Out of Ashes, the Phoenix Rose

Linus Pauling Jr., October 14, 2011.

Linus Pauling Jr., October 14, 2011.

[Coda to our history of the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine]

Linus Pauling Science Center grand opening Keynote Address, by Linus Pauling Jr., MD. October 14, 2011.

This is a very personal account of the background that has miraculously led to this wonderful, beautiful and exciting building, I title it: OUT OF ASHES THE PHOENIX ROSE.

It was back in the spring of 1991, just over 20 years ago now, that I sat down to talk with my father at his Big Sur ranch on the rugged California coast. For many years, in fact since my mother died a decade earlier, my wife and I had made a pilgrimage to the ranch to be with my father and celebrate our three birthdays, which fortuitously fell within a two-week period.

I had been on the Board since the Palo Alto Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine’s inception in 1973, so at our 1991 meeting I knew the situation had become desperate. My father, who for all his earlier life had been full of remarkable energy and ambition, now at 90 had lost that energy and was making mistakes in judgment. He was ill with the cancer that would kill him three years later.

LPISM was failing: half a million dollars of debt, laboratory research had vanished for lack of incentive and direction, donor income was being diverted to non-nutritional investigations, there were no research grants and morale was in the basement.

As his oldest son, I could not just stand by and watch this great man’s efforts of the past quarter century go down the drain, along with his reputation. If the Institute failed, all the naysayers would crow and describe him as a senile crackpot in spite of his astonishing lifetime achievements. Additionally, the thousands of donors over the years and the makers of future bequests would feel betrayed. It was obvious he needed help. As his son, I felt it was necessary to provide that help and it felt good to me to try.

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So we had to talk. Early in my life I realized that my father was a very special person with talents I could never hope to emulate. That was emphasized by this story which I enjoy telling. When I was about 15, my father was writing an introductory chemistry textbook for Caltech freshmen, the best and brightest college freshmen, the cream of the crop. At the end of each chapter were questions. He asked me to read a chapter and answer the questions. I tried, valiantly, but I did not understand the text and could not answer a single question. When my mother heard about this, she hurried down to the Pasadena City Hall to have my name officially changed from Linus Carl Pauling to Linus Carl Pauling Jr. so no one could possibly mistake me for him.

At least I had sense enough to follow a very different track from my father, one that eventually gave me skills that now could be used to help him as my thanks to him for bringing me into the world.

It was now or never, so I boldly waded in. He and I discussed the future, starting with the past. I talked about his amazing life with his multiple triumphs in so many and so very diverse arenas.

His fame was world-wide, originating with the scientific community. I pointed out that he was arguably the first, and certainly the most successful, bridge-builder between chemistry, mathematics, physics, medicine and biology, linking these disciplines to create what is now the most popular science of all, molecular biology. One result of his creativity, hard work and dedication to science, as you all know, was the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

It was during this time period that his interest in nutrition originated, spurred by his own life-threatening kidney disease. Thanks to a rigid diet prescribed by Stanford Medical School nephrologist Dr. Thomas Addis at a time long before renal dialysis, and carefully supervised by my mother, my father not only survived a usually fatal disease but recovered completely.

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After World War II, prompted by my politically-liberal mother whom he certainly loved deeply and wanted to please, he embarked on a spectacularly successful two decades of humanitarian effort, educating the governments of the world and, necessarily, their peoples, about the evils of war and the dangers associated with unrestricted exposure to radiation, especially that produced by the hundreds of nuclear bomb tests being conducted. He suffered vilification by many from all parts of the world. He was hounded by the FBI and the United States government.

His crowning moment of glory, at least in my estimation, was his indomitable courage in confronting those nasty witch hunters, the United States Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, when facing imprisonment when he refused to disclose the names of his ban-the-bomb United Nations petition assistants. He knew that these conscientious people, most of them scientists, would be less able than he was to defend themselves from accusations and loss of employment. The Subcommittee, when faced by my father’s public popularity, courage, remarkable memory and command of facts, then backed off, their collective tail between their legs. His world-wide influence was so extensive and the result so positive that he was eventually awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

So what was next for him? His old interest in nutrition as a factor in health and well-being resurfaced. Starting with vitamin C, he promoted nutrient research and encountered resistance from university, medical and government bureaucracies. He turned to the public, writing article after article and giving hundreds of talks, with the result of an explosion in popular food supplement usage. But research remained a fundamental necessity, so the private nonprofit Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine was founded in 1973 and initially showed promise.

By the time of our talk in 1991, LPISM’s outlook was dismal.

At age 90, my father was tired and dispirited. Being fully occupied with his own illness, he was unwilling to devote energy to coping with his Institute’s problems. I said to him that I could not in good conscience stand by and see his eponymous Institute go down in ignominious defeat. With his incredibly illustrious past, I felt strongly that he deserved more than that. And maybe, just maybe, I could do something about it.

We decided, together, that if the Institute, and also his reputation, were to survive, the best course of action was for the Institute to affiliate with a reputable university. That would ensure the rigorous scientific attitude and protocol necessary to legitimize micronutrient research in the future. And, most important of all, we had to be ethically responsible to the thousands of past, present and future donors who believed in my father and supported the Institute. We could not let them down.

I had just retired from 35 years of the practice of psychiatry, so I had the time and energy to devote to other endeavors. After discussion with my wife, I decided to offer to take over management of the Institute. I had to have my wife’s agreement, because I was planning to spend considerable time in Palo Alto, a long way from my home in Honolulu.

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To his credit and with an audible sigh of relief, my father agreed. We discussed affiliation possibilities, Stanford and Caltech among them. He seemed, however, to favor Oregon State University, his undergraduate alma mater, to which he had already committed his scientific papers. If you haven’t already, you should check out the Pauling Papers at the OSU Valley Library Special Collections website. You will be impressed.

During the next years, I became President and Chairman of the Board of LPISM. We reorganized radically and survived many trials and tribulations. My essential second in command Steve Lawson and I visited many universities.

OSU, thanks to then President John Byrne, Development Director John Evey and Dean of Research Dick Scanlan, was our clear and undisputed choice.

And what a great choice it was! Here now, before us, 15 years later, is the Linus Pauling Science Center, dedicated to highest-quality research in scientific areas that would surely be of interest to my father. I’m sure, if he were here, he would have tears of joy in his eyes just as I do.

I want to thank OSU President Ed Ray, Dean Sherman Bloomer, LPI Director Balz Frei, architect Joe Collins, the many others in the system who have participated in making this possible, all the donors and the people of the great state of Oregon. I specifically thank the key major donors, Tammy Valley and Pat Reser, for allowing Linus Pauling’s name to be on this beautiful building. That is a very unusual act of generosity.

It will be a great future. Thank you all with my whole heart.

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