This article was posted on the web site of the British Crystallographic Association and is based on one in the Fall 1995 ACA Newsletter

Remembering Dorothy Hodgkin

The first time I met Dorothy was in Auburn, Alabama, in the summer of 1948, when she was visiting the United States for the first International Congress of Crystallography; the second time was some eight months later, in Oxford. That we were in Oxford was Dorothy's doing. We had left Alabama in unusual circumstances, almost as refugees, and that David had a subsequent career in crystallography was largely owing to Dorothy. She was a very great arranger. She found room for David in her laboratory, she arranged for his admission to Balliol so that he could matriculate for a DPhil, and when the Fulbright people announced that there would be no science fellowships given in Britain that year, Dorothy - who had heard a rumor of this - had already "taken the liberty," to use her own words, of arranging for a Rockefeller grant for David's support. The extraordinary thoughtfulness was typical of Dorothy.

We had a marvelous time in Oxford. We rented a 6-bedroom furnished house just north of the Parks, and took in lodgers to pay the rent. Dorothy didn't really approve of this grandiosity; in her eyes, I think, I was then and forever a typical spoiled American brat. But one way and another it all worked out. I had a job editing children's books at the Oxford University Press, for six pounds a week - a miraculous job, magically available for one year only. I did some odd jobs for Thomas Hodgkin at the University Extramural Delegacy. David did the structure of lumisterol, and - more important by far - was having ideas about the phase problem which emerged in his thesis. Altogether, for some of the best and happiest years of our lives, we are forever indebted to Dorothy.

We are far from the only people so indebted. What should be remembered about Dorothy forever is what she did for so many people. That she was an inspired teacher is demonstrated by the creative lives of those whom she taught. But she taught so much more than science, by which I mean that extraordinary and illuminating humaneness once characteristic of the world of crystallography because of the example and guidance of such as she.

I refer, of course, to what might be called an Age of Innocence, when crystallography occupied a small, rather overlooked, certainly obscure corner in the world of science. It was very small indeed - in those days a meeting such as this one could be held in a large living room; an international congress drew from all over the world a scant 200 people. All crystallographers knew each other; they were neighbors; they were closer than that - siblings, you might say, brothers and sisters sharing a family ambition for a field of science, and very little motivated by a drive for personal power. Competitiveness had not yet set in. This small society, this group of friends, learned from its teachers, from none more than Dorothy, the delight of sharing and caring, the positive joy of mutual helpfulness and supportiveness, of kindness and responsibility towards each other. It is impossible to express in contemporary terms the nature of that society - its warmth, its openness, its pervasive sense of fun: indeed, its radiance.

There was not always perfect agreement: I speak of humans, not angels. When I decided to write about Rosalind Franklin's DNA work, Dorothy was discouraging, I think partly because she felt I was diving into waters too deep for me to swim in. But she was not herself confrontational. She had her ways, often very effective, of dealing with situations, wasting no energy on fruitless clashes or time on what was beyond rectifying. her comments on the manuscript of Rosalind Franklin and DNA were sparse, and limited to technical points - discussion of what I was trying to do came from Thomas. But this too Dorothy taught by her example - that being of one mind was not necessary, but that honesty was essential, and always to be respected.

We live now in a rougher world and a harsher climate, but that makes it all the more important to remember kinder and more generous times. Nothing is the same; certainly the world of crystallography has vastly changed. It is a large world now, and a powerful one; in productivity it has more than surpassed the hopes of those who worked with enthusiasm and faith and very primitive tools. It is too romantic to recollect the history of crystallography as an Eden lost, but it would be good and useful to remember that it was a kindly place to live, an oasis of civility, but not interested, really, in its potential for fetching in fame, riches, or glory. Those were good times. They couldn't last; they didn't. But I am truly sorry for those of you too young to have enjoyed that sweeter time; you'd have liked it.

The good times were not accidental. They were created by Dorothy, and by those like her. Few were her equal in generosity of spirit, breadth of mind, cultivated humaneness, or gift for giving. She should be remembered not only for a lifetime's succession of brilliantly achieved structures. While those who knew her, experienced her quiet and modest and extremely powerful influence, learned from her more than the positioning of atoms in the three-dimensional molecule, she will be remembered not only with respect, and reverence, and gratitude, but more than anything else, with love. Let that be her lasting memorial.

Anne Sayre
July 25, 1995

Editor's Notes:

  • We are grateful to Anne Sayre, and to the editor of the ACA Newsletter for permission to reprint this article which first appeared in the ACA Fall 95 Newsletter.
  • Other articles by or relating to Anne Sayre:
    • The book Rosalind Franklin and DNA Anne Sayre pub. 1975 W. W. Norton, New York ISBN 0-393-00868-1 gives further insight into the work on which the discovery of the double helix was based and Rosalind Franklin's life, written by her friend Anne Sayre trying to correct some of the statements made in Watson's book on 'The Double Helix'.
    • Obituary by David Sayre, first appeared in the Summer 1998 ACA newsletter