Edward Crellin Pauling, 1937-1997

Crellin Pauling, 1991.

[Ed Note: June 4, 2012 marks what would have been the 75th birthday of Crellin Pauling, the youngest of Linus and Ava Helen Pauling’s four children.  In commemoration, we present today the first installment of a two part biography exploring Crellin’s life and work.]

A kind and gentle man, Crellin Pauling was a talented and well-liked teacher who enjoyed a long scientific career. Always interested in people, he would often interact with those he didn’t know, sharing his sense of humor while learning something interesting about those with whom he interacted. He was more than a scientist, husband, father, teacher and youngest son of Linus Pauling. He held a passion for life that was evident through his numerous hobbies, including traveling, fishing, sailing, gardening, cars and airplanes. His eldest daughter, Cheryl, describes him as being “just a wonderful person.”

The lengthiest portion of Crellin’s career was spent at the University of California – Riverside, where he was eventually promoted to Full Professor. Crellin mainly taught general biology to freshmen students at Riverside, but towards the end of his time there also started teaching general genetics, all the while conducting experiments in his lab with the support of a handful of student assistants.

Most of his research focused on DNA repair and replication, which was a huge interest of his. He discovered in E. coli the first DNA ligase mutant, which is a temperature sensitive mutant of E. coli. In 1975 he co-authored an article titled “The induction of error-prone repair as a consequence of DNA ligase deficiency in Escherichia coli.” The manuscript, written alongside Lawrence S. Morse from the department of microbiology at the University of Chicago, was reviewed by Linus Pauling and submitted for publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Crellin Pauling with a friend, 1940.

Born on June 4, 1937 at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, California, Edward Crellin Pauling – named after a steel magnate who donated the funds for Caltech’s Crellin Laboratory for research in organic chemistry – joined older siblings Linus Jr., Peter and Linda. Several anecdotes from his childhood, as recorded by his mother, suggest that Crellin possessed a nimble mind from a young age.  In November 1945, Ava Helen noted this interaction with her eight-year old son:

On Saturday, November 10, at the dinner table, I said to Crellin, ‘If we had a circle 10 inches in diameter, that is 10 inches across, what would be its circumference, that is, how long would a string have to be to go clear around the circle?’

In perhaps a minute Crellin said, ‘I think it would be 32 inches.’ I said, ‘That’s pretty good, how did you decide that it would be 32 inches?’ Crellin said, ‘Well, its 10 inches across and it would take about three of those to go around – that would be 30 inches – and then a little more would make 32 inches.’

Crellin attended Polytechnic Elementary and Junior High School in Pasadena, California from 1943 to 1950. One of his fondest memories of his childhood was getting to ride to school with his dad every morning, a chance to spend some quality time with his busy father. Crellin received satisfactory grades, often receiving his lowest marks in English and penmanship and his highest marks in history. His sixth grade teacher wrote, “Crellin is a pleasant, helpful member of the group. He should get better results in arithmetic. The homework in this subject is often carelessly done. He understands the processes and can quickly raise the grades with more careful work.” In 1949, he received a certificate of honor from the school for his work in choral music.

Peter, Linda and Crellin Pauling, 1946.

In 1950 Crellin moved to the Chadwick Boarding School in Palos Verdes, California and it is through his notes to home that we are now able to trace the development of his personality. In the letters that he sent, usually to his mother, Crellin discussed a series of roommate changes, his classes, his enjoyment of baseball and basketball, girls that he fancied and ideas for Christmas presents, always signing his name either “Crellie” or “Crelly” with multiple X’s and O’s.

As he moved into adolescence he developed a love of cars, often reminding his parents to have their own vehicles regularly inspected and to get frequent oil changes. In one letter to his mom, he wrote, “English makes a little better sense, but not much. This letter will be very short, because I must be doing some studying. I think I will go into art and model cars in clay.”

Crellin on the Queen Mary, headed to England, 1948.

Although the letters to his parents did not betray a high level of unhappiness, others recall Crellin as having hated boarding school. In the words of Crellin’s widow, Kay

He felt like when Linda went off to Reed that he was the only child left at home and his parents didn’t want to deal with him so they put him in boarding school so his mother could be free to travel as much as she wanted to with Daddy. He finally talked them into letting him come back home and he graduated from high school in Pasadena.

Indeed, Crellin was twelve years younger than his oldest brother Linus Jr. and five years younger than his closest sibling Linda. As a result, a sense of isolation brought about by his age permeated many of Crellin’s feelings about his childhood.


The Pauling family in Sweden for the Nobel Chemistry Prize ceremony, 1954. Crellin stands second from left.

Following high school, Crellin began his university studies at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, where he intended to major in chemistry, but ended up graduating with a degree in biology. At Reed, Crellin generally enjoyed himself a great deal, reading books about chemistry and physics, while diving into courses in mathematics and genetics. Crellin was also active theater at Reed, most notably playing a role in “The Mikado,” a comic opera set in Japan. Throughout his first couple of years, he hinted at the possibility of changing his major to philosophy or another discipline in the liberal arts because he no longer felt interested in chemistry but intended to go to medical school after graduation.  In the end he stayed in the sciences, a decision that surely pleased his parents.

Having settled on a course of study, Crellin also began spending a great deal of time with one of his classmates, Lucy Neilan Mills, an art major. Lucy, who was from Evanston, Illinois, was a talented artist and knitter who enjoyed pottery, cooking and playing the piano. Crellin hoped that his parents would like her as she “approached his ideals quite nicely.” Shortly after telling his mother that he was in love with Lucy, the couple were married at Lucy’s grandmother’s house in Oswego, Oregon on November 21, 1956. The Christian ceremony included forty of the couple’s closest friends, although Crellin was upset that his parents were not able to attend. The two were in love and looked forward to buying a house together and starting a family.

Lucy Neilan Mills and Crellin Pauling on their wedding day, 1956.

A short time later, Crellin and Lucy’s first child, Cheryl, was born.  Still students, the young parents moved into an apartment on SE Clinton Street in Portland, while Lucy took a French literature course and Crellin took plant evolution, animal physiology and humanities classes. Crellin seemed to be thrilled with fatherhood, telling his parents all about Cheryl and mentioning that, “she is growing day by day. She has suddenly decided that she likes to sleep twelve hours a night.” In his letters Crellin recounted Cheryl being able to flip herself over from tummy to back and becoming quite vocal by cooing, which was a hit around school. “We are very proud of her and are very happy to have her,” he wrote.

By the end of his junior year, Crellin had passed his exams and chosen his thesis mentor, Dr. Gwilliam, who was an invertebrate zoologist. Crellin decided that he was interested in two fields, physiology and invertebrates, specifically marine zoology. At this time, he considered graduate school at either Berkeley or the University of Washington and looked forward to spending the summer in Pasadena, where Lucy would be able to take piano lessons and he could land an enjoyable summer job working with one of his favorite immunologists.

A few months later, on October 18, 1958, the couple’s second child, Kirstin, was born, while Cheryl was now learning how to hold her own spoon and cup and was almost potty-trained. Crellin graduated from Reed in 1959 and then the family moved to Seattle, as he had decided on the University of Washington for graduate school.


Crellin Pauling with his mother, Pasadena, 1950s.

Crellin remained in regular contact with his parents during the family’s time in Seattle, telling them all about how school was going and how well their apartment was shaping up. He also wrote frequently to his brother Peter, who was in London. Crellin and Lucy attended a Unitarian church and he was happy as a graduate student, enjoying the fact that a few of his friends from Reed had also decided to attend UW.  In his correspondence he often pondered scientific topics, noting in one letter to his parents,

There certainly are some interesting questions to think about. The present idea of a chromosome is that it consists of a protein backbone with the DNA as little side chains. The question of separation of the two strands of DNA is interesting; I wonder if the segment completely uncoils, or if there is some process of breakdown and reformation.

As his studies advanced he felt ever more confident in his decision to come to UW, remarking in particular that the courses were of “quite good caliber.”  And as always, the updates to home included details on life and family: plans for Christmas break in Pasadena, excitement in seeing Kirstin starting to talk, a recent sailing trip on Lake Washington. As the end of 1959 approached, Crellin was busy preparing for finals and discussing research topics with Dr. Motulsky, while Lucy took care of the children and sewed Christmas presents.


Cheryl Pauling, age 4 months, doing some exploring. 1957.

Crellin loved being a father, speaking often and affectionately about his children. Kay Pauling recalled, “I have never known a man who loved and devoted his time to his kids as much as Crellin did.” In a typical letter to his parents, Crellin wrote, “Our kids are growing by leaps and bounds. Kirstin sprouted a couple of teeth the other day and Cheryl is a real rambunctious little rascal, full of spirits. I am still amazed at the completeness of her vocabulary, and of her ability to form sentences.”

The family expanded on December 31, 1960 when Edward Crellin Pauling, Jr. was born, a boy described by Crellin as having bright blues eyes and being, “very handsome and very, very good.” He didn’t cry much as a baby and his sisters were keenly interested in him, always wanting to hold him. Crellin loved watching the children ride their trikes and was impressed with how Cheryl seemed to be developing a “quite sensitive nature with regard to music.” He was likewise enthralled with living in Seattle and was excited to someday start a vegetable garden and have a lawn to mow. As summer 1961 approached, the family made plans to go on a picnic for Cheryl’s birthday and Crellin said that she would be “tinkled pink” if her grandparents could come.

Pauling family picnic, 1950s.

In an oral history interview conducted many years later, Cheryl reflected on her childhood with her dad by reminiscing about sitting on her father’s lap while he played solitaire and taking family trips to the Pauling home at Deer Flat Ranch. She also noted her father’s capacity for innovative thinking:

He was really crafty in a way I didn’t realize until later, as I look back. I remember one time when we went to the ranch he made kites for us out of balsa wood, string and newspapers. And when I was really little, I remember he used to make Christmas ornaments – at least for more than one year he made Christmas ornaments with toothpicks by gluing tissue paper on them and getting tetrahedral shapes and things like that.

Deer Flat Ranch, where Linus and Ava Helen lived, was full of great memories, especially for the grandchildren, because it was within walking distance to the beach, it had a long and steep driveway that was perfect for running down, there were cows to ponder and, of course, plenty of family. Cheryl recalled that the ranch, “was always special, because we were always going to see either Grandmamma or the cousins, so aside from the fact that the ranch was a beautiful place to be, it was always fun. There were always other family members there that we were looking forward to seeing.” Crellin loved being at the ranch and was always busy with a project, using the chainsaw and doing anything hands-on, only rarely sitting around reading or studying.


Crellin Pauling speaking at his father’s sixtieth birthday celebration, 1961.

By 1963 Crellin had progressed in his studies at UW and was looking toward the future and his next pursuits. He considered taking a job in New Zealand or Hawaii, but decided instead to opt for a post-doctorate degree in biophysics, which he eventually did complete at Stanford, working on DNA repair with Professor Phil Hanawalt.

But before Stanford, Crellin needed to complete a lengthy experiment on optical densities. He was heavily invested in this project, writing that

the past six months have been the most productive in my career in terms of results per unit experiment. I am feeling pretty good, actually. I have lots of ideas, and plenty of things to do after I get out. I’m kind of anxious to get out, although I’m not particularly anxious to leave Seattle.

By the end of his time at Washington, Crellin was still greatly enamored with his children, mentioning in a letter that he was looking forward to buying Crellin Jr. a go-kart, for the enjoyment of them both. More than anything, Crellin looked forward to getting his degree and starting something new, although he knew he was going to miss the Pacific Northwest.

2 Responses

  1. Happy Birthday, Papa. I miss you!!

  2. Hi, Crellin was my graduate advisor at UCR from 1969-1971 when I completed my master’s degree. I also took a few undergraduate micro classes from him as well. On a whim I goggled him and was sadden to find out that he had passed on. He was a good man from whom I learned much about academia, micro, and research. I remember him as always upbeat, generous, and a great mentor. I’d have to say those years under Crellin’s tutelage were foundational for me, and established a career of life long learning. I also remember following Crellin and Kay’s courtship during my years at UCR as well. Great to see how happy they were together.
    Dr. Chuck Zimmerly
    Director, Intermountain Center for Education Effectiveness
    Idaho State University
    zimmchar@isu.edu

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