The End of One Era and the Beginning of Another

Welcome message from then OSU President Paul Risser, 1996.

Welcome message from then OSU President Paul Risser, 1996.

[A history of the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine, Part 6 of 8]

The beginning of the 1990s proved to be a typically chaotic time for the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine. Those early years saw the spectacularly fast rise and fall of the collaboration between Matthias Rath and Linus Pauling, ever increasing levels of debt and, in the nick of time, a major bequest which quite possibly saved the Institute from financial oblivion. As tumultuous as the situation had been, it was about to become more so.

In 1993 Steve Lawson’s title was changed from Executive Officer to Chief Executive Officer, though his duties effectively remained the same. At the request of Pauling, one of Lawson’s first actions as was to legally dissolve the Linus Pauling Heart Foundation. He dismissed all of the Heart Foundation’s employees and transferred the entity’s assets to LPISM. At the same time, the Palo Alto zoning law changes of which the Institute had been warned went through – the Institute finally needed to devise a solid idea of where they were going to move.

In the meantime, Lawson, looking to alleviate LPISM’s perpetual financial problems, began negotiating with the Elizabeth Arden beauty company on a deal that he hoped would greatly enhance the Institute’s well-being. Arden and its parent company, Unilever, were seeking research support and eventual endorsement from LPISM for an upcoming line of skin care products, which were infused with vitamin C.  Lawson was interested in both the financial and advertising benefit that might come from this deal, as the Institute badly needed to increase its exposure to a younger and wealthier audience.

The conversation was proceeding smoothly until Arden installed a new president, under whose watch the launch of the new products was mismanaged. This person only remained president for a short period, but the damage had been done. As a result, the deal between LPISM and Elizabeth Arden proved dramatically less prosperous than Lawson had originally hoped.

The Arden deal scrapped, the Institute’s administration encountered more bad news when they received notice that Matthias Rath was suing LPISM, alleging interference with his business practices. Following his departure from the Institute, Rath had encountered difficulty finding financial support for his vitamin C work, as some people assumed that he was trying to claim credit for Pauling’s research. One magazine in particular had published an extensive article on Pauling’s interest in vitamin C and cardiovascular disease and hadn’t even mentioned Rath.  LPISM asserted that Pauling had acknowledged Rath’s contributions in his interviews and that the Institute had no control over what various media outlets published. The lawsuit proceeded nonetheless.

The year 1994 got off to a very bad start. Pauling’s health began to deteriorate markedly and he was forced to undergo treatment for his resurgent cancer, which had spread to his liver. At the same time, the lawsuit with Rath began to intensify while Pauling spent more and more time away from the office, choosing instead the tranquility of his ranch at Big Sur. By the summer, Rath’s lawyers were visiting Pauling’s bedside to try and hash out an agreement. For the Institute, most of the year was spent dealing with these two major issues, though it did arrange to host a conference in September.

Finally, on August 19, 1994, Pauling died at his ranch. The institute that he created and which bore his name instantly felt an intense drain on its morale. Lawson recalled employees sobbing in their work spaces and noted that many staffers felt directionless, unsure what would become of LPISM without its namesake. Ironically, the organization’s financial problems were a bit relieved by this turn of events, as a flood of memorial donations soon came in.

From this moment of darkness, the situation pretty quickly started to improve. The Institute went through with the scheduled September conference, titled “The Therapeutic Potential of Biological Antioxidants.” Many people attended – more than were expected – and the audience was thrilled with the content presented, responding very enthusiastically. In turn, more donations and support began to flow into the Institute’s coffers.

Steve Harakeh, Aleksandra Niedzwiecki and Steve Lawson at LPI's September 1994 conference.

Steve Harakeh, Aleksandra Niedzwiecki and Steve Lawson at LPI’s September 1994 conference.

At the same time, the Institute received notification that another estate of consequence – the Finney estate – had been left to LPISM. This new revenue source, combined with the Swadener gift, allowed LPISM to effectively pay off its debts and even establish a small endowment to support moving the Institute. Coincidentally and almost simultaneously, a large number of bequeaths and other donations began pouring in, largely from donors cultivated years before by Richard Hicks.

The financial situation suddenly and vastly improved, Lawson and Linus Pauling Jr. began seriously hunting for a new location for LPISM. They began contacting universities all over the U.S., with decidedly mixed results. Frustrated, the Institute’s board even briefly considered closing down LPISM in favor of establishing a memorial chair at Caltech or Stanford.

However, Oregon State University eventually came forward and requested that LPISM relocate to Corvallis. In stating its case, the university stressed its historical connection with Pauling, as OSU was his alma mater and home to his papers, which were housed in the university library’s Special Collections. OSU’s argument also pointed out that its existing chemistry, health, and biomedical programs perfectly complemented LPISM and its research. Linus Jr. and Lawson agreed, and decided to move the Institute to the heart of the mid-Willamette Valley.


In retrospect, the death of Pauling and the decision to move to OSU might now be viewed as equivalent to the death and rebirth of the Institute itself. By the mid-1990s, a new home established and its finances in better shape, the Institute’s future looked brighter than it had in quite some time, despite the passing of its beloved founder.