to come back to Biochemistry. So Ernst went to Biochemistry and talked me into going with him into Biochemistry.

Schlesinger:  Let’s go back just a bit and tell me a little bit about the research that you did and the paper that you did with Ernst and Bing.

Danforth Well, it really wasn’t much of a paper. I began doing research and after Bing left I just did what I wanted to do. At the time Rolla Park – he trained in the Cori lab and then went to Vanderbilt – had done a lot of work on sugar transport in rat hearts. I thought that was an artificial system and was probably not the way it really works in a living system, so I began doing some experiments with dogs. They were kind of simple and naïve I suppose, but I did find out that the kind of transport that you saw in these artificial systems was not the same as in a living system. Then I found that the uptake with glucose varied with the amount of glycogen already in the heart, a sort of passing observation that I followed up on later.

Schlesinger:  You said that Ernst convinced you to come to Biochemistry and to work in his lab. Now you were a junior faculty, what kind of position did you have when you moved into his lab?

Danforth:  Biochemistry in those days was pretty hierarchical. Carl Cori told Ernst he would see me. So I went and said I’d like to work with him. He said OK. So I got a fellowship from the American Heart Association, it was so easy to do in those days. It’s not so easy for young people these days.

Schlesinger:  I’d like to get some of your impressions of Cori.

Danforth:  Cori had said come and we’ll find some interesting things to do. Gerty [Gerty T. Cori was Carl’s first wife and co-recipient of the Nobel Prize] was dead by then, so I didn’t really know her. Carl had remarried. He was very, very intelligent, very, very careful. Doing science with Carl was pretty much swim or sink. There were a few suggestions, usually good, but not always practical. Writing a paper with Carl was, however, another matter. Almost nothing except the data survived my first draft of our first paper. The text had to be crystal clear with as few words as possible. The language must be plain. He wanted to show how this paper related to what he had done before, that it was a part of his body of work, but he never wanted to say what the data said and no more. There could be no loose ends and certainly no speculations.

Schlesinger:  Another good lesson for you?

Danforth:  Another good lesson for me, that’s right.

Schlesinger:  What years were you in Ernst’s lab? Ernst had his own lab, is that right?

Danforth:  Ernst had his own lab and I worked with Ernst, but Cori was the chief and he ran it in sort of an old fashioned way and he wanted Ernst and me to work with him. Ernst was an accomplished scientist so that there could on occasion be tension.

Schlesinger:  Was it as people describe as the ‘German system’?

Danforth:  That’s right. The Coris had discovered that glycogen phosphorylase comes in two forms, a and b. The question was what was the physiologic significance of this inter-conversion. Does it occur in living tissue? If so, what are the associated physiological events? In those days I think people weren’t as tuned to the fact that everything is physiologically significant. That’s what Cori wanted to know. I used a frog sartorius muscle, which is thin and can be easily stimulated electrically and can be frozen quickly in cold isopentane. Then the idea was to see how much of the phosphorylase was in form a and how much in form b. It took a while to figure out how to keep the inter-conversion from happening between the quick freezing and the thawing for measurement. We developed a way of pulverizing the muscle in a little Nossal shaker while it was still kept at the temperature of liquid nitrogen and to add the inhibitors of the exchange with enough glycerol to allow the inhibitors to diffuse in at very low temperature. Once the techniques were set, we could show what happened at different rates of stimulation, different temperatures, the presence of epinephrine, etc. Using mice of John Lyon from Emory University that lacked the converting enzyme, phosphorylase b kinase, we were able to demonstrate the physiological significance of the conversion during muscle contraction.

Schlesinger:  When you were doing the research were you beginning to think that might be a direction that you wanted to go in rather than to clinical medicine?

Danforth:  I was kind of this way and that way.

Schlesinger:  So, when you were “this way or that way”, was this already in the 1960s?

Danforth:  Yes, early ‘60s I guess. I was happy enough, that I did a second year there, then I went back to medicine after that.

Schlesinger You were back in clinical medicine before you were going to be tapped to take the position as Vice Chancellor?

Danforth:  Yes.

Schlesinger:  You spent two years in Ernst’s lab and you went back to clinical medicine. Was the idea that you were going to stay in clinical medicine or were you thinking still of going back to research?

Danforth:  I continued research in the Department of Medicine working on glycogen synthetase and phosphofructokinase in intact muscle. I was still trying to decide if I wanted to stay in a clinical department. I was pretty old by then and I liked taking care of patients. I was trying to decide what I would do when I…

Schlesinger:  When you grew up? [laughs]

Danforth:  Yes.

Schlesinger:  Did you have a faculty appointment then?

Danforth:  Yes.

Schlesinger:  In Medicine, not in Biochemistry.

Danforth:  That’s right.

Schlesinger:  Were the people in Biochemistry trying to convince you to come into their domain?

Danforth:  No, I don’t think that would’ve been considered appropriate. If they had, I probably would’ve done it.

Schlesinger:  That would’ve been a different life.

Danforth:  A different life, yes, but I liked clinical medicine too.

Schlesinger:  Before we leave basic research, were there any other issues that you wanted to talk about: how much Ernst influenced you, how much Carl Cori influenced you, what were your impressions of the department and also maybe something about your impressions of the importance of basic research in terms of clinical medicine, because there is always that tension between the two.

Danforth:  Well, I thought, in the first place it was really exciting. In the Cori lab, Carl was a very intelligent guy, Ernst was very intelligent. Ernst had an encyclopedic mind, which I don’t have. He knows everything about everything. It was just fun. You know the Cori lab had turned out more Nobel prize winners at the time than any other lab. The seminars were wonderful, preparing for the seminars was fun, and the people who would come to visit were very exciting. I really liked the people in the department, I liked Luis [Glaser] and Carl [Frieden] and some of the others in the Department. It was just a very great place to be.

Schlesinger:  Did you interact at all with Arthur Kornberg? [Kornberg had been Chairman of the Department of Microbiology from 1953-1959.]

Danforth:  Arthur had left by then so the answer is no.

Schlesinger:  So Herman Eisen had already taken over the chairmanship?

Danforth:   I’m trying to remember, when did Herman take the chairmanship? Herman took the chairmanship about the time I went to Biochemistry. But I didn’t see much of Arthur, I think he left. There are wonderful stories about Arthur leaving.

Schlesinger:  Any you want to tell me?

Danforth:  One Paul Berg told me later, and others have said they didn’t know if this was true. Arthur was very happy and they were working in the West Building.

Schlesinger:  Well, that’s where we were.

Danforth:  Stanford wanted him to come and offered to build a new building for him. I guess Arthur wasn’t too interested in building a new building, but the facilities would be good and he could have more people and so on. So he went to the Dean who was then Ollie Lowry and he said something like: “Our space is run down and we need to fix it up and we don’t have enough electricity and this and that and the other.” According to Paul Berg, Ollie said: “Oh, think nothing of it, I’ve got next Saturday off and we’ll go to Central Hardware…” [Laughter]
So Arthur left.

Schlesinger:  I can believe that story. And did you interact at all with Herman, before you became vice-chancellor?

Danforth:  No.

Schlesinger:  Or any of the other chairman – well how about Ollie, did you know Ollie pretty well?

Danforth:   No, I really didn’t. When I hear people talk in retrospect it sounds as if Carl [Cori] and Ollie were kind of close but they weren’t really. Ollie had his department and did his thing. Not that they were bad feeling or anything, I just don’t think there was much interaction. I used one of Ollie’s techniques at the suggestion of Carl. I used the Lowry-Lopez method for measuring phosphates.

Schlesinger:  Did you know Carl Moore?

Danforth:  I knew Carl Moore very well.

Schlesinger:  Well, at this point you are still a young faculty member and I guess Carl Moore was Chairman of Medicine?

Danforth:  Yes.

Schlesinger:  But you did interact with him even at that point?

Danforth:  Yes, it was a small department. It wasn’t big like it is now. I don’t know how many people there were, we had departmental lunches and everybody in the department sat around a table.

Schlesinger:  This is the Department of Medicine?

Danforth:  Yes.  Of course, we did in Biochemistry too.

Schlesinger:  Well, you still might be able to get the Department of Biochemistry around a table, but you surely couldn’t get the Department of Medicine around a table.

Danforth:  That’s right. I knew Carl very well and interacted with him a lot. I’d see him frequently on Saturdays, Carl Moore once told me it was sinful not to work on Saturdays.

Schlesinger:  Did you agree with him on that?

Danforth:  Oh yes.

Schlesinger:  The book about Washington University [Beginning a Great Work Washington University in St. Louis 1853-2003 by Candace O’Connor], talks about the problems at the medical school in the early ‘60s which is I guess how you started to get involved with more administrative issues.

Did you want to say something about that before I ask you the question of taking the job as vice chancellor? Well, let me ask you a specific question? How aware were you of the problem with Queeny and Dempsey [Dean of the Medical School 1958-64] as a young faculty member?

Danforth:  Well, I knew what was going on and I assumed that the medical school must be in the right. I was part of the medical school that’s just what I assumed.

Schlesinger:  Were you being consulted or you just knew because people were gossiping?

Danforth:  I knew because people were gossiping and I also knew because I grew up in St. Louis, my father knew a lot of the people involved.

Schlesinger:  So how did the idea of you becoming vice chancellor come about?

Danforth:  Well, things were really in very bad shape, you know. People were leaving and vacant positions for department heads weren’t being filled. Then the Dean, Ed Dempsey, left.

Schlesinger:  Because of the conflict with Queeny?

Danforth:  Yes

Schlesinger:  He left the school, or he just left the Deanship?

Danforth:  He left both. I don’t know how much you know about that history?

Schlesinger:  Not very much although I think I must have been here.

Danforth:  What happened was that Edgar Queeny came in as the Chairman of the Board of Barnes Hospital. Edgar Queeny was very inarticulate, but he wrote beautifully. He was very smart and prided himself on being very tough and he saw that things were kind of run down at Barnes Hospital. He thought that he’d work with the Medical School and they’d mount a fund campaign. Edgar cultivated Ed Dempsey and they mounted a joint medical school-Barnes Hospital campaign that was the biggest fund campaign in the history of St. Louis, at that time.

Then Edgar began noticing that he was paying for a lot of things that the Medical School, in his opinion, ought to pay for. So he began raising questions, and he was probably right, you know, he was very smart. He brought in a very good accountant, Homer Sayad, Elizabeth Sayad’s husband. They looked at all their expenditures and began raising questions. When Edgar didn’t get good answers he threatened to cut off some of the funding and along the way he decided that Ed Dempsey was a liar and untrustworthy. The reason for that, in my guess is, Edgar would ask Ed Dempsey: “What are you going to do about this?” Ed Dempsey said: “A-B-C” and Edgar would say: “okay.” A couple of weeks later Edgar would say: “Well have you done A-B-C?” and Dempsey would answer:  “Well, no I looked into it and I found this and that and this and it didn’t make sense to do A-B-C so I did X-Y-Z.”

Now if Edgar ever said he would do A-B-C, he would do A-B-C if it cost him the shirt off his back. That was his word and he didn’t give his word lightly. He would not say:  “I’m going to do something” until he was going to do it and then he’d do it regardless.

Schlesinger:  So that’s a lesson one should only half-learn, that is, there may be reasons to change.

Danforth:  I think that’s right, but once you give your word, then it is up to you to follow through. I’m more on the Edgar Queeny side than the Ed Dempsey side.

Schlesinger:  Unless something really changes and then you have to explain why.

Danforth:  You can’t carry anything to an extreme. Then Edgar began locking Ed Dempsey out of meetings [laughs] and Edgar wrote a paper called “Notes on the Falsity of the Dean.”

Schlesinger:  Wow, do you have a copy of that?

Danforth:  No, but there must be one somewhere. And then he asked for the privilege of going before the Washington University Board and denouncing the Dean. Which he did. Tom Eliot decided to stand up for his Dean and take on Edgar. That’s when Edgar went to the Board and denounced the Dean and Tom Eliot.

Schlesinger:  Were you there?

Danforth:  No. That’s when Mr. J.S. McDonnell became Chairman of the Board of Washington U. He and his friend Edgar got in their private planes and they flew around to visit other medical centers and figure out how things should be done. That honeymoon lasted a short time and they began fighting over space. J.S. McDonnell was amazing, he got deeply into the matters, he knew every square foot in dispute, every dollar in dispute, he knew who was doing what, he knew the names of their secretaries and their children. He was a match for Edgar. To try and work this out, they brought in Joe Hinsey [Ph.D. 1927, director of Cornell Medical Center] and Johnny Knowles [M.D. 1951, chief executive officer of the Massachusetts General Hospital] to make recommendations. Joe Hinsey and Johnny Knowles made recommendations. Among them was that there be a new position, a vice chancellor for medical affairs, who would handle all the hospital relations and the external relations, the relations between the medical school and the university, which had totally broken down. The executive faculty didn’t like Tom Eliot and he didn’t like them. Then of course, there was only one person on whom people could agree.  That was Carl Moore. So, Carl said no and J.S. McDonnell got to him and said:  “Carl, if you won’t do this job how can you expect us lay people to help you out?” And so Carl agreed to do it for one year but he kept insisting that at the end of the year he was going back to his main job as Chairman of Internal Medicine. Then they had to get somebody quickly and I’m not sure exactly how, but somehow J.S. McDonnell thought I would be a good person for that position.

Schlesinger:  Did he know your family?

Danforth:  Yes, not good friends, but he knew them. I think maybe Carl Cori put out that idea, because Carl Cori thought I’d be able to get along better with the St. Louis establishment. In any event, one night J.S. McDonnell invited me to dinner.

Schlesinger:  Were you surprised?

Danforth:  Yes! I went to his house and we had dinner together, Ibby and I with Mrs. Mac and Mr. McDonnell and afterwards he and I went into his study. He began talking about many things and then he began talking about creativity and how some scientists think all creativity is in the laboratory. He said:  “You know, getting people to do the right thing, there’s a lot of creativity in that.” He began spinning out visions of a team working together, talking about it and after a while I was hooked.

Schlesinger:  Did you know when he was describing this where he was leading?

Danforth:  Yes, I can’t remember if I had guessed at this before, but I wasn’t really too interested at first, but I got hooked by Mr. Mac. And there really was a crisis. I revered the Medical School and thought something had to be done and I really thought I could make a difference. I agreed to do it on a half time basis, just like Carl Moore had done and I thought it wouldn’t take all that much time. So, I did that and continued teaching, working in the lab and seeing patients.

Schlesinger:  Now who was Dean at the time?

Danforth:  After Ed Dempsey, Carl Moore was asked to be Dean and he said no, but he went into the office, and he’d sign things acting for the Dean. He was not going to be ‘acting Dean’ – he would act for the Dean. He was an amazing man. Then Ken King became Dean. He was Dean when I became vice-chancellor.

Schlesinger:  Now we are entering the period in which you are the vice chancellor. Do you want to begin by telling me some of the responsibilities that you undertook?

Danforth:  Well, we had a Dean and that was Ken King. Ken and I were about the same age and same kind of background, both in internal medicine. Carl Moore and Ken had set up a working relationship where one of the women from the Dean’s office, Dorothy Rinderer, went to work for the vice chancellor and so that merged files and the offices were working very smoothly. We kept that up and I worked closely with Ken. It was a real privilege to work with him. He was wise, honest and well-motivated. So what did the vice chancellor do? The vice chancellor dealt with hospitals and with the chancellor and went to cabinet meetings at the university.

Schlesinger:  Cabinet meetings are the meetings with the board of trustees?

Danforth:  I went to the board of trustee meetings and also cabinet meetings, that is with the chancellor and his immediate staff. And Ken worked with the executive faculty and went to those meetings. I was part of the executive faculty, I was part of search committees, and Ken and I met at least once a week and sometimes twice or more, without any agendas, just to talk over things.

Schlesinger:  This doesn’t sound so much like a part time job.

Danforth:  Well, it was, it started as a part time job but then it began to take up more and more time. At first, when I was working in the lab, and somebody would call about some administrative thing, I’d find it kind of irritating, and after a while when I was working on an interesting administrative thing and someone would call from the lab, I’d find that irritating.

Schlesinger:  So you say ‘the lab’ were you now still with Ernst or was it your own lab?

Danforth:  No, I had a lab in the department of medicine in Wohl Hospital that I shared with John Vavra, do you remember John?

Schlesinger:  Oh sure.

Danforth:  Whom I also loved working with. I’ve been lucky working with such wonderful people. Since I’d worked on phosphorylase I got interested in glycogen synthetase and how that changed forms in mammals, that doesn’t change forms in amphibians and so it was a different kind of approach.

Schlesinger:  Were you working with frog muscles then? You said there was a difference between amphibians and mammals.

Danforth:  Well I worked on frog muscles on phosphorylase.  Later when I worked on glycogen synthetase, I worked with mice because frogs have only one form of glycogen synthetase..

Schlesinger:  Before you continue on your own work why don’t you say a few more things about John Vavra since you said he was such an impressive person, it would be nice to have that as part of our history. I remember him mostly for his interest in history and books and things like that.

Danforth:  I talked one time to the obstetrician who delivered John. And he said he came out a breach baby and has been running forward ever since. John was very intelligent guy, he had wide interests; he was a regular teacher at his church, The Trinity Presbyterian Church. He would run classes on religion and philosophy and literature. He’d always share his materials with me. He was a terrific book collector, he’d read several newspapers a day, I accused him of reading one with each eye. He was fun, he was lively and funny.  Everyone loved him, including me.

Schlesinger:  Were your research interests overlapping?

Danforth:  No, not at all. You know it’s funny how things work out. I was lucky in my research and John wasn’t. John was a wonderful guy and my family and I got to know him and his family. His wife, Norma is still here. She’s remarried now – married a guy name Wally Kline, a very nice guy.

Schlesinger:  You had a busy schedule because you were working in the lab, seeing patients and being involved as vice-chancellor that’s more than a full time job.

Danforth:  I was busy. The laboratory was just me and some technicians, I didn’t have a lot of people working in the lab.

Schlesinger:  No students or post-docs?

Danforth:  No, and I just felt that it was hard to keep that up. I did keep some patients for a long time but eventually I decided I ought to turn them over so I did that.

Schlesinger:  Do you remember the story that, I think it was your daughter, used to tell – you tell it.

Danforth:  Well, she was talking with a friend about their fathers and the friend said:  “my father makes toys” and my daughter quickly decided not to compete and she said: “my dad doesn’t do anything, he used to be a doctor and make people well and now he just goes to meetings.”

Schlesinger:  [Laughing] I remember that story.

Danforth:  So I became vice chancellor and I learned a lot from Ken King. I really enjoyed working with him. He was terrific. I was so impressed with the then heads of the department and their knowledge and understanding.  I felt very naïve and inexperienced.

Schlesinger:  Let’s go back a little bit now, by the time you took the position had the issues with Queeny dissipated?

Danforth:  No, I’m going to tell you a little bit about that. Carl Moore had done a lot to calm the waters. He took me to meet Edgar Queeny, I remember the first time and Carl said “Edgar, I want you to meet Bill Danforth” I said: “Hello, Mr. Queeny.” He said: “Call me Edgar.” I said: “Okay, Mr. Queeny.” [Laughing]

Then we sat for about five minutes, nobody said anything. Carl got up politely and said:  “It’s been nice visiting with you Edgar” and we left. That was what Edgar Queeny was like. Edgar then invited me to go to the baseball game with him. He came by in his chauffer driven car and we went down to the baseball game. It was almost total silence during the trip down and then we sat together. Edgar wasn’t uncomfortable by silences and occasionally he’d say “good play.” We got along okay. I came to appreciate Edgar and to like him. It took a lot of getting used to.

There are two stories: one was that Barnes Hospital wanted to build a loading dock for one of their buildings on land owned by Washington University. That had been a long sort of drawn out dispute. Winter was coming on. When it got cold enough the ground would freeze, so we were in the better position because of that. I went and talked to Mr. McDonnell. Mr. Mac said, “You know what you ought to do? You ought to write a letter to Edgar and say go ahead and start your loading dock and we’ll settle any differences later.” And I did that and Edgar gave in on all the other things right away and that started a whole change of heart and a change in the university-hospital relationship.

Schlesinger:  And did you have the authority to do that?

Danforth:  I just did it. I’ve done a lot of things that I didn’t have the authority to do, but I just did them, but I wouldn’t have done that without Mr. Mac’s insight. He was incredible.

Another story is when I think I really became accepted as a partner at the Medical School Executive Faculty. Mr. Mac resigned from the board at Washington University much to my horror. Because the McDonnell Aircraft Company was taking on the Douglas Aircraft Company, Mr. Mac wanted to spend full time on making McDonnell-Douglas successful. The Washington University board was set to elect Charlie Thomas who also came from Monsanto and had been working with Edgar for years.

Schlesinger:  This is the father? This is the father, Charlie Thomas?

Danforth:  Yes, Charlie Thomas, retired CEO of Monsanto, who was a brilliant guy too. Tom Eliot was horrified because he was so worried about him but he didn’t want to come out and oppose him. He wanted the Medical School to oppose him on the grounds that it would be wrong to have Edgar Queeny as the Chairman of Barnes Hospital and Charlie Thomas as the Chairman of the University. He said that this would be bad for the Medical School, so we should oppose it. I called a meeting with some of the leaders of the Executive Faculty and I presented Tom Eliot’s idea to them telling them that the Chancellor was alarmed about Charlie [Thomas] taking over. I said my opinion was that we should say: “Absolutely not, we will not oppose it. The Chancellor wants to put the medical school out front to take the heat on this. Charlie Thomas will probably get elected anyway and it will be very bad for the Medical School.” And they accepted that, and we didn’t do it. After that I think I felt more comfortable working with the Executive Faculty.

Schlesinger:  And was Charlie Thomas elected?

Danforth:  Yes.

Schlesinger:  And how was he?

Danforth:  Fine, he was fine. No problems. You know, we were making peace with Edgar, I was with Edgar later, Ibby and I were invited to his house for dinner. He almost never asked anybody to his house but Ibby and I went there. He showed us his movies he made in Africa, and what not. When he became ill, I spent time with him.

Schlesinger:  So you really saw the good qualities in him?

Danforth:  Yes. He was no push over. He was a tough opponent. Most people who get into these voluntary positions want to do the right thing. That’s why they do it. He just saw the world a lot differently than Ed Dempsey did.

Schlesinger:  I agree with you that if you say you’re going to do something you should do it and not hem and haw so I can appreciate that quality. It seems that as a vice chancellor, much of what you had to deal with was more related to the hospital than actually the school itself.

Danforth:  Well, I was very close to Ken, and we shared everything, so I sat on all the search committee’s for example.

Schlesinger:  Let’s talk a little bit about Roy Vagelos’s appointment [to be chair of the Department of Biochemistry], because that must have been a big plus for the school.

Danforth:  Roy was the best department head I saw while I was at Washington U, he was incredible.

Schlesinger:  I thought so too. But how did his name come up?

Danforth:  Well, the first time I really heard of Roy Vagelos I was in the Department of Biochemistry and I was to do a seminar. I was given responsibility for doing a seminar on recent journal articles and I picked out Roy’s work with fatty acid metabolism. Later the search committee zeroed in on Roy.

Schlesinger:  You weren’t on the search committee?

Danforth:  I can’t remember. When was that search committee?

Schlesinger:  Well, we were here so it was probably around ’65 ’66 something like that?

Danforth:  Yes, I was on the search committee. Let’s see, I became vice-chancellor in July of ‘65

Schlesinger:  He came to head Biochemistry in 1966.

Danforth:  Roy wanted money to redo the department, the physical facilities, and Ken was willing to give him that money. Some people were horrified, that had never been done before. David Brown was so horrified as a member of the department that he wouldn’t allow his labs to be redone.

Schlesinger:  I wonder if he regretted it after that.

Danforth: I don’t know.

Schlesinger:  Roy, if I remember correctly, told me that he really never thought he would come here and then when he gave this long list of things that he wanted and he was told he could have all of them, he couldn’t turn it down. Is that the story you remember?

Danforth:  Well, I don’t know what was going on in Roy’s mind. I don’t think I ever talked about that before. I’ll have to ask him.

Schlesinger:  When Roy came did you interact with him a great deal and did that get you more involved in what was going on in pre-clinical sciences?

Danforth:  I guess so; I had had a great partiality for the pre-clinical sciences since my time in biochemistry. I loved working with Roy; I worked with Roy very closely, not just while I was vice chancellor, but also when I was chancellor. I helped Roy start the Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences. We had to work hard to get the Department of Biology to accept the Division.

Schlesinger:  I’m going to save that for the next time.

Danforth:  Roy was so imaginative, he went out of his way to get good people and make sure things worked well.

Schlesinger:  And he had a lot of opposition from the campus.

Danforth:  Well, Biology was in a very low period at that time, the morale was shot. We couldn’t have done it otherwise. Merle Kling came in as Dean and was very helpful, that made it all possible.

Schlesinger:  Let’s go back to the period when you were vice chancellor, and the question I want to ask again is how much were you involved in medical school issues vs. the medical school and the hospital. What about the issue of bringing in African American students? Then you were talking about the lead poisoning – was that a medical school issue?

Danforth:  No, one of my jobs was to be involved in the community. I worked with the board of health and hospitals of the city. I became very close to Father Ed Drummond and George Toma who were then running the medical school at St. Louis U. Lead poisoning was an issue and as you probably know it’s a very tough issue. There are these old homes and the paint peels off, and you can’t just paint over the lead paint because it still curls and flakes off. The flakes taste sweet so that kids are apt to ingest it. It’s expensive to clean up. How do you force people to clean up? I got very involved with the Black community at that time. I am trying to think who was involved. One of them was Ivory Perry. Did you ever know Ivory Perry? I remember one meeting when I asked: “What we will do if the landlords won’t fix up their apartments.” The answer was: “We’ll bring in Ivory.” “And what will Ivory do?” “He’ll confront ‘em!”  [Laughing]

Schlesinger:  Who was he?

Danforth:  He was an activist in that era. [Ivory Perry was instrumental in the spirited campaign in the City of St. Louis to address childhood lead paint poisoning.] At that time Lyndon Johnson was President and he and Congress were making far reaching social changes. One of them was the OEO [Office of Economic Opportunity] clinics. One OEO clinic [which later became a Federally Qualified Health Center] was started in North St Louis, it is still going, under a different name now, and in typical fashion in those days, they had a Board consisting of community people, all of whom were black, and establishment figures, most of whom were white. So after the first meeting, Bill Smiley, I don’t know if you ever knew Bill, Bill Smiley was a wonderful Black obstetrician. Bill Smiley was the chairman of the board. After the first meeting or so I was the only white guy attending the meetings. That was a time of big change. That was the time also when the feds were insisting that everything be integrated; we had two city hospitals, one white [St. Louis City Hospital Number 1], one black [Homer G. Phillips Hospital]. Investigators came from Washington, three guys, the chairman was a Black guy and they went down to Homer Phillips Hospital. They sat at a table and held hearings. Did you know Howard [Phillip] Venable?

Schlesinger:  Just the name.

Danforth:  Howard Venable was an ophthalmologist and, I think, the first African-American member of the faculty. He was the head of the Homer Phillips staff for many years, a very strong guy, with big fat fingers. He couldn’t stand what was happening because Homer Phillips was prized in the Black community. Homer Phillips provided jobs, and care and prestige. Many young doctors who graduated from Meharry Medical School in Nashville, came to Homer Phillips for internship and residency training. Dr. Venable had established the first Black residency in ophthalmology. He confronted the chairman of the group, he put his finger on this guy’s nose, shook it and said: “You are going to destroy every Black institution that we’ve built!” And the guy said: “You’re right.” And eventually Homer Phillips closed, I’m not saying that it was wrong to do it in but it was very, very painful.

Schlesinger:  I think I remember that.

Danforth:  St. Louis was at one time a Mecca for Black doctors.

Schlesinger:  Because of Homer Phillips?

Danforth:  There were two Black medical schools – Howard in Washington and Meharry in Nashville. There weren’t opportunities for internships in Nashville, so they came up here. Homer Phillips was a place where they could get residency and specialty training. Many leaders of the National Medical Society came from St. Louis, such as Dr. Jim Whittico.

Schlesinger:  I heard stories both from Jessie Ternberg and from Bernie Becker about integrating Barnes. Were you here then, or was that before you came?

Danforth:  When I first came Barnes was segregated, there were Black wards down in the basement.

Schlesinger:  And how did that change?

Danforth:  What year did it change, I don’t remember that?

Schlesinger:  Jessie told me that the residents just decided that that they weren’t going to segregate the patients anymore. Bernie told me that he integrated the clinics, the ophthalmology clinics, but do you have any memories of when that happened?

Danforth:  No, I don’t remember when that happened. Maybe I was working in Biochemistry then. But that did not happen when I was vice-chancellor. Children’s was integrated, I’m sure and County Hospital was integrated. I worked out at County Hospital and I worked at Children’s for a month, it was integrated.

Schlesinger:  When you saw patients here at Barnes, were the clinics integrated? Did you see Black patients?

Danforth:  Yes.

Schlesinger:  And I asked you before, do you remember the integration of the medical school?
There were many meetings about bringing in African American students that I remember as a faculty member that we went to, and discussions about having courses for the students to bring them up to speed and things like that.

Danforth:  I think that was going on, I think that was going on after I became chancellor. That was going on all over the university. It didn’t always work out so well. The Law Faculty brought in three Black students, flunked them all. We had people coming up from the community over that. That was in the very early ‘70s.

Schlesinger:  I am trying to keep this discussion to the period before you were chancellor. So we’ll go back to the vice-chancellor period. In addition to lead poisoning, were there other community issues that you were involved with? Should we talk more about the closing of Homer Phillips? Was that something that you were involved in too?

Danforth:  I was not involved in any of the decision making.

Schlesinger:  So there were at least three issues in your interaction with the Black community, Homer Phillips, OEO, lead poisoning. What about your interactions with the entire St. Louis community?

Danforth:   I attended all the hospital board meetings and got to know and work with the leaders of various hospitals. I worked with the City Hospital and the City Board of Health and Hospitals.

Schlesinger:  Were there any particular issues that come to mind that were important at that period? When were the discussions of the hospital moving out of the city and going west?

Danforth:  St. John’s moved and they gave up their parking lot, it was in dispute between Barnes and Washington U for a while. Missouri Baptist also moved.  Both St. Johns and Missouri Baptist moved out to the outer belt and they were positioned geographically to St Louis what Barnes, St. John’s and Jewish had been when they were built – big highway nearby, easy access and where they had land. The question was what was the future of the Medical Center? In addition to being vice chancellor of medical affairs I was president of the Washington University Medical Center. We brought together a group to talk about that and I wanted somebody to help me on this issue. I got a young guy to come in and I gave him the title of vice president for the medical center. He was just finishing his residency and that was Ron Evans.
Schlesinger:  How did you pick him, did you know him?

Danforth:  Well, I didn’t know him too well at that time, but I was looking for somebody and he was interested in that sort of thing. I don’t remember how I knew that. But, I’ve always had a warm spot for Ron ever since and he’s done a lot of wonderful things for the medical center, for Washington University and for me, including serving as president of Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

We had some meetings and discussions and looked at the geography and the future and saw that the area around Washington University was pretty run down. It became evident that we really didn’t want to move, but, that we should do something about the area around the medical center.

Schlesinger:  You say “we” now you’re talking about the hospital and the medical school?

Danforth:  Well, we had a separate board of the Washington University Medical Center. It has changed its name. First it was the Washington University Medical School and Associated Hospitals then the Washington University Medical Center. The Board consisted of leaders from Washington University and Barnes, Children’s and Jewish Hospitals. Ray Wittcoff, who was a member of the Jewish Hospital Board had a vision for redeveloping the area around the medical center. We hired Gyo Obata and the HOK architectural firm and they began to develop models of what could happen – street scenes and so forth. I had already learned that architectural plans mean nothing if you don’t know exactly what you want. I learned that from some mistakes I saw Barnes Hospital making. They had some nice pictures and it all sounded nice, but we didn’t know how to make anything happen. I talked it over with George Capps who had a guy working for him named Dick Roloff.

Dick Roloff then came on board and he walked the streets and talked with people and he looked into all the houses and apartments to find out what was going on in them. He laid out plans and then we went to the board of aldermen, and basically under Missouri law we got eminent domain over a large part of this area. We worked with the alderman and everybody with almost no opposition thanks to Dick’s Roloff’s masterful handling of this.

Schlesinger:  No opposition from the city government, but how about the people whose houses would be taken?

Danforth:  Almost no opposition, there were a couple of people who testified against it at the hearing, but they were kind of far-out and weren’t very impressive. Then we went to Civic Progress an organization made up of the heads of St. Louis’s major businesses and borrowed money issuing bonds to the companies. That gave us enough to begin to purchase land we moved very slowly; purchase land, redevelop it, sell it, purchase more land. It’s was a very slow thing but it really worked very successfully. We were able to pay off the bonds.

Schlesinger:  When you say it worked very successfully, that would be the late ‘60s that you started and is it still going on?

Danforth:  Still going on. Still going on in Forest Park Southeast too.

Schlesinger:  I was going to say, we notice it a little bit more now, because we come back every few months and we see changes. If you are here everyday you hardly notice it and suddenly all things have changed.

Danforth:  It was a big, big decision to stay where we were and to try to make the neighborhood more attractive, more safe, more attractive to our employees.

Schlesinger:  I guess that is something that you can be very proud of.

Danforth:  Yes, that wouldn’t have happened without [Ray Wittcoff] Dick Roloff and our first executive Jerry King.

Schlesinger: I remember him too.

Danforth: Do you remember Jerry King?

Schlesinger: Yes.

Danforth: His sister is married to Justin Carroll.


[At this point the recording of April 24, 2007 ends.  The oral history re-commences with the recording of the second interview between Sondra Schelsinger and William H. Danforth on June 18, 2007.]


Schlesinger:  Before we turn to your time as Chancellor, there are still two issues that we didn’t discuss in detail last time. One was the various racial problems, although we did talk about that a little, and the other was the Vietnam War. I wonder whether you were involved in the teach-ins, rather did you have a role in trying to calm some of the activities that were going on at the campus? And what do you remember about the issues at the Medical School?

Danforth:  Well, Sondra, the Medical School was not greatly involved in the Vietnam War. It didn’t have the same effect on the Medical School, at least while I was there, that it had on the main campus.

Schlesinger:   I just want to add that we have films of us and Roy [Vagelos] and various other faculty members marching around, protesting, but…

Danforth:  Good. When were they taken?

Schlesinger:  I can’t remember actually. We gave them to Washington University.

Danforth:  Where were you marching, at the Medical School?

Schlesinger:  We were marching around the Medical School. Everybody marched where it was convenient. Nobody bothered to march any place where it was dangerous.

Danforth:  Well, the one thing I remember about the Medical School was that some people came down from the Hilltop Campus to talk about what was going on at the main campus and they held a meeting in Moore Auditorium and it was sort of an “eye-opener” to me because just having read about what was going on and seeing it on television and all that I was very sympathetic to all of the protesters. And I started out very sympathetic to the radical people from the Hilltop Campus, but then I had underestimated their fervor and their willingness to kill people and bring destruction. So, it was an “eye-opener” to me. They were pretty far out. I was on Tom Eliot’s cabinet so I went to the Cabinet Meetings and as such I became rather involved in the University’s response to the Vietnam War. In the first place, I knew a lot more about St. Louis and the “board types” than most of the other people did and I got along pretty well with Tom Eliot. In fact, I wrote most of one public piece he put out on the Black sit-in. So, I was involved in talking about those things and once was with Tom when he confronted the St. Louis County Police who were marching onto the campus.

Schlesinger:  Were you able to protect the students from the police?

Danforth:  Yes, they came marching on campus. The head of the St. Louis County Police was then diGrazia [Robert J. DiGrazia was Superintendent of the St. Louis County Police Department from 1969-1972] who was a real law and order person and I attended one meeting with Tom between Tom and diGrazia and they just absolutely talked past each other. There was no communication whatsoever. Tom couldn’t grasp diGrazia, I think and diGrazia certainly couldn’t grasp Tom. While they were debating there was a noise up above and people were up in the attic over the second floor trying to listen. Anyway, on a different day diGrazia marched in with his police and their paraphernalia and Tom confronted them and said: “What are you doing here?” diGrazia said: “We’ve come tracking these students.” Tom said: “I don’t want you on this campus.” diGrazia said: “Well, I’ll leave but don’t call me when it’s burning.” And he marched off.

Schlesinger:  So it took several telephone calls to get them to come when it [the ROTC building] was burning?

Danforth:  No, this was after the burning. Well, I think it was or it was around that time, but, oh well, they were just again talking past each other.

Schlesinger:  One of the reasons I wanted to cover it is it’s an interesting time which most people today can’t believe happened. There were many things that we can be proud of and also many things I think we wished hadn’t happened.

Danforth:  It was a very tough period and as often happens at a time like that, the more extreme people became the leaders both of the right and the left. Then there are pressures on both the leaders and the followers to become more extreme.

Schlesinger:  We see that today too that the people who prefer not to kill each other are not being listened to. Not in this country but I was thinking in some of the other countries right now. Well this was not only a time of disruption but it was also a time when Tom Eliot wanted to step down and so one questions is: “When did you first become aware that you were being considered to be the next Chancellor?”

Danforth:  I’m not sure I even remember. Charlie Thomas talked to me about it. He was then Chairman of the Board. But Tom Eliot sort of set me up for it. Do you want to hear?

Schlesinger:  Unless you told somebody previously. Has it been written about before?

Danforth:  I don’t think so. Tom Eliot appointed me as the head of a committee to look at the future of the University. It was getting close to the time when he would normally retire. He retired actually at 64. He was under a lot of strain and his relationships with the Board had deteriorated considerably. I never knew for sure, but I sort of suspected that he had been encouraged to retire. So he appointed me head of this committee to look at the future. I had a very good committee, very good people on it and it gave me sort of an overview of the whole university including the Hilltop Campus and a chance to think about the institution. That was before Tom announced that he was going to retire. Then when he announced his retirement I, of course, thought about who would be his successor and I thought I might be asked. But I thought there might be other people who might be asked too. Then Charlie Thomas mentioned it to me and one time said: “If I were considered would I be willing to accept?” He didn’t want to make an offer and have me turn it down so I thought about it and told him that I would.

Schlesinger:  When you were thinking about it did you also talk to any of the faculty members?

Danforth:  No.

Schlesinger:  Because when you said that Tom was having difficulties with the Board, I think he was also having difficulties with the faculty.

Danforth:  He was having a lot of difficulty with the faculty at the Medical School. I’ll give you an example. When J.S. McDonnell, I really never told anybody about this, I don’t think I thought about it much since – when J.S. McDonnell stepped down as Board Chairman it was obvious that the Board was going to chose Charlie Thomas. Tom did not want Charlie Thomas as his Board Chairman, especially because Charlie Thomas had a long relationship with Edgar Queeny. And yet, Tom was very political and he didn’t want to oppose it so he wanted the Medical School to oppose Charlie Thomas.

Schlesinger:  You actually did talk a little about this last time.

Danforth:  Did I? I’d forgotten that.

Schlesinger:  It was an interesting story.

Danforth:  Well maybe I told you that.

Schlesinger:  Well finish it because I think it’s an important story.

Danforth:  He wanted the Medical School to oppose it and I thought it was a bad thing to do because Charlie Thomas would be appointed anyway and it would just leave a bad taste with the Medical School and the Medical School had no business doing that. I didn’t want to just make that decision so I called a meeting of the senior department heads and Ken [King], and we talked it over and they were very against Charlie Thomas too because of his relationship with Edgar but went along with my saying no, the Medical School should not oppose it.

Schlesinger:  Well I was on the Senate Council (I think that’s what it was called) the last year or so that Tom Eliot was Chancellor and I remember that there was a lot of antagonism, not only with the Medical School but also with the people on campus perhaps more so because the campus faculty was more radical than the Medical School faculty.

Danforth:  The Medical School people just didn’t trust Tom. They didn’t like him and Tom didn’t particularly like them. He didn’t like the executive faculty system. That was the trouble; I don’t think there were ideological problems with the Medical School – there were probably some. On the main campus, on the other hand, everything was so divided and you had a spectrum of opinion and there were Tom Eliot critics and people who opposed him and were mad at him from the left and from the right and probably from the middle too. It was a very hard time to be Chancellor. Tom was really wonderful on big issues like academic freedom and due process and so on. He was very, very strong in defending those things. On the other hand he was arrogant and not warm and fuzzy but some of the faculty really stood with him and behind him when there were real problems with the radical left. There really were problems. You can’t have people burning down the ROTC and stuff like that. People like Peter Riesenberg and Michael Friedlander and a number of others really stood with him. I thought they were good to do so.

Schlesinger:  In the book that Candice O’Connor wrote she describes some of the students who really were essentially put in jail or almost put in jail and I remember that. Did you know any of those students? You didn’t have any contact with the students who were the most radical during the late 1960s but what happened when you became Chancellor? Most of them may have left by this time because that was 1968 and Howard Mechanic and all those other students had probably left.

Danforth:  Yes, I think so. I think most of them had graduated or gone away. Ben Zaricor graduated while I was Chancellor but I didn’t really know him during this period. He was President of the student body before I became Chancellor. I got to know and like him much later. He has one of the world’s great collections of American flags.

Schlesinger:  I always think it’s interesting to find out what happened to those people who were the most radical. Most of them haven’t had such successful careers as you have.

Danforth:  You know about the big rally here for Howard Mechanic after he was freed? [President Clinton pardoned Mechanic in 2001.] All the old guys gathered. It was very touching. They all gathered and Howard Mechanic was here and I had been in a lot of contact with Ben because he once ran into Howard Mechanic while Howard Mechanic was hiding and Ben was a big pusher to get Clinton to pardon him and I worked on that with Ben. Mark Wrighton also wrote a letter. They held this sort of reunion here and Henry Berger who was close to a lot of those people put on a symposium and they had a big event at Whittemore House at which they gave awards to people. They gave awards to people that they liked in retrospect both to those who supported them and those who opposed them. And they gave an award to Michael Friedlander who had been a very principled opponent of some of their activities.

Schlesinger:  Oh, how nice!

Danforth:  The whole thing was very touching and they wanted to sort of re-establish with the University and probably to America, too. There was a lot of talk about how you had to listen to everybody.

Schlesinger:  A different time. I actually remember when Howard Mechanic disappeared because, we didn’t, but one of our colleagues had also given a lot of money for his bail.

Danforth:  Well one of the people was an English professor, Carter Revard and I contributed to getting Carter Revard out of financial trouble. I saw Carter the other day.

Schlesinger:  Was he part of that symposium?

Danforth:  I can’t remember if Carter was there or not. I certainly remember Michael Friedlander was there and some of the others, Burt Wheeler.

Schlesinger:  When you took over the Chancellorship, when was the first time that you began to interact with the students?

Danforth:  Oh, before I became Chancellor.

Schlesinger:  And in what way? I’m thinking in terms of what we’re talking about now because there was a lot of antagonism between the students and the administration in the late 1960s which I guess you were going to inherit that.

Danforth:  Yes, I inherited it. I don’t know. I guess the main or most intense interaction with students began at the start of the fall semester.

Schlesinger:  After you took over as Chancellor?

Danforth:  Yes.

Schlesinger: Did they confront you? This was now 1971, several years later, but we were still in the middle of the Vietnam War.

Danforth:  Well, I don’t know, Sondra. People don’t just go and confront the Chancellor usually. You have to build up to it, you have to build an issue and it takes a while to do that. Really the peak time is in the springtime because you have a year to kind of work things up so the peak time is in the springtime. Generally, there were not automatic friendly relationships. I used to say instead of automatically trusting people you automatically distrusted them. You had to build some rapport. I remember a freshman student came in wearing a dog collar and I asked him about it and he scowled at me and said: “why the necktie?” So that’s the way it was. You know I was confronted periodically during that time by Black students, White students, all kinds of students over this and that issue. There would sometimes be marches to my office.

Schlesinger:  I want to keep this somewhat chronological so I’m thinking about the first years 1971-1974. Do you remember anything specifically I think both in terms of student protests and then we’ll turn to new ideas for the University and programs?

Danforth:  Well, one time when Nixon renewed the bombing of North Vietnam for awhile, there was a call for a strike and I was opposed to that so I sent a letter out. It was a call for a strike that week and so I sent a letter out to the faculty saying that whether the students had to come to classes or not was, of course, up to the faculty members, but I expected faculty members to be ready to teach. There were some who received that well but not everybody did so I was asked to go to a meeting to debate this business.

Schlesinger:  By the faculty?

Danforth:  Well, the person who asked me was Mark Selden who was in the History Department. He was a kind of radical guy. He wasn’t very up-front, but he had real brains. I always knew whether the people who were agitating had brains or not and I knew Mark Selden was very good. So, I was asked to go and debate. We went to Holmes Lounge and the place was packed, I mean just jammed in, and outside the room there. I debated against Barry Commoner and a student. So we debated for, I don’t know, 2-2-1/2 hours or so and at one time Dan Bolef called for a vote. My position was what I took to be a traditional academic one: The University does not have a foreign policy and as Chancellor I do not take a position on the Vietnam War. I encourage you to take a position. You can say whatever you want but I’m not going to speak for you. The only person who supported me in that was Stanley Spector who said, I support the Chancellor on that. “I can tell Nixon to go to hell myself.” Dan Bolef called for a vote and three people voted with me.

Schlesinger:  You, Stanley Spector and who else?

Danforth:  I saw only three hands go up and they were all students. I knew the family of one of them and I knew his brother had been killed in Vietnam several months before. It was a very sad case. One of them was an architecture student who weighed about 250 lbs. He was huge and he wasn’t afraid of anything. I didn’t know the third person and it was sort of like one of these movies you see. Afterward a lot of people said: “I’m glad you stuck with your position.” But, they wouldn’t hold up their hands in the meeting.

Schlesinger:  That’s what you said earlier about radical people sort of taking over and the rest of the group is afraid to oppose them.

Danforth:  You see that today in the State Legislature of Missouri with the radical right.

Schlesinger:  And I suppose a little bit in our Congress, as well as in other countries.
Was there a strike then? I don’t think there was here.

Danforth:  They called a strike and I think probably a lot of people stayed out of class.

Schlesinger:  But the faculty didn’t?

Danforth:  I don’t think so. There may have been some.

Schlesinger:  I think it was before you became Chancellor. There was one year when most schools just ended without final exams and I think we did too.

Danforth:  Tom Eliot called a moratorium at one time and he actually stopped classes one time for a couple days. That’s when Gray Dorsey brought a class action suit against him in the name of three students.

Schlesinger:  Well as I said, I think people today can’t believe some of the stories that we tell them about what the world was like then. Do you think we have said enough about this or can you remember anything else we should talk about?

Danforth:  There was one thing that happened to Tom Eliot that I was involved in too and that was the Black sit-in and the Black Manifesto and the agreements. Periodically the Black students would get worked up and I would get what we used to call “Mao Maoed” (we used to call it) every once in a while. I would go to a meeting and everybody would denounce me and so on. [Laughter]

Schlesinger: Were you prepared for that or what I should ask is how did you prepare yourself for this kind of response?

Danforth:  Between the time I was asked to be Chancellor and the time I took over I had six months or so, so I read up on universities. Of course, no one predicted the radicalization of academia. Most of the chancellors and presidents of the major universities did not last through the radical period. Tom [Eliot] really didn’t. The only three that did from major universities were Terry Sanford at Duke and Alex Heard at Vanderbilt, and Bill Friday at North Carolina. The others just weren’t ready for it. I had seen it and I kind of was ready for it. I sort of had a natural sympathy for the cause. I liked some of the radical students.

Schlesinger:  Of course you also had to deal with the Board and the community. I remember, but I don’t remember who it was who had to try to explain to the community what was going on and why they shouldn’t just put the students in prison or something like that.

Danforth:  Of course I liked the Board Members and I liked the community members. I had no standards, I just liked people and I had very good people to work with too, most of the time. One time they hired a couple of new young Student Affairs workers who turned out to be radical and gave us lots of trouble. I had to get rid of the problem. It was so bad that I had to ask Jim Laue, who was then Vice Chancellor of Students Affairs, to stay out of it. He wasn’t very good at those kinds of things. Trudy Spiegel was there, whom I liked a lot and I told her: “Trudy, you go on vacation.” So I became, sort of the defacto head of student affairs for that period.

Schlesinger:  Well I think the fact that you both liked and understood the students must have helped the Board to not be so adamant against them.

Danforth:  What does the Board do? They meet several times a year. They can’t run the University. I never had a Board Member say they wanted to do something about the students. I got it more from faculty than from the Board.

Schlesinger:  Well the faculty at that time was pretty radical too if I remember but maybe I only knew the radical ones.

Danforth:  Well I don’t know. There were some who were radical; I think there was just a handful. I don’t know who you knew who was radical.  I wouldn’t consider Carter Revard radical.

Schlesinger:  You’re right. I think what I remember mostly at the Medical School was that we always wanted to have petitions and have statements against the war and that was the majority of people but then there were people who said just what you said about the University, this is not the place to make a political statement. You can do what you want as individuals.

Danforth:  But don’t insist the University do your fighting for you. I think there was general sympathy for ending the Vietnam War. I mean I felt that way. I think there were a few radicals; there were a few people who would really get caught up in it. And there were people on the other side, you know. One of our Board Members said: “You should know what the students are saying.” So he sent me a transcript of a meeting of the radical students and I don’t know where he got the transcript. I told him I never wanted to see anything like that again. The FBI was on the campus and did you know the CIA was on the Medical Campus talking with Dan Gashler?

Schlesinger:  I didn’t know about that. I knew they were on the main campus because some of the students we knew told us many years later that they had been questioned.

Danforth:  Dan Gashler was feeding information to the CIA on faculty travels. I can’t remember how I found that out but he left. The FBI called me and they said: “It’s very important that we know things like that.” I said, “Good, I’ll help you. I’ll tell the faculty and I’ll ask them to let you know.”


They said, “Well, we don’t work that way.”

Schlesinger:  I’m glad you told me that.

Danforth:  Lots of things went on. Once we had some Bryan Cave lawyers working for me on some issue and it was something that they didn’t want people to know about and I was down in the South 40 talking with students and I looked in the back row and there they were, two Bryan Cave lawyers in their jogging clothes. I told them after that: “You put yourselves at risk; students will think you’re the FBI.”  [Laughter]

Schlesinger:  I actually remember at some of the rallies you would see a few people in raincoats. They looked just like you would expect an FBI agent to look like. I assume that they were.

Danforth:  No, I never saw anybody I thought was an FBI agent.

Schlesinger:  Because they were in jogging clothes?

Danforth:  Well, I don’t know how they were dressed. I don’t know if at any point there were any FBI people there or not. I don’t know.

Schlesinger:  I don’t know for sure but I just assumed that they were FBI. The interesting thing is the more we talk about it the more stories you come up with so I don’t know whether we should continue here or move on. For now, let’s move on to more academic things. Before we get to the Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences, in the first few years do you remember anything particular either about difficult decisions you had to make or about programs that you began to think about to expand the educational aspects of the University?

Danforth:  No. I’m thinking about this. During my time as Chancellor, I didn’t have a grand plan to initiate a lot of things. I really didn’t initiate a lot of academic or scientific things. What I did was to try and get behind the things that I thought were good that I thought people were trying to do. The Division was like that. It wasn’t my idea.

Schlesinger:  Let’s talk about the Division. I remember you said before and I agree with you it was one of the very wonderful things that happened during our tenure here. But what I remember that it was, in part, set up because it was the first time that Roy was thinking about leaving and this was an incentive to keep him. Is that what you remember?

Danforth:  No, that isn’t my memory. Roy was restless. He got restless after he had been here for eight years or so and was looking for new challenges. Princeton was trying to recruit him at the time and he was thinking about the need to bring more science into biology, more of the harder sciences into biology and that sort of appealed to him for a while and I give Roy credit for coming up with the main ideas for the Division, Others worked with him. Max [Cowan] was very supportive of the idea and I spent a lot of time working on it. Lots of great things have happened at Washington U. and that’s one of them that wouldn’t have happened without Roy and I’ve always thought I was very lucky to have people with good ideas.

Schlesinger:  At that time wasn’t it important to convince the Clinical Departments how important this was? I think if I remember correctly in the beginning they were very helpful financially.

Danforth:  Yes, Dave Kipnis was not an admirer of Roy’s. They didn’t get along particularly well together but Dave was always supportive of the basic sciences. He was always willing to help. I’ll tell you what it took to get the Division going. It was a wonderful idea, but it took first of all, money and the money came from a gift of Edward Mallinckrodt. What had happened was that Edward Mallinckrodt had died and in his estate he left a third of his estate to Washington University and two-thirds to Harvard. A third to Washington University was a lot of money but it was left in Mallinckrodt stock and you couldn’t sell the Mallinckrodt stock for “X” number of years. So the income was very low. It wasn’t terribly helpful when it came but if the income had been the average of the endowment, it would have been very helpful. When the Division came up and it needed money, we, in effect, sold the Mallinckrodt stock to the endowment or put the Mallinckrodt stock in the general endowment and then took the income from the general endowment and applied that to the Mallinckrodt money and that’s where the Division got its money. It was just a godsend that we had that money to put into the Division, and at the time that was a lot. It’s still in the endowment for the Division but the purchasing power is not as great as it was then.

The other big problem was the Hilltop Campus. Ira Hirsh was Dean when this started and Ira was pretty skeptical of the whole thing and he was picking holes in it.

Schlesinger:  Who was Chairman of Biology at the time, was that Johns Hopkins?

Danforth:  Johns Hopkins was Chairman of Biology but he was phasing out and the Department was dispirited. I mean the morale was shot and things weren’t working well. Ira was stepping down as Dean and Merle Kling came in and Merle immediately saw the advantages of the Division and set out in his wonderful way to make it happen. Without the change from Ira to Merle and without the Biology Department being in bad shape and not organized enough really to resist it when it happened. There were a lot of lucky things that led to getting the Division going.

Schlesinger:  Well, I remember when we would go to other universities people would always want to know how we did it, how it was working and things like that. It was a model for many other schools.

Danforth:  It was a great model and Roy was just wonderful. Then Roy became the first head of it but it wasn’t Roy’s thing to be the head of an academic unit like that. I think it was very frustrating to Roy. [Laughter]

Schlesinger:  I was trying to think of how to put it. I think Roy was terrific but he didn’t “suffer fools gladly.” Is that the best way to put it?

Danforth:  That’s right. I inherited one guy from Tom Eliot and the first time Roy met him he said, “What’s that turkey doing here?” [Laughter] You know Roy didn’t “tolerate fools very gladly” I guess, but he was a real doer. He likes to get things done and getting involved in this kind of politics where you have to “schmooze” a lot isn’t necessarily his thing. 

Schlesinger:  I think all the time, if I remember correctly, that Roy was Head of the Division that people in Biology, not everybody but many of them, were objecting very much, making it rather difficult for Roy. But now, when did you find out that Roy was leaving?

Danforth:  Oh, I don’t know, only when he told me. We became very good friends and we’re still very good friends. I see Roy all the time.

Schlesinger:  We’ve been sorry to miss him the last couple times he was here.

Danforth:  He’s just absolutely wonderful.

Schlesinger:  I have just as much respect for him.

Danforth:  He did an outstanding job at Merck and then the Merck Board wanted him to retire at age 65 and not to pick his successor.

Schlesinger:  And Merck has suffered for that.

Danforth:  Oh, Merck suffered dreadfully.

Schlesinger:  I remember a story which I may put on the tape just because it’s amusing, but Roy was leaving just at the time that the Medical School was trying to find a Chairman for Genetics and I remember this because one of our friends was telling us a story about Roy trying to recruit him while they were driving and this friend of ours, I think it was Gerry Fink, knew that Roy was leaving and he said Roy almost drove off the road when Gerry said, “Aren’t you going to Merck?” So, I think probably Washington U. didn’t know as soon as other people knew that Roy was being considered for the position at Merck. And you’re right he did a marvelous job at Merck. I’ve interacted with a number of people at Merck over the years and they have all told me what a wonderful place Merck had been to work when he was there.

Danforth:  Well, Roy was a superstar at Washington U. He built a terrific department and did a terrific job of recruiting.

Schlesinger:  Were you Chancellor when the Sociology Department was dissolved? Do you want to talk about that at all?

Danforth: I don’t really get credit for dissolving the Sociology Department. [laughter] Money was always a problem in Arts & Sciences and the Sociology Department had a terrible time when Tom Eliot was Chancellor. They had some really well-respected sociologists – Louis Irving Horowitz, Lee Rainwater and Alvin Gouldner. But they didn’t get along and they gave Tom a hard time. They were always coming up with theories of how to run the University better, [laughter] spend money more effectively and so on. They imploded and Alvin Gouldner got into this big hassle with a graduate student, Laud Humphreys who was studying homosexuality in Forest Park. Lee Rainwater and Horowitz left and Al Gouldner was an extremely difficult person to handle. The head of the department, whose name I’ve forgotten, was a Marxist and a Canadian and a pretty good academic and a leader but he got a job offer from Canada and left. Al Gouldner died and so this place that had had all these talented people didn’t have talented people anymore. They were not able to put anyone up for tenure, who then got tenure, for about a decade or so. There was one guy, I’m not very good on names right now, who did literary sociology and he challenged the tenure process because nobody was fit to judge him, judge his work and so on. It was very messy. [We did not then have our current document on academic freedom responsibility and tenure], so I appointed an ad hoc committee to review the issues. Then later, a Committee of Arts and Sciences, Bob Salisbury was on it, suggested just closing it out – doing away with the department. Marty Israel was then the Dean [of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences] and they had an A&S faculty meeting, there was a lot of contention, but the faculty backed the idea of doing away with sociology. Of course, I backed it. I would never have done it, if I had been making the choice – I wouldn’t have done it that way – just let them die a natural death. But, they did it and it became a national cause celebre.

Schlesinger:  I think I remember that.

Danforth:  The only nice letter I got was from Horowitz.

Schlesinger:  I don’t remember that my colleagues at Washington University were so horrified by it. I think that they understood what was going on, whereas if you’re looking at it from afar, particularly if you’re in the sociology department in another school you might feel threatened.

Danforth:  Oh, they were and [our Sociology faculty] helped inflame things, they wrote letters to all their colleagues all over the country. About the same time the Dental School was closing and I have to take responsibility for that. But the dentists were princes. I mean they couldn’t have been more wonderful. The guy who came in as Dean to close it down was Richard Smith.

Schlesinger:  I know Richard Smith.

Danforth:  He did an absolutely wonderful job. The University owes him a lot.

Schlesinger:  But, of course, he’s also an anthropologist so it made it a little bit easier for him to pursue his other career.

Danforth:  Yes, I think he’s been very happy and I think he’s much happier as an anthropologist than as a dentist. But that was another big lucky thing. He was great. But the Dental School – we were the highest tuition dental school in the country. We were spending about $25,000 a year per dental student and the average state school spent $50,000 per year per dental student. [Because tuition was so high and most dental students did not come from wealthy families] we were getting students who couldn’t get in other institutions. The whole thing was not working well. Without putting a lot of more money into the Dental School we couldn’t have really salvaged it.

Schlesinger:  Are you able to remember other satisfying decisions or issues during your tenure, which was over 20 years which you could list along with the Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences?

Danforth:  A lot of things were just wonderful. It somewhat depended on the people involved. One of the great things that happened at Washington University was – and George Pake was very involved and Jerry Cox – in recruiting Wes Clark and Charlie Molnar and their group to Washington University.

Schlesinger:  You mean this was bringing in computer expertise. I was actually surprised how instrumental Washington University was early on.

Danforth:  Yes, they came from MIT.  They were the inventors of the LINC Computer and they were still great leaders. [It all began while I was still at the Medical School in 1964. Jerry Cox was working at CID, the Central Institute for the Deaf, with an appointment in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He knew that a group at MIT was restive and thinking about a new home. Jerry and George Pake recruited them to Washington University and housed them in the old Shriner’s Hospital Building at the Medical School campus.  This was the group that at MIT had invented the LINC Computer. The LINC was the first small versatile computer that could be configured for different tasks. It was the forerunner of personal computers and dedicated computers of today. The leader was Wes Clark, a brilliant man, and international leader.  A number of people came with him, then or a little later. They included, Bill Papian, Russ Pfeiffer, Charlie Molnar, Tom Sandel. They were working on various advances including macro-modular computers. The hardware could be easily changed and adapted. That group transformed computing and led the way in applying computers to medical and biologic problems.] Subsequently the Department of Computer Science was formed and Jerry Cox took that over and there was no more an able and effective guy than Jerry Cox.  He did a wonderful job with the department. [Jerry Cox was the founding leader of the Computer Science Department in the School of Engineering. He led the way in keeping Washington University in the forefront of developments in computing. In addition, he was one of the wisest and most far-seeing of Washington University’s faculty.]

Last year there was a big celebration of what is called “clockless computing,” and Wes Clark came back for it. He is brilliant. Did you ever know Wes Clark? He was wonderful and so was Charlie Molnar – Charlie’s dead now but his wife and daughter came back for the celebration. I think that their accomplishments were something that the University came to be very, very proud and happy about.

Schlesinger:  When I was doing a project on biologists who were doing x-ray diffraction they were describing how valuable the computer was for doing structures of biological material and they were crediting Washington University for being among the important innovators.

Danforth: In the early days people thought these main frames would do everything and they built these computers to do certain things, sort of ad hoc computers. Wes had this idea of macro modules so you would be able to exchange things and adapt the hardware to the programming, and of course, that’s made a huge difference. [Wes and his group changed the whole approach. We were very lucky to have them at Washington University.] Then, of course George Pake went out, drawing on those experiences to build the Xerox lab that was so instrumental in developing the personal computer. [George Pake was head of the Department of Physics from 1952 until 1956 when he left for Stanford University.  He returned to Washington University to become the first Provost of Washington University from 1962 until 1969. In 1970 Pake would found and head Xerox PARC. I think these experiences helped George build that remarkable Xerox Lab. It led the way to developing the personal computers that we have today.]

Schlesinger:  Well, were you very involved in converting the University to using computers? I mean, there must have been some discussion about all your offices becoming computerized. Was that something you were involved in or did it just happen?

Danforth:  Well, I think a lot of it just happened. People got more and more involved with computers and we spent a lot of time thinking about these things. Do you remember Rich Dammkoehler? I spent a lot of time with Rich. It was very important, of course, to have a main frame and have the organization to run it so as to suit our needs. For many years we had a very good guy on campus that most people don’t know about named Bill Smith who helped us do lots of things with the main frame and our general computing at very low cost. All of that went on and we were one of the early ones to bring computing into the library in a big way. Charles Churchwell was the Dean [of the Washington University Libraries.]

Schlesinger:  I want to ask you again about various satisfying decisions and difficult decisions. Any more that you can think of?

Danforth:  Well, I think many people believe that the Chancellor is doing all this work but a Chancellor doesn’t do much, you know. [laughter]

Schlesinger:  You just go to meetings.

Danforth:  You don’t educate the students and you don’t do the intellectual or scientific work. One of the great things was getting Tad Foote to be Dean of the Law School. That was one of the great moments in Washington U. history. He just turned the Law School around.

Schlesinger:  I actually remember that. He was very impressive.

Danforth:  That happened through a lot of fortunate circumstances too. The previous Dean that I inherited wasn’t very happy with me but he got a job offer from Southern Illinois University to be Dean there at a considerably higher salary and he came to see me. I congratulated him. [laughter] That led to lots of storm and strife in the Law School because the dominant senior faculty found a revolt on their hands from some of the younger and dissident faculty. That turned out to be such a mess that the acting Dean resigned and I asked Tad to be first acting Dean and then Dean.

Schlesinger:  At that point was he in the Law School?

Danforth:  He was the University’s General Counsel. He never taught a legal course. He had never written a scholarly paper but he was an amazing human being. Soon after I became Chancellor in those first years the Law Faculty gave a party for the graduating seniors and three people came. The students were so dissatisfied. The alumni were unhappy. The faculty was unhappy. People were coming to my office to complain, students, faculty, alums. Tad took over and complaints stopped. That was the end of it.

Schlesinger:  Did these people who had been unhappy then tell you how much better it was?

Danforth:  Well, people don’t usually do that. So that was a key point in the University’s history. And getting Bob Virgil to be Dean of the Business School was another major step.

Schlesinger:  I had served on some committees with Bob and I knew how good he was.

Danforth:  Oh, he was just wonderful. He didn’t want to be Dean.

Schlesinger:  Maybe that’s the first criteria for getting a good one.

Danforth:  Well, he became Acting Dean [1977-1979] and we kept working on him and eventually he agreed to be Dean [1979-1992]. Another very satisfying thing was turning around Student Affairs. We came out of the radical period with almost no student traditions. I know a lot of the older schools had longer-standing traditions. We had an accreditation team come here and they looked at our Student Affairs and I was told this was amateur hour. We didn’t know what we were doing with Student Affairs. I had never thought about that before. Student Affairs just seemed to me that you worked with students [laughter] and student affairs. So we recruited Harry Kisker to head Student Affairs [Harry Kisker was Dean of Students from 1978-1997.] And, it was just like a miracle.

Schlesinger:  What was his background?

Danforth:  He was German born, American raised and had gone to Colgate to college and gotten into Student Affairs and he was extraordinarily bright and very sensitive. He and his wife, Jeannie, had a house over on Delmar and it was just open house for students. He knew the students, took them under his wing and he was very sensitive to what they were doing and their needs and he was very imaginative in that he’d figure out what kind of things students would want to do. He got things started like the first a cappella group, there are a bunch of them now. He encouraged athletics. He encouraged the fraternities and non-fraternity activities and sports like rowing and club sports. He was a genius in what he did. It was really just amazing. That was one of the things I really liked to see those student activities. Athletics was the same way. We have wonderful athletic programs and that just didn’t happen. I think Burt Wheeler headed the Search Committee which recruited, from the University of Chicago, John Schael, and he’s been here ever since. [In 1978 John Schael became the Director of Athletics and turned around the athletic program. The same Committee had recommended Harry Kisker.] John Schael’s theory was something like mine that he wasn’t going to do all the work of the Athletic Department. He was going to get the best people in the world and he did that. You know, he has all these winning teams. I tell Mark [Wrighton] he’s going to be known as the Athletic Chancellor. People are happy in the exercise rooms and new athletic facilities.

Schlesinger:  We really enjoyed the new swimming pool very much but we – Washington University – are champions not only in athletics but also in mathematics and in several other areas of scholarships, we should get credit for those as well.

Danforth:  That’s right we had winners of the annual Putnam Competition in Mathematics. We really led the country in the Putnam Mathematical Competitions. The people who get the credit for that – there’s always somebody who this wouldn’t have happened without – Carl Bender and Ed Wilson who had the idea of recruiting students and building a team and working together. We had these absolutely fantastic students. It’s hard now to keep that going because others have seen what we did and have tried to do it too.

Schlesinger:  I don’t know Ed Wilson very well but I know Carl very well and he’s terrific.

Danforth:  Oh, he’s amazing. He’s wonderful.

Schlesinger:  Where did the idea of bedtime stories come from? How did that begin?

Danforth:  The radical period was sort of winding down and one time some students asked me if I would come to the South 40 and tell bedtime stories. I didn’t think of it but the students thought of it and I said: “Sure.” I thought they were kidding. I thought this would never happen. But then when I was on the South 40 I saw these posters up. The time was all set and everything so I had to scramble around and figure out what in the world I would do with this and it then became a tradition.

Schlesinger:  How many students would show up for the readings?

Danforth:  Well, that first time, quite a few. I don’t know several hundred I suppose. It was such an unusual, crazy thing. And then it evolved when the Student Affairs staff asked if I would do it for the incoming freshmen.

Schlesinger:  When they came, you mean?

Danforth:  So the second night or something like that I told them I would tell bedtime stories. They all remember it. It’s amazing. And then people would call up and ask if I would tell a bedtime story in their dormitories.

Schlesinger:  And what stories did you tell?

Danforth:  I’ll tell you at times like that I would say I will do it but I don’t want to tell more than half the bedtime stories – you all have to tell at least half of them. I had sort of standards. There were some very good Thurber stories that I did. Do you know the Thurber Fables? They’re fun to read, he was so good with language and they carry a little moral and then I’d use some T.H. White stories too.

Schlesinger:  Has anybody made a list of what you told or did anybody take pictures during the time?

Danforth:  Yes there are pictures.

Schlesinger:  It doesn’t seem like we’ve devoted enough time to the Chancellorship but should we go on to the few other questions that I wanted to ask you? I wanted you to tell me the story from your point of view, although not from what I read in the newspaper about being asked about being head of the NIH. You were still Chancellor at that time or just at the end of your Chancellorship.

Danforth:  Yes, I was Chancellor. I had been Chancellor for quite a while and it was during the first Bush Administration. Let’s see, once before I thought I was going to be asked. Ed Brandt was then Assistant Secretary [Edward N. Brandt, Jr., MD was Assistant Secretary for Health from 1981 to 1984] and I called him up and I said, “Don’t ask me because if you do I’m going to say no.” This second time Louis Sullivan was the Secretary of HHS and I really thought the NIH needed some leadership. I thought maybe that was something I should do and it was getting close to my retirement anyway. Ibby and I went to Washington and looked at it but then I began feeling bad. I just didn’t have any energy or any zip and I couldn’t get myself up for it and so I decided I really just didn’t want to do it. So, I didn’t. Then they appointed Bernadine Healey.

[At this point of the recording Dr. Danforth takes a short break. On resuming he continues speaking about being considered for the head of the NIH during the presidency of George H.W. Bush.]

Schlesinger:  So …

Danforth:  Before, while this was going on – in the early stages – I got a message that The White House was calling. So I took the call and it was a woman’s voice on the line and she said: “Chancellor Danforth, I’m in a hurry, there’s a limousine waiting for me and I just have one question to ask you. Where do you stand on abortion?” I said: “Well, I’m not going to tell you and I have not applied for a new job and I think it’s a complicated issue.” I thought to their credit that they didn’t ask me again about abortion, and they didn’t hold it against me. [They invited me to take the job.]  Those ideologies are so awful, but in specific cases they can get a little “mushy.”

So I didn’t do it.  Then I found that I had pernicious anemia. That’s why I felt so bad. I began taking B-12 and felt 10 years younger. I might have done it but I was very glad I didn’t. But I felt so bad because I didn’t think Bernadine Healey did a good job and I really felt responsible. So the next time I was in the final list…

Schlesinger:  You mean when Clinton was in office?

Danforth: Donna Shalala was the head of HHS and there were three people she had in mind: me, Harold Varmus and Judy Rodin, who later became President of the University of Pennsylvania. I didn’t think she would be good. So I went to interview with Donna and I said, “Look I feel bad about the last time but if you ask me to do it I will do it, but my first choice is Harold Varmus and my second choice is me.” [laughter] She probably would have done it anyway, but she picked Harold Varmus and I thought that was a good choice. I didn’t really want to do it but I thought I had respect for the NIH and I didn’t want to see anybody do it who I didn’t think would do a good job.

Schlesinger:  Harold did do a good job.

Danforth:  Yes, he was great.

Schlesinger:  I don’t think you need to have any regrets, partly because Harold did do such a good job and partly your legacy at Washington University is so wonderful.

Danforth:  Well, I really have been lucky to be Chancellor and I liked the job. I worked with so many wonderful people and that’s what makes this whole thing worthwhile. George Capps was Chairman of the Board for a while and then he became head of the campaign that raised more money than any other University had ever raised in a campaign. He did a terrific job.

Schlesinger:  The one thing I was interested to know – and I don’t know how much you want to talk about this, but you were head of the Danforth Foundation during much of the time you were Chancellor and, of course, we, including me, have always been indebted to the Danforth Foundation – how much influence did you have in the decisions that were being made to give money to Washington University?

Danforth:  Well, I had a lot of influence over who was on the Board.

Schlesinger:  That’s a good way of putting it.

Danforth:  You know we had John Biggs on the Board and Roy Vagelos, George Pake.

Schlesinger:  John Biggs was somebody I knew of and probably met but I had no idea that when he left here, that he would become such an important person [John Biggs would become the head of TIAA-CREF.]

Danforth:  Well you know that’s another thing that we didn’t talk about. Appointing John Biggs was one of the great appointments at Washington U. too. He was absolutely wonderful. He was a true academic at heart and a financial genius and he loved working for the University and everybody loved working with him. He got our finances in order. When I took over parts of the University had big debts to other parts – so it was kind of a mess.

Schlesinger:  And I hear that his son is following in his footsteps, at least academically.

Danforth:  Henry Biggs works here, yes. He’s terrific. John is still on the Board. He’s just overseen the reorganization of the whole endowment and how we invest the endowment. All those things are vital. Everything has to work well.

Schlesinger:  Two of the things I found that you were doing after you were Chancellor that I thought we might discuss both because of my interest and because I think they are extremely important. One was the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and the other was your role in investigating the Institute for Human Gene Therapy. You chaired that committee that was probably in Pennsylvania. Now talking about the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is going to be much more pleasant for you, so let’s start with that.

Danforth:  My thinking began some years ago with the Division. Bob Thach came from Biochemistry and headed the Department of Biology. We discussed what the future of the Department should be and what its strengths should be and for a number of reasons one of the things we picked was plant science. Joe Varner was here. I don’t know if you knew Joe Varner. He came in this by luck. [He came to St. Louis for personal reasons.] So we recruited some wonderful plant scientists. Virginia Walbot was here and she was terrific.

Schlesinger:  I’ve just been in contact with her at Stanford because we’re both on AAAS Boards.

Danforth:  Mary-Dell Chilton was here and Roger Beachy was here.

Schlesinger:  Of course, Roger and I had been friends and colleagues for a long time.
Roger and I actually taught virology courses together.

Danforth:  Gradually people were recruited away.  After I retired, Mark [Wrighton] was looking for a new head of Biology and I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we made another run at plant science because it was so obvious how important plants were. It was so obvious that we in St. Louis had great basic life sciences that could be applicable to plants and we were in the midst of this big farm belt and so on.

Peter Raven, Ginny Weldon and I were in California for a meeting of the Report/Review Committee of the NRC and we got together in a bar and talked about rebuilding plant science. When we got back we started holding meetings. Mark came and Peter and Ginny brought some others from Monsanto and we invited the Dean of Agriculture from the University of Missouri at Columbia. Out of that came this Plant Science Center. The idea was that each of these institutions would strengthen its own plant science, really build it and then we’d have this new institution which would be regional – the whole would be greater than the sum of its parts. So, we got the Plant Science Center started and then we had a Search Committee. Ernie Jaworski, whom you probably know…

Schlesinger:  Of course.

Danforth:  Ernie Jaworski got it off the ground and then we had a Search Committee and went after Roger Beachy and he came.

Schlesinger:  I think I must have seen Roger just around the time he was both deciding and when he decided.

Danforth:  And then Ralph Quatrano came as head of the Department of Biology at Washington U. He’s a plant scientist and has been a very good department head.

Schlesinger:  I know some of the people at the Danforth Center who are very good. It’s been very exciting to see it grow and see what it’s doing. They brought in a number of people I knew and I’ve been very pleased to see how well it’s been doing.

Danforth:  Good.

Schlesinger:  I don’t want to end with the Institute for Human Gene Therapy but I’d like to hear some of your thoughts about it because you were asked to be on a committee – this was after Jesse Gelsinger died?

Danforth:  Jesse Gelsinger died and the University of Pennsylvania was getting a lot of flack and President Judith Rodin called me. I was in Antarctica. She called me and wanted to know if I would head this committee. So, I did, I said yes and so we went to the University of Pennsylvania and we talked to people and wrote a report.

Schlesinger:  Now I have both read and heard a lot of things about this as well and all of them surprised me at how bad they were – how the protocols weren’t followed, how people should have known that getting a high fever would have been very detrimental. Are my recollections correct?

Danforth:  Yes, I think we were pretty critical. A lot of things were unfortunate. The first thing is that most of the people with this syndrome, they’re born with it, die very quickly in infancy. The original idea was to experiment with those kids who were going to die anyway. The ethicist who reported to Wilson, it’s a funny thing, but the ethicist reported to the head of this operation. The ethicist said they couldn’t get informed consent [from infants] so they went to this teenager, Jesse Gelsinger who had an unusual form of the disease. He was apparently fed up with all that he went through and he wanted to be involved in the gene therapy experiment and his parents went along with it. Wilson and his collaborators were just hell-bent to do gene therapy and establish gene therapy as a standard treatment and they saw themselves as getting a lot of grants and making a lot of money out of this and they just sort of plunged ahead. They didn’t pick up on the warning signals that their protocols told them that they should have.

Schlesinger:  And, of course, that may have been the first but it wasn’t the last because in London, do you remember, two years later the same thing – not a disease, but a different treatment. The same thing happened. They had three or four people. The first people almost immediately began to have trouble and they still went on injecting them. It’s too bad because I think gene therapy has a lot of potential and it’s turning a lot of people off.

Danforth:  Yes, how good our report was I don’t really know. I’d been told afterwards that we didn’t know all the facts and I don’t really know if that’s really true or not.

Schlesinger:  But they didn’t tell you what the facts were that you didn’t know?

Danforth:  The charge had to do with cover-up. A lawyer who had advised the Gelsingers told me that.

Schlesinger:  You mean it was even worse than you had uncovered?

Danforth:  That is what he said, but I have no evidence.

Schlesinger:  It’s pretty bad what made at least the scientific journals. So, maybe it’s just as well you didn’t find anything else.  Well, we should end on something a little bit more positive than that. So, those are the ones that I had checked. Are there any other organizations or committees that you’re involved with that have given you pleasure as opposed to that one that must have been painful?

Danforth:  You know I used to tell people occasionally when they’d get sort of overloaded with things – if we didn’t have these problems we wouldn’t need you. [Laughter] So, this stem cell thing has been very consuming.

Schlesinger:  It’s not on your C.V. but I remember a few years ago when the Ethics Center ran the program with you on that. Why don’t you just summarize it a little bit. I mean I know about it but the people who will be reading this don’t. Let me just ask some very specific questions. How did you get so involved in this?

Danforth:  I don’t know, it just happened. Here I was and there was this problem. I was involved with something called a Coalition on Plant and Life Sciences which is an effort to provide the infrastructure to develop commercial activities out of the Life Sciences.

Schlesinger:  Well this is done so much.

Danforth:  When Jerry Cox and John Turner and others developed this switch for getting information quickly on and off the internet they tried for two years to start a company in St. Louis and they couldn’t do it so they went out to the Bay area and people immediately accepted them and they got their space and money and whatever they needed and in less than a year they sold the company for about $350,000,000 and the jobs and most of the money went out to the west coast. I thought we just can’t have a successful community [when organizations like that leave our area.] So we formed this Coalition for Plant and Life Sciences and we’ve been working on building the infrastructure so that this doesn’t happen again. We picked life sciences because our region has world-class life sciences. We began to work on some of the essentials for helping new companies get started and grow and prosper in this region. We worked on state policies, venture capital, facilities and so on. So, the political efforts to put in jail scientists or physicians or even patients using early stem cells threatened the future of the life sciences throughout the state. We thought it would be a disaster for Washington University and for the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City. That’s how I got involved. Donn Rubin, who has been heading up this, he’s been our Chairman and leader of our stem cell effort. I don’t know if you know Donn Rubin?

Schlesinger:  I know who he is.

Danforth:  He’s terrific and he was working with me on this other thing so we just moved over and started working on the stem cells.

Schlesinger:  Were you involved in setting up the building on Forest Park?

Danforth:  Yes, it’s called Cortex One. That spun out of this Coalition on Plant and Life Sciences. Again it’s just getting talented people. I asked John Dubinsky if he would head the facilities part of this effort and John said, “Tell me just what you want me to do?” I said, “John, if I knew what I wanted you to do, I’d do it myself.” [laughter] “I want you to figure it all out.” So, John has put in a huge amount of work and effort into that and so has Louis Levy, both on volunteer time. Louis Levy oversaw the building, all pro bono. It’s been an amazing, amazing thing and we’ve assembled a lot of land. We’ve worked with St. Louis U. and the University of Missouri in St. Louis and the Center for Emerging Technologies and the headquarters building of a company [called Solae which develops products from soy beans] going up there. So far that’s going well.

Schlesinger:  I know a few companies who have been involved in it and they’re happy.

Danforth:  So, it’s been great. This stem cell opposition, the most unpleasant thing about that is the combination of religion with the right wing of the Republican Party. I think that’s been one of the more unsavory things I’ve dealt with. I don’t like [mixing politics and religion.]

Schlesinger:  I can appreciate what you’re saying. I think many other people, even if you’re a Democrat don’t like it, I think for reasons that are good. There’s no reason for those two to be intertwined.

Danforth:  No, it’s very bad. I think it’s very bad. I think it’s very dangerous and I think it’s just not what our country should be standing for.

[At this point the recording of June 18, 2007 ends.]


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