Pauling’s Final Years

1917i.25

Pauling posing at lower campus, Oregon Agricultural College, ca. 1917.

[An examination of the end of Linus Pauling’s life, part 1 of 4]

In 1917, at sixteen years of age, Linus Pauling wrote in his personal diary that he was beginning a personal history. “My children and grandchildren will without doubt hear of the events in my life with the same relish with which I read the scattered fragments written by my granddad,” he considered.

By the time of his death, some seventy-seven years later, Pauling had more than fulfilled this prophecy. After an extraordinarily full life filled with political activism, scientific research, and persistent controversy, Pauling’s achievements were remembered not only by his children, grandchildren and many friends, but also by an untold legion of people whom Pauling himself never met.

Passing away on August 19th 1994 at the age of 93, Pauling’s name joined those of his wife and other family members at the Oswego Pioneer Cemetery in Oregon. What follows is an account of the final three years of his life.


 

1991i.217

Linus Pauling, 1991.

In 1991, Pauling first learned of the cancer that would ultimately take his life. Having experiencing bouts of chronic intestinal pain, Pauling underwent a series of tests at Stanford Hospital that December. The diagnosis that he received was grim: he had cancer of the prostate, and the disease had spread to his rectum.

Between 1991 and 1992, Pauling underwent a series of surgeries, including the excision of a tumor by resection, a bilateral orchiectomy, and subsequent hormone treatments using a nonsteroidal antiandrogen called flutamide. During this time, Pauling also self-treated his illness with megadoses of vitamin C, a protocol that he favored not only for its perceived orthomolecular benefits, but also as a more humane form of treatment than chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Pauling’s interest in nutrition dated to at least the early 1940s, when he had faced another life-threatening disease, this time a kidney affliction called glomerulonephritis. Absent the aid of contemporary treatments like renal dialysis – which was first put into use in 1943 – Pauling’s survival hinged upon a rigid diet prescribed by Stanford Medical School nephrologist, Dr. Thomas Addis.  At the time a radical approach to the treatment of this disease, Addis’ prescription that Pauling minimize stress on his kidneys by limiting his protein and salt intake, while also increasing the amount of water that he drank, saved Pauling’s life and led to his making a full recovery. Though his famous fascination with vitamin C would not emerge until a couple of decades later, Pauling’s nephritis scare instilled in him a belief that dietary control and optimal nutrition might effectively combat a myriad of diseases. This scientific mantra continued to guide Pauling’s self-treatment of his cancer until nearly the end of his life.

Pauling also believed that using vitamin C as a treatment would, as opposed to chemotherapy, allow him to die with dignity. Were his condition terminal and his outlook essentially hopeless, Pauling felt very strongly that he should be permitted to pass on without “unnecessary suffering.” Pauling’s wife, Ava Helen, had died of cancer in December 1981. She too had refused chemotherapy and other conventional approaches for much of her illness, a time period during which Linus Pauling had helped his wife the only way he knew how: by administering a treatment involving megadoses of vitamin C. This attempt ultimately failed and, by his own admission, Pauling never really recovered from his wife’s passing.

Nonetheless, Pauling continued to lead research efforts to substantiate the value of vitamin C as a preventive for cancer and heart disease in his capacity as chairman of the board of the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine (LPISM). By the time of his own diagnosis in 1991 however, the Institute was in a desperate financial situation, several hundred thousand dollars in debt and lacking the funds necessary to pay its staff.


 

lawson-lpj

In 1992, while he recovered from his surgeries and managed his illness, Pauling continued to act as chairman of the board of the LPISM. No longer able to live entirely on his own, he split his time between his son Crellin’s home in Portola Valley, California, and his beloved Deer Flat Ranch at Big Sur. When at the ranch, Pauling was cared for in an unofficial capacity by his scientific colleague, Matthias Rath. Pauling was first visited by Rath, a physician, in 1989, having met him years earlier in Germany while on a peace tour. Rath was also interested in vitamin C, and Pauling took him on as a researcher at the Institute. There, the duo collaborated on investigations concerning the influence of lipoproteins and vitamin C on cardiovascular disease.

Not long after Pauling’s cancer diagnosis, a professor at UCLA, Dr. James Enstrom, published epidemiological studies showing that 500 mg doses of vitamin C could extend life by protecting against heart disease and also various cancers. This caused a resurgence of interest in orthomolecular medicine, and it seemed that Pauling and Rath’s vision for the future of the Institute was looking brighter.

As it happened, this bit of good news proved to be too little and too late. LPISM had already begun to disintegrate financially, its staff cut by a third. The Institute’s vice president, Richard Hicks, resigned his position, and Rath, as Pauling’s protégé, was appointed in his place. Following this, the outgoing president of LPISM, Emile Zuckerlandl, was succeeded by Pauling’s eldest son, Linus Pauling Jr. Finally Pauling, his health in decline, announced his retirement as chairman of the board and was named research director, with Steve Lawson appointed as executive officer to assist in the day-to-day management of what remained of the Institute.

One day prior to his retirement as board chairman, Pauling signed a document in which he requested that Rath carry on his “life’s work.” Linus Pauling Jr. and Steve Lawson, however, had become concerned about Rath’s role at the Institute, and particularly on the issue of a patent agreement that Rath had neglected to sign. Adhering to the patent document was a requirement for every employee at the Institute, including Linus Pauling himself. When pressed on the issue, Rath opted to resign his position, and was succeeded as vice president by Stephen Maddox, a fundraiser at LPISM.

After this transition, Pauling met with Linus Jr. to discuss the Institute’s dire straits. Pauling’s youngest son, Crellin, had also became more active with the Institute as his father’s illness progressed, in part because he had been assigned the role of executor of Pauling’s will. Together, Crellin, Linus Jr., and Steve Lawson struggled to identify a path forward for LPISM. Eventually it was decided that associating the Institute with a university, and focusing its research on orthomolecular medicine as a lasting legacy to Pauling’s work, would be the most viable avenue for keeping the Institute alive. The decision to associate the organization with Oregon State University, Pauling’s undergraduate alma mater, had not been made by the time that Pauling passed away.

Pauling’s Last Year as a Grad Student

Ava Helen and Linus Pauling, 1924.

Ava Helen and Linus Pauling, 1924.

[Part 3 of 3]

Pauling’s final year of graduate school at the California Institute of Technology, 1924-1925, was quite busy.  During this last phase of his student experience, Pauling’s primary research interests centered on hematite, corundum, and beta-alumina, though a great deal more professional and personal growth can be traced to this time in the budding young scholar’s life.

In his work on corundum and hematite, Pauling was assisted by Sterling B. Hendricks, a Texan who had received his master’s degree from Kansas State in 1924 was now in Pasadena, working on his PhD.  Hendricks became a close associate and personal friend of Pauling’s and, with their mentor Roscoe Dickinson away on a research trip, Pauling became Hendricks’ unofficial adviser. Such was Pauling’s influence that, later in life, Hendricks would come to consider himself to be “Linus’s first student.”

Together, Pauling and Hendricks worked on a theoretical paper that pieced together much of the work that they had completed over the previous year and a half. The paper was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS) in March 1926 (nearly a year after Pauling had completed his PhD) and titled “The Prediction of the Relative Stabilities of Isosteric Isomeric Ions and Molecules.”  The paper was a milestone in that it was Pauling’s first paper devoted solely to the subject of the chemical bond.

It was not, however, the first paper that Hendricks and Pauling had co-authored. In 1925 the duo worked together to publish two sets of crystal structures: “The crystal structures of hematite and corundum” (March 1925) and “The crystal structures of sodium and potassium trinitrides and potassium cyanate, and the nature of the trinitride group” (December 1925).  During his last year of grad school, Pauling also collaborated with his friend and former roommate, Paul Emmett, on an X-ray determination of the crystal structure of barite.  Their article, which was published in JACS in April 1925, is another example of Pauling’s work that corrected previous published structures.

Peter Debye, 1926.

Peter Debye, 1926.

On top of the research that he was doing on crystal structures, Pauling also toyed with an idea in which he applied the Debye-Hückel theory, which was used to determine the energy coefficient of ions in dilute solutions. When he learned of this work, A.A. Noyes invited Peter Debye, who was based in Switzerland, to visit Caltech, in part to have him discuss his theory with Pauling. And although Pauling never published his original idea, in July 1925 Debye and Pauling did co-author a different paper, “The Inter-Ionic Attraction Theory of Ionized Solutes.  IV.  The Influence of Variation of Dielectric Constant on the Limiting Law for Small Concentrations.”  Appearing in JACS, the article was a contribution to a larger series published by the journal on the inter-ionic attraction theory of ionized solutes.


Later on in his life, Pauling developed a reputation for staying on top of the latest findings and issuing an informed opinion on a wide range of scientific topics.  This character trait was likely spurred by an experience that he had as a graduate student.

Early on in his graduate career, one of Pauling’s more influential professors, Richard C. Tolman, posed to him a question about diamagnetism. Pauling responded that diamagnetism was just a general property of matter, a lackluster reply that made clear that Pauling had not stayed current with the literature. Tolman kept questioning Pauling for more specific details until Pauling finally answered, “I don’t know.”  For this he was reprimanded by a Caltech post-doc who told him, “You are a graduate student now, and you’re supposed to know everything.” This was advice that Pauling took to heart and that made a big difference throughout his career in science.


The Paulings, 1925.

The Paulings, 1925.

Nearing the end of his graduate school tenure, Pauling read G.L. Clark’s paper on uranyl nitrate hexahydrate and, as he went, he corrected it.  This was a continuation of the critical reading habits that he had first developed at Oregon Agricultural College and had continued to hone by lantern light while working for the Oregon Highway Department the summer prior to his enrollment at Caltech. It was likewise a practice that he would continue throughout his career: closely reading papers and correcting errors, often by letting the author or publisher know what he had found.

By this time, with Roscoe Dickinson away, Pauling had taken up some of his mentor’s responsibilities in the lab and, as with Sterling Hendricks, was serving as an ad hoc advisor to several students.

Likewise, with Dickinson gone, Pauling began to develop his own techniques to aid in crystal structure determinations. A methodology that was quite different from the formal instruction that he had received, Pauling’s approach used atomic sizes and chemical behaviors to approximate reasonable structures for molecules.  After determining these possible structures, Pauling then used X-ray data to eliminate unlikely possibilities and to isolate the best possible structure for a particular substance.  As it turned out, this approach to scientific inquiry already had a name, the stochastic method, and Pauling ultimately put it to effective use across many different disciplines.


Linus Jr. and Ava Helen, 1925.

Linus Jr. and Ava Helen, 1925.

Pauling’s last year as a grad student also included big changes in his personal life.  After marrying in the summer of 1923, Ava Helen Pauling moved to Pasadena with her husband and kept house while he finished his degree. In the early years of their marriage, these duties also routinely included helping “keep house” in the laboratory, particularly by recording data and taking notes. Pauling’s research notebooks from these years are full of her handwriting, even including one note reminding Linus that she loved him.

In the midst of all his coursework and research, and as Pauling was wrapping up his last Winter term at Caltech, another big change came about when the Paulings’ first child, Linus Jr., was born on March 10, 1925.  By this time, Ava Helen was mostly excused from laboratory duty and focused her energies primarily on raising her children (ultimately there would be four) thus creating an atmosphere at home in which Linus could be as productive as possible.


Graduation day, 1925.

Graduation day, 1925.

Linus Pauling completed his PhD in chemistry in June 1925, tacking on minors in physics and mathematics as well. His dissertation, titled “The Determination with X-rays of the Structure of Crystals,” consisted of a compilation of articles that he had previously published with little more than new pagination connecting them together as a whole.

The summer after graduation, A.A. Noyes helped Pauling to secure a research fellowship that would enable him to stay at CIT and complete a research study on complex fluorides.  Pauling continued in this vein for the next eight months, during which time he began to make plans to leave Caltech to study as a post-doc at Berkeley, where he thought he might pursue a new set of experiments in G.N. Lewis’ lab, using funding from a National Research Fellowship that he had received.

Not wanting to lose Pauling to Berkeley and Lewis, Noyes managed to arrange for Pauling to remain in Pasadena in order to complete additional unfinished work on crystal structures.  Fortunately for Noyes, at the end of 1925, when the Guggenheim Fellowships were announced, Pauling was finally chosen for funding, having at last reached the program’s required minimum age.  At Noyes’s urging, Pauling resigned from his National Research Fellowship once he had received the good news from the Guggenheim Foundation. From there, Linus and Ava Helen took an important trip to Europe and ultimately returned to Caltech, their institutional home for the next thirty-six years.

A Christmas Memory

Linus Pauling, Jr.'s first Christmas, 1925.

Linus Pauling, Jr.’s first Christmas, 1925.

[Recollections on Christmas in the Pauling household, as compiled from an oral history interview with Linus Pauling, Jr., June 2012.]

[As an undergraduate] at Pomona…I was serving dinners to some of my classmates, these big trays loaded with plates. They were prepared in the kitchen and carried out and distributed around. So I was pretty good at that.

Anyway, in the dining hall – which was the famous Frary Dining Hall at Pomona which has a huge Roscoe painting of Prometheus which is famous in art circles – the dining room brought in a beautiful Christmas tree about twenty feet high with delicate pine cones on the branches.

A few days before Christmas, the college emptied out of course, everybody went home. Since I was a member of the dining room staff, I said ‘what’s going to happen to the tree?’ ‘We’re gonna throw it out into the dumpster.’ So I said, ‘Can I have it?’ ‘Sure.’

So my ’32 Ford Roadster had a windshield that would fold down flat against the hood. I drove up to the dining room, got the tree, laid it out across the car – and you know it was longer than the car was – and beside me in the passenger side with the windshield down, drove back to Pasadena with this tree on my car and set it up in the living room in the Fairpoint Street house.

The living room there had ceilings that were about twelve feet high which was pretty good, but not quite good enough for this tree. I had to chop off some of the top and some of the bottom to get it to fit, but it was probably the most magnificent tree they ever had in there.

The traditional Christmas was that, when I was a kid, the household would go on absolutely normally through Christmas Eve with no sign of any particular holiday spirit. Then somehow, on Christmas morning, I’d wake up and here was the tree fully decorated with the lights and presents and so on. I wondered how this happened. Finally, when I was six or seven, I got old enough to realize that somebody had done all this and then I became party to the adventure.

It turned out that on Christmas Eve, my father would go out late in the evening. By then, all of the itinerant Christmas tree salesmen had left, leaving their leftover trees in the lot to be thrown out. So we’d roam around Pasadena looking at all of these trees in these now-deserted lots and find one we liked, take it, put it on the car, and drive home.

Then there’d be frantic activity through the night to put on the lights and the decorations, the ornaments, and bring out the presents for the younger siblings to wake up and be amazed at. So the same thing, I presume, happened to them to the right level.

All that came to a halt finally, probably with Crellin being old enough. That was really exciting and one of the fun parts of Christmas. I never followed that with my own children. Christmas got going early and they were exposed to it for a longer time.

The tree stayed up until after New Years. It was too nice, too beautiful, to think about taking down right away.

Christmas morning, 1980.

Christmas morning, 1980.

This is our last post for 2014 – see you in January!

Oslo Bound

Celebrating with friends, December 1963.

Celebrating with friends, December 1963.

While letters congratulating Linus Pauling for winning the 1962 Nobel Peace Prize continued to pour into his office early in December 1963, the debate in the press over whether Pauling deserved the Nobel had begun to cool down. Meanwhile, closer to home in southern California, friends and colleagues of Pauling and his wife Ava Helen honored the pair for their activism at several events.

On December 1st, eight activist groups, including Women Strike for Peace, the American Friends Service Committee, SANE, and the Youth Action Committee, held a public reception for the Paulings at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in Los Angeles. The Paulings also opened their home to celebrate with friends and former students. The celebrants made banners to honor the Paulings, one reading, “We knew you when you only had one.” Another took on a more mathematical form: “LP plus AHP equals PAX plus 2 Nobels.”

While the Pauling’s attended celebrations in their honor, they were obliged to refuse other offers as they prepared for their trip. A Caltech student requested that Pauling give a farewell speech before leaving for Scandinavia. Turning down the request, Pauling would tell the Associated Press a few days later that he was not giving any speeches before he accepted his Nobel Prize so as not to “be tempted to let something drop beforehand.”

Flyer for the Biology Department coffee hour honoring Pauling's receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. December 3, 1963.

Flyer for the Biology Department coffee hour honoring Pauling’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. December 3, 1963.

It is, of course, entirely possible that something else was in play with respect to Pauling’s refusal to speak at Caltech.  Much has been made of Caltech’s official non-response to Pauling’s Nobel Peace award.  Indeed, the only recognition that occurred at all on the Pasadena campus was a small coffee hour hosted by the Biology Department. The fact that his own department, to say nothing of the larger institution, chose to ignore this major decoration was deeply hurtful to Pauling. By December Pauling had already announced his departure from Caltech, his academic home of some forty-one years. But the cold shoulder that he received from all but the Biology Department was suggestive of tensions that had been mounting for some time and proved a fitting, if bitter, capstone to this unhappy phase of his relationship with the Institute.


Three Linus Paulings. From left, grandson Linus Fowler Pauling, Linus Pauling and Linus Pauling Jr. 1963.

Three Linus Paulings. From left, grandson Linus Fowler Pauling, Linus Pauling and Linus Pauling Jr. 1963.

For their part, mainstream journalists had finally begun to take a more amicable and celebratory approach to their portrayals of Pauling than had generally been the case since the announcement of his Nobel win in October. Articles sought a more personal reflection of Pauling while not completely ignoring the earlier controversy.

Of particular note, as the Paulings flew across the Atlantic on December 7th, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin published an interview with their eldest son, Linus Pauling Jr., in which he reflected on his father’s activism. When asked to gauge Pauling’s talents, Pauling Jr. downplayed his father’s peace efforts in relation to his work as a scientist. “In terms of his ability to marshal facts and to organize and reorganize them toward a goal,” Pauling Jr. stated, “his strivings for peace are comparatively simple, whereas this ability applied to science demonstrates an astoundingly high degree of creative imagination. Essentially, his work in peace is a public relations job – to get the facts across to the public in a meaningful way.”

When asked what inspired his father to engage in peace work, Pauling Jr. said that “innately, he has always been a humanitarian.” His aversion to hunting and his resistance to Japanese internment during World War II were submitted as past evidence of these humanist proclivities.

Digging a little deeper, Pauling Jr. pointed to his father’s experience with Bright’s disease in the early 1940s as a turning point in taking on social issues. At the beginning of the disease, which manifested in bloating and impaired kidney functioning, the elder Pauling “was pretty close to dying.” During his recovery he was forced to rest and spent time weaving blankets. Pauling Jr. thought that his father’s time of rest “forced him to contemplate on the value of life; on the wrongs of killing and harming that was going on around the world.”

Ava Helen Pauling also was a major influence on her husband according to Pauling Jr. Of particular importance was her work with Union Now during the early war years – an activist platform that called for world government as a tool for mediating international issues between nations.

Pauling Jr. inevitably addressed some of the controversy surrounding his father’s alleged communist ties, saying that he had “never heard him praise communism, although, on occasion, he has criticized some aspects of capitalism, such as unequal opportunities. Today,” he continued, “that’s known as civil rights.”


Conducting interviews in the living room of the Pasadena home, 1963. James McClanahan, photographer.

Conducting interviews in the living room of the Pasadena home, 1963. James McClanahan, photographer.

The following day, an Associated Press article that centered on Pauling’s life and his “book-and-paper strewn den,” came out in papers across the country. With the Nobel ceremonies only two days away, the headlines that ran with the article insinuated something big, with variations of “Pauling Hints at Surprises in Oslo Speech,” “Linus Pauling Promises Speech Shocker,” or “Pauling Predicts Shock.” The actual feature article, written by Ralph Dighton, was less sensational.

A Peanuts cartoon strip signed by Charles Schultz on display at the Pauling’s home helped Dighton to characterize his subject. The strip showed the animated character Linus stacking blocks in a “gravity-defying stairstep fashion” with the tagline, “Linus, you can’t do that!” Pauling’s own reaction after reading it, Dighton noted, was a loud laugh. For Dighton, the lesson of the cartoon was that “the world has been telling Pauling [you can’t do] that all his life, and he keeps doing what for many others would be impossible.”

In his piece, Dighton also spoke to Pauling’s decision to leave Caltech in favor of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. Pauling avoided any discussion of problems at Caltech and instead explained that receiving the Nobel Peace Prize was an opportunity and his decision to leave was a direct consequence of his prize. At the Center, Pauling would have more freedom to focus on his peace work and international affairs while also continuing to delve into the molecular basis of disease.

While the article avoided adding to the controversy surrounding Pauling, it still discussed past instances to remind readers that Pauling was never far from trouble. The list was familiar to those who had followed Pauling’s career: the 1952 denial of Pauling’s passport due to suspected communist tendencies; his1958 petition against nuclear testing, signed by over 11,000 scientists from 49 different countries; the consequent 1960 “joust” with the Senate Internal Security subcommittee; his picketing of the Kennedy White House just before attending dinner inside. All helped to exemplify how Pauling had “made a public scourge of himself.”


Arrived in Oslo. From left, an SAS official, Ava Helen and Linus Pauling, Linda Pauling Kamb and Barclay Kamb, Lucy Neilen Pauling, Crellin Pauling and Linus Pauling Jr. December 1963.

Arrived in Oslo. From left, an SAS official, Ava Helen and Linus Pauling, Linda Pauling Kamb and Barclay Kamb, Lucy Pauling, Crellin Pauling and Linus Pauling Jr. December 1963.

As Pauling set his sights on Europe and the spotlight of international attention, he left behind a busy office. His assistants Helen Gilrane and Katherine Cassady, who had typed up numerous thank you letters and helped to coordinate Pauling’s increasingly busy life over the previous two months, continued to assist Pauling from a distance. Both kept on answering Pauling’s unceasing correspondence while also working out the details of his still-unfolding trip. For her part, Gilrane responded to Bertrand Russell among many others, telling him that Pauling would be unable to respond right away. Communications of high importance were forwarded to Pauling in Norway; others had to wait until his return in January.

The Paulings return trip through the East Coast had not been finalized either. Gilrane made reservations in New York and Philadelphia while also coordinating Pauling’s wardrobe for the celebrations that would take place upon his return. She wrote to Samuel Rubin, President of the American-Israel Cultural Foundation, that Pauling “shall have his smoking jacket as well as his tails, but he will wear whatever you think is appropriate for the evening.”

Pauling also benefited from the help of friends in Norway. Otto Bastiansen, a Norwegian physicist and chemist, worked out much of Pauling’s Scandinavian itinerary, deciding where he would lecture and with whom he would meet. Since the entire Pauling family, including the children’s spouses, was coming, Bastiansen had to work out how they might be involved in activities as well. The Paulings’ first event happened almost as soon as they landed in Oslo on Sunday, December 8th. Ignored by the U.S. embassy or any other official representative from his home country, Pauling was welcomed at a private party held at the home of Marie Lous-Mohr, a Norwegian Holocaust survivor and peace activist who had also helped to arrange Pauling’s schedule.

On December 9th, the day before the Peace Prize ceremonies, the Paulings had lunch with friends and colleagues from Norway at the Hotel Continental, where they were staying. Afterward Linus and Ava Helen, together with two of their sons, Peter and Linus Jr., participated in a press conference. The event focused mostly on the man of the hour, who was very optimistic about the significance of receiving the Nobel Peace Prize and expressed gratitude toward the many people who worked in the peace movement. The Associated Press quoted Pauling as stating,

I think awarding me the prize will mean great encouragement to the peace workers everywhere, but particularly in the United States, where there have been so many attacks upon the peace workers… For some time it has been regarded as improper there to talk about these things. I think this is about the best thing that could happen for the movement.

As the world was still mourning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Pauling said that Kennedy’s “attitude” helped make peace activism acceptable in the United States. Pauling steered away from any criticisms of Kennedy, as one reporter prodded Pauling about his opinion of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. At the time, Pauling had been extremely critical, calling Kennedy’s threat of military action against Russia “horrifying” as it could easily lead to the use of nuclear weapons. Regardless, Pauling told the press in Oslo that the situation “taught the lesson to the world, that the existence of nuclear weapons is a peril to the human race.”

The next day, Pauling would receive the Nobel Peace Prize for helping alert the world to that peril.

An Interview with the Author of “Ava Helen Pauling: Partner, Activist, Visionary.”

ahp-book-cover

[Part 1 of 2]

We’re dedicating the entirety of this month to celebrating the release of the new book, Ava Helen Pauling: Partner, Activist, Visionary, the first biography of Ava Helen Pauling, now available from the OSU Press.  In the coming weeks, readers can anticipate lengthy excerpts from this exciting new publication, but for today and next week we offer an exclusive interview with the book’s author, Dr. Mina Carson.  Dr. Carson is an Associate Professor of History at Oregon State University and an alum of the Special Collections & Archives Research Center’s Resident Scholar Program.  Transcribed video of her 2009 Resident Scholar presentation, “Hidden in Plain Sight: The Life of Ava Helen Pauling,” is available here.

Pauling Blog: What was the genesis of this book?

Mina Carson: Really and truly the genesis was that I ran into a graduate student, Linda Richards, in Milam Hall in the upstairs hall and she said “did you know that nobody has worked on the Ava Helen Pauling papers and that the [OSU] Press may be interested in publishing a biography?” And I thought, “that’s very interesting.” And she knew that I was interested in peace studies and she knew that I was interested in women’s history and we had worked together on a course before. So I came over and looked at the papers and chatted with the Press and that was that.

PB: Had you any concept of Ava Helen before then?

MC: No and in fact I looked up Trevor [Sandgathe]’s Wikipedia article and that’s all that was out there. I had worked as a faculty member when I first came here in the early ’90s – I came in ’89 – but in the early ’90s I was appointed to what was then the Ava Helen Pauling Peace Lectureship when Linus was still with us. And for a year I was actually chair of that and so I knew about Ava Helen from that experience. But nothing, I didn’t know anything, I had no concept of her personality or activities or anything like that.

PB: Can you talk about your research process once you started in on this project?

MC: Yes, it was actually very funny. The process itself began in a very, in retrospect, humorous way because the summer that I started doing research I broke my wrist. And it was, fortunately for me, the left hand which I don’t use but I started with her general correspondence, not the very personal family stuff but the general alphabetized correspondence and I started by trying to read the letters into a dictation program. And I came up with some very funny wordings and so I quickly figured out that that was not going to work and fortunately I quickly got my typing hands back again. But I started with the general correspondence and that was not a bad idea because it really gave me a sense of the overall list of her correspondence and it also plunged me into her adult life. So I really did get a pretty quick exposure to the range of her correspondence in her 40s, 50s, and 60s and maybe even 70s actually.

Dr. Mina Carson, Spring 2013.

Dr. Mina Carson, Spring 2013.

And then I went back and read the love letters which are, of course, largely from Linus to Ava Helen. But that also was just a complete eye-opener, it was so much fun because I could picture where they had been here on the campus. And then I just dropped into various places, filling in the blanks. I did this in a very non-linear way, which is sort of my way when I research, and I finally figured out that I needed to look at the family financial stuff. And that was wonderful and filled in a lot of blanks and also gave me a sense of how the Paulings lived, because your priorities come popping right out in your financial records.

And finally I went beyond – so as I said, extremely non-linear – finally I went beyond the wonderful collection of photos that are accessible on the web and went into the physical boxes of photographs and, wow, that filled in a ton of blanks for me. What I learned from that, that I hope to keep in my mind, is that the photographs create a narrative; they’re not just a sub-narrative and in some cases they’re a parallel narrative. But they really are a narrative in and of themselves partly because they were so well cataloged and also partly because you see people, faces, and you make connections that you didn’t have before. You know where people were in particular years, for example, or what schools the kids went to. That was very helpful.

PB: And one of the interesting and somewhat unique aspects of the book is that it does intersperse a lot of photographs throughout the text rather than just having a couple sections of photos. It’s kind of dedicated all throughout.

MC: Yeah I really wanted that. When I’m reading a book, I keep the photos section for a special treat, you know, and I was tempted to do what I do myself. But then I decided that definitely was not the way to go because there are so many parts of her life that are not really accessible in the papers but that the photographs do fill in. So having the photographs available all the way along was really helpful; I thought they’d helped the reader to picture people.

Ava Helen Miller, 1922.

Ava Helen Miller, 1922.

PB: You gave a talk in 2009 where you asked the question “how does the biographer write the life of a wife? Especially one so infused with the work of her husband?” How did you go about trying to answer that question?

MC: It’s a question that honestly I’m still working on. And in fact, one of the early manuscript reviewers said that – say she – could just see me all the way through the manuscript saying “oh wait no, it’s not a biography of Linus! Oh wait no, it’s a biography of Ava Helen, I have to focus on Ava Helen!” And that reviewer actually wanted more information about Linus to get the whole tapestry in there. One of the things I tried to do – and this really is kind of my thing, it’s what fascinates me – is I tried to knit together her external interests, her public interests with her private interests. And since she never held elected office, although she was an officer of a major peace organization for a brief time, she never was a public figure in particular. It wasn’t challenging to tell her public story but it was really easier to tell her story as a private person who developed a public side as her passions for various causes became more pronounced through her life, and as she became clearer about who she was in relation to her marriage. So her public persona became more pronounced as she got older. She hadn’t started as a public person and then buried it, rather the reverse.

But the challenge was how do you tell the story of a wife? And the story was she was a wife, first and foremost, and in a sense fortunately. Although she had a very strong personality, she married a guy who really did want her to be front and center if she wanted to be. At least that’s who he was by the 1950s. That doesn’t really answer the question very well, but it was a struggle. It was a struggle to try and balance Linus’ huge personality and public presence with the real sparseness of records for Ava Helen. And fortunately her personality emerges so strongly through the records that I could at least sketch in a little bit of who she was and reconstruct her record from there.

PB: You talked a little bit about a shift in Linus’ perspective towards his wife’s public persona – maybe that’s not characterizing it quite right – but do you see evidence that there was some sort of a mutual agreement beforehand where she would keep a lower profile? That the two of them had agreed that she was going to stay in the house and raise the kids and there was a shift at some point?

MC: Linus seems to go in different directions on that. I mean there was one point in their early correspondence, their courtship correspondence, where he actually says “so are you going to study science and take a Ph.D.?” And I don’t know that he was just fooling around. He always believed – and bless his heart, because it’s not particularly true – but he always believed that she was brighter than he was. And I think in his heart he knew that he had the kind of mind that was a world changing mind. And that she had a really quick intelligence, without the kind of major suppleness of his.

And so she could have, I think, done any number of things. And later in her life she decided that she maybe should have, or at least had dismissed her possibilities too fast. And I think that’s right. I think that’s particularly correct because mothering is not the thing – I mean she made a job of it but not always a good job, it wasn’t really her thing. But I think that Linus, had she said “you know what, I need us to devote some of the family resources to my finishing college and I need to be a teacher or I need to be a lab assistant or I need to be a professor,” he would have probably said “okay then, let’s go in that direction.” That’s my guess. I think it was her set of priorities that she had, in a sense, hammered into herself and had hammered into her by the culture that a woman’s duty was to her husband and to raise beautiful, healthy children, that she kind of went in that direction. And led him to assume that she was going to do that.

Pauling family portrait, 1926.

Pauling family portrait, 1926.

And also I think it’s clear that she made it her job to push his career and that fit the culture for women at the time. I mean, to be ambitious for your husband was a fit with American culture at that time. So she kind of settled for that but, you know, you just watch her with these toddlers, you watch her with Linus Jr. in the early years, and she just doesn’t know what to do with this kid. And then you watch her with toddlers and she is overwhelmed at one point by three toddlers basically, three little kids, and it’s like, that’s not her thing. It’s just not her thing. She does it with energy and resolutely but it’s not her thing.

PB: Yeah. And then when Crellin came around it was really not her thing.

MC: No, exactly. And that really was unexpected and not particularly welcomed by her.

PB: Well this leads into the next question. The book is in part a family biography and that’s one of its strengths; could you talk a little bit about the family dynamics?

MC: Oh wow, yeah. I think, like most biographers, I didn’t look for the places where I connected with my own experiences but you feel them as they come along. And one of the places is – and a minister at the Unitarian church here in town helped me understand this in the context of the Pauling history, which was that they joined the Unitarian Fellowship in Los Angeles in the early ’60s but they connected up with that church in the ’50s. And they really, interestingly, represented a very strong cultural strand of humanism in the middle of the 20th century.

And part of that was an emotional style and a family style. It was rationalist: the kids will emerge as good citizens if we just give them good educations and launch them out on their own. And so a lot of the lack of warm fuzziness in that family jibed with the kind of ideology that they had absorbed or were comfortable with in terms of raising children. So the kids are really left very much on their own. The parents worry about them, they’re proud of them, they have concerns – are they really going to use their capabilities to the fullest extent? They worried about Linus because at one point Linus Jr. had – what was it, it was hilarious – I think it was an accordion for heaven’s sake and he wouldn’t practice. Well who of us had not had a kid who wouldn’t practice the accordion? I mean who would? But this was a serious concern for them.

The Pauling family, 1946.

The Pauling family, 1946.

And so Linus Jr. – and he’s told us this time and time again – Linus Jr. grew up with the assumption that he had to be a scientist. That was what he was expected to be, and of course it wasn’t his thing. He remembers actually reading psychology very early on and finding it fascinating but he was also interested in history and social science, he was a literature guy and none of that was really rewarded in this family. Plus his education was interrupted by World War II and all the confusion around that, so he never was allowed to, in a sense, put down roots in one place. And I think the longest he probably spent anywhere after Polytechnic in the early years in Pasadena was Harvard Medical School. So Linus Jr., the oldest child, had to emerge as his own person pretty late in life, and with a lot of kind of discouragement, both subtle and overt, from his parents. A lot of worry over who he was and who he was going to be.

And actually, I have to admit, this was very much my parents’ approach to life too and it’s a cautionary tale for me as the parent of teenagers. I watch Linus and Ava Helen raising Linus Jr. and the other kids and think “oh boy, I’ve got to start doing things differently at home.” Because all three of the boys came out with really kind of low self-esteem shall we say, wondering how they could ever fulfill the Pauling expectations. And part of it was Linus and part of it was Ava Helen, a big part was Ava Helen. And when her kids did not perform to specs she was tough, she was scornful, she had expectations. A lot of parents think that’s what we’re supposed to do as parents but having become very familiar with that family I have my doubts.

PB: Well there is a sense that Ava Helen may have come from a somewhat difficult background herself. It’s not as well documented.

MC: It’s not well documented at all. She was eight or nine when her father left the household so she was very young. Her sisters reported quite late in life that she was the favorite of the father who vanished but she never tracked him down. She met him, I think, maybe once more when she was a young woman and had just married Linus but there is no track record of her trying to reconnect with him, even though she apparently ends up with his politics, which is interesting.

Nora Gard Miller in front of the house that she maintained for her children on S. 15th Street, Corvallis, 1924.

Nora Gard Miller in front of the house that she maintained for her children on S. 15th Street, Corvallis, 1924.

I think her mom was a huge influence on her but I also think her mom was a heck of a lot more easy going in many ways than Ava Helen. But what her mom apparently instilled in her dozen children was a respect for education. I don’t know where that family got its resources but most of the kids went through OAC. Granted, Oregon Agricultural College was, relatively speaking, a lot cheaper than Oregon State University is today. But still, her mom came to Corvallis and rented a house here, while four or five of her kids went through school including Ava Helen. And she discouraged Ava Helen from an early marriage, wanting her to finish her undergraduate career.

The family history on her side is really sketchy. I think her sisters, particularly after she married Linus, kind of wanted her to stay in touch; there were polite sisterly relations among them. But Ava Helen also, I think, was a bit snobbish about the rest of her family and that was a point of difficulty. That really was.

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Ava Helen Pauling: Partner, Activist, Visionary is available for purchase from the Oregon State University Press.

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.

LPI Looks to the Future

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[A history of the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine, Part 8 of 8]

The opening of this current decade promises to be even better for the Linus Pauling Institute than was the last. The decade got off to a great start when, in 2011, Oregon State University opened the Linus Pauling Science Center to house LPI, parts of the department of chemistry, and other lab and teaching spaces.

For the Institute, the historical importance of the completion of the Linus Pauling Science Center is difficult to overstate. The building, which is the largest academic facility on the OSU campus, was a serious undertaking – it cost $62.5 million to build the four-story, 105,000 square-foot research center. The funding was acquired through donations from the Wayne and Gladys Valley Foundation ($20 million), the Al and Pat Reser family ($10.65 million), 2,600 private individuals (~$600,000), and a matching bond ($31.25 million) from the State of Oregon.  The facility is one of the cornerstone achievements of The Campaign for OSU, a capital campaign which seeks to raise $1 billion in funds by June 2014.

Constructing its own building on the OSU campus was a goal for LPI from the minute the Institute moved to Corvallis. Indeed, Linus Pauling Jr. remembers sketching potential plans on napkins while at meetings with OSU staff during the moving process and Institute Director Balz Frei has written that ever since LPI moved to OSU, building “a state-of-the-art research facility to house the Institute and serve as a high-profile working memorial for Linus Pauling” had been one of LPI’s highest priorities.

A portion of the crowd assembled for the LPSC opening ceremonies, October 14, 2011.

A portion of the crowd assembled for the LPSC opening ceremonies, October 14, 2011.

The Linus Pauling Science Center was opened on October 14, 2011. Over 250 people attended the ceremony, during which Linus Pauling Jr. and OSU President Edward J. Ray delivered the main speeches. In his remarks, Dr. Ray noted his belief that “preventive health care is the future of medicine,” and that LPI and the Linus Pauling Science Center are in strong positions to develop this in the twenty-first century.

A light painting by Stephen Knapp, Linus Pauling Science Center.

A light painting by Stephen Knapp, Linus Pauling Science Center.

The center was designed by the firm ZGF Architects LLP, based in Portland, Oregon. It is a unique building with large windows and ample natural light. In addition, each of its floors is home to several works of art, including several light paintings created by Massachusetts-based artist Stephen Knapp, and those who work in the facility enjoy an enviable lunch spot on a fourth floor balcony looking toward the Coast Range mountains.

The view from the "lunch room."

The view from the “lunch room.”

Its lab space, however, is the real highlight of the Linus Pauling Science Center. Unlike most facilities, LPSC’s labs consist mostly of open space, with only a few partial walls separating research areas. Administrator Steve Lawson commented on this decision, noting “We didn’t want a lab environment with a lot of walls… For us, it’s a way to keep the Institute coherent and increase the possibility of people communicating.” In further pursuit of this goal, most of the Institute’s noisier lab equipment is kept behind closed doors in dedicated spaces away from the work environment, thus rendering the laboratories a more pleasant place to think and interact.

Peering down the LPSC laboratory space.

Peering down the LPSC laboratory space.

In recent time, LPI has also begun working to expand the staff supporting its very popular Healthy Aging Program and Healthy Youth Program. As part of this initiative, the Institute hired Kathy Magnusson, an expert on aging, memory, and degenerative brain diseases, to fill the role of Primary Investigator and to work with the Healthy Aging Program. Likewise, Corvallis High School partnered with LPI to develop the Spartan Garden, which is primarily student-run and is linked with outdoor horticulture classes that teach students about growing and preparing healthy foods.

Currently LPI has scheduled the seventh Diet and Optimum Health Conference for May 15-18, 2013, and has established an ambitious research agenda. At the time of this writing, LPI has twelve laboratories working on:

  • Oxidative stress, lipoic acid, and essential metals in atherosclerosis
  • Vitamin E metabolism and biological functions
  • Oxidative and environmental stress in Lou Gehrig’s, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Stress response, lipoic acid, and mitochondrial dysfunction in aging
  • Cancer chemoprotection by phytochemicals in tea and vegetables
  • Transplacental cancer chemoprotection
  • Epigenetic and epigenomic mechanisms of cancer etiology
  • Zinc and antioxidants in prostate cancer and neurodegeneration
  • Novel biological functions of vitamin C
  • Antioxidants and gene expression in diabetes
  • Dietary fats and carbohydrate and lipid metabolism
  • Vitamin D and zinc in immune function

Seventeen years after moving to Oregon with a core staff of five, LPI has regenerated its roster to 63 employees. Of particular note, Steve Lawson still works there, the only individual from the California days to remain. The Institute has remained prolific, has published three books (in addition to re-releases of two Pauling books) and continues to publish dozens of articles in various scientific and medical journals every year. The Institute also circulates a biannual research newsletter, available via the mail or through its website, lpi.oregonstate.edu.

Logo for the 2013 Diet and Optimum Health Conference.

Logo for the 2013 Diet and Optimum Health Conference.

The Institute is currently working to expand its support for its corpus of graduate student laboratory researchers, who are, as Balz Frei puts it, “the heart and soul of [LPI’s] labs at OSU.” To date, plans do not include any sort of major expansion of full-time staff, with a focus instead on further developing the staff infrastructure already in place. The Institute’s plan for 2013 and onward is to strengthen its current research projects and to acquire additional funds for scholarships, endowments, research, and educational programs. Lastly, LPI also hopes to broaden its outreach and health programs, such as the Diet and Optimum Health Conference, Healthy Aging Program, Healthy Youth Program, research newsletter, and Micronutrient Information Center.

One of LPI’s core missions is to “help people everywhere achieve a healthy and productive life, full of vitality, with minimal suffering, and free of cancer and other debilitating diseases.” As of 2013, the 40th anniversary of its founding and with many years of turbulence in its past, the Linus Pauling Institute appears to be in a better position than ever before to continue working towards this goal.