Donald B. McCormick, Ph.D
Family Background
                                     
    Given a limit of a few typed pages, it is impossible to encapsulate the better part of 75 years within any balanced biographical sketch covering early childhood to old age. This especially applies to an autobiography where the writer is a scientist who tends to remember too much detail about an active career. Moreover, I have not reached the stage when, according to Evelyn Waugh, it is appropriate to do so, namely "Only when one has lost all curiosity about the future has one reached the age to write an autobiography."  Rather, I remain curious, even bear some angst, about the future. More the challenge is to match the dictum of Thomas Carlyle who stated that "A well-written life is almost as rare as a well spent one." Yet write I must, for my spouse, your friendly Newsletter person, has given me the mandate! I shall do the following as an attempt at compromise: describe briefly my familial contacts that spurred me to behave, work hard including in school, and try to seek the truth.

     I was born into a middle class family with more than a modicum of pride in heritage. Though I do not put too much stock in the achievements of one's ancestors, it does inculcate some element of family togetherness. Let me give a few examples.

     My mother was of English extraction and could point with pride to a great, great, great ancestor named Duncan Larkin, who lent his horse to Paul Revere so that fellow could ride from Boston to Lexington to warn the colonists the "The British are coming." Mother even had a Tennessee history book that documented this connection. Moreover, her grandfather, also a Larkin, was a near contemporary of Walter Reed, who gets most of the credit for recognizing that mosquitoes vectored diseases such as malaria. However, Dr. Larkin had already written his suspicions that such was the case for explaining the occurrence of both malaria and yellow fever in the Mississippi region from Memphis to New Orleans. My youngest brother, Bill, is our family's extant physician (a neuro-pathologist), so he has the writings that prove mother's point on this matter. To top my mother's citations of why her lineage was a good one, she could point to being a DAR, Daughter of the Confederacy, and a member in good standing of the Southern Baptist Church.

     My father was also of a line that carries some brag points, for instance he was a fairly near descendent of Cyrus McCormick, a Scots-Irish man in Virginia who invented the reaper (Remember McCormick-Deering farm equipment?) and the McCormicks who settled in Maryland and began the McCormick Spice Company. However, Dad's immediate family was comprised of very modest farmers on the Kentucky/Tennessee border near Clarksville TN where Dad met Mom and the genesis of our family of five siblings began. This marriage took place in spite of the fact that my father was an agnostic chemist who took some pleasure in confronting the sophistry and specious arguments of  protestant preachers and less frequently encountered catholic priests.

     The siblings were, in order of oldest to youngest : James, is a chemist/chemical engineer turned writer, first for industry where he edited the magazines for Dupont and Bausch & Lomb, and then for a college-mate senator until he realized the man was like most of that species, namely too dumb to understand much less remember the speeches he wrote for him.  Mary, a teacher who first dealt with children of elementary school age and then taught English in high school; she is also an occasional short-story writer. Allen, a philologist and linguist who was a scholar of the Germanic language and wrote "the critique" of Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass"; sadly he died a couple of years ago. Yours truly, the nutritional biochemist/educator who is author of this brief l'histoire. For any with no better use of their time, you can read about his education and professional life in usual bio volumes ("Who's Who", "American Men and Women of Science", etc.). Bill, already mentioned as a neuropathologist was also an educator and has become a forensic pathologist in semi-retirement.

     In cast of the foregoing and with a continued sense of chronology, I should mention that the next significant people in my life are Jean, my usually tolerant wife and helpful colleague; she was a fine elementary school teacher and is now a crafts person. Our three children, again listed from oldest to youngest are: Sue, Don Jr., and Mike. They are all doing well as a biomedical educator in Florida, aquaculturist/businessman in New York, and polymer company employee in Washington State, respectively. Don Jr. has our only grandchild, Justin, who lives in Seattle, remodels houses and is a would-be musician.

     Because this is supposed to be an autobiography, I should give the usual outline of where and when critical events occurred in my life. I was born near Front Royal (near the start of the Skyline Drive) and spent my childhood in Clifton Forge where I began school and Buchanan where I dodged periodic floods of the James River, all in Virginia. My contact with nature, including snakes and spiders, was a formative part of my interest in nature. A tangential aspect of this was my rearing of these as well as raccoons, opossums, and a contiguous line of dogs and cats for whom I hold loving memories. I then moved to Lookout Mountain, TN where my father helped make TNT for Hercules before we moved to Oak Ridge, TN and a bigger bomb project during WW II. It was in that locus that my interest in science grew, encouraged by excellent teachers and some significant national awards that helped pay my way through Vanderbilt University in Nashville. After obtaining my bachelors degree in chemistry and math, I earned the Ph.D. in biochemistry in the medical school before going for a postdoctoral period at the University of California-Berkeley. In 1960 I was hired by Cornell University where I became the L.H. Bailey Professor and helped found the first Division of Biological Sciences in a major university; Harvard copied this a couple of years later. In 1979 we moved to Emory University where I served as the F.E. Callaway Professor, Chairman of Biochemistry, and Executive Associate Dean for Sciences in the School Of Medicine. After retirement from full time academic duties, I have enjoyed these past few years with some continued professional activity in advisement, consulting, and teaching - all at a modest pace. I have added the pleasant associations with the good people in the Highlands Institute for American Religious and Philosophic Thought (HIARPT), the Highlands Plateau Audubon Society, most recently the contact with Scian (The Institute for Scientific Policy Analysis) in Brevard, and especially the Franklin UU Fellowship. At the moment, life is good. --- Don


Some Personal Reflections

   Donald B. McCormick

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