23 thoughts on “John Bonner

  1. Carole Levin

    It was a blessing to know John. Saddened to hear of his death, but comforted by all the good memories of time spent with an amazing human being. May all his friends and family keep his memory alive and comfort one another .

  2. David Wilcove

    I first met John when I arrived in Princeton as a first-year graduate student in the Biology Department in 1980, and I had the great good fortune to spend time with him again when I returned many years later as a faculty member (in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Then as now, he seemed to me to be the embodiment of the phrase “a gentleman and a scholar.” I will miss him.

  3. George Russell, AB in Biology '59

    I recently found a copy of John Bonner’s autobiographical book, “Lives of a Biologist” in our cellar and finished reading it over the following weekend. The book produced a flood of memories of my time at Princeton and my association with John. But this was followed shortly after by the news that he had died. With all of this, I was strongly reminded how much I truly cared for John’s friendship, his tutelage in so many different ways, and for serving as a genuine example of what it means to be a worthy human being.
    John spent the academic year 1957-58 in Edinburgh and was sorely tempted to apply for a Senior position in Botany at the university. But Princeton got wind of this and immediately offered him the rank of Full Professor, and he returned. I entered my Senior year in Fall 1958 and chose him for my Senior thesis project on spore germination in Dictyostelium. This work produced a short article in the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Society and I was ever so pleased to see my name shown as co-author. But had John decided to leave Princeton at that time, the course of my life would have taken a very different turn. Perhaps my point is this: There are important junctures in one’s life where teachers (and others) can exert enormous influence and guidance for others. For me, John Bonner stood just at one of those juncture points. If I can say this appropriately, I loved him for what he was, a most remarkable man, a wonderful teacher, and a very important person in my life.
    My undergraduate years at Princeton exposed me to such extraordinary teachers as John Bonner, Colin Pittendrigh, Bill Jacobs, Bob Allen, Arthur Pardee, and many others. How fortunate I was to have been part of that program, and to have enjoyed the friendship and mentoring from one of the true giants in the history of Princeton University, John Tyler Bonner.

  4. George Russell

    I recently found a copy of John Bonner’s autobiographical book, “Lives of a Biologist” in our cellar and finished reading it over the following weekend. The book produced a flood of memories of my time at Princeton and my association with John both as my Senior thesis advisor and Department Chair in the (then) Biology Department. But this was followed shortly after by the news that he had died. With all of this, I was strongly reminded how much I truly cared for John’s friendship, his tutelage in so many different ways, and for serving as a genuine example of what it means to be a worthy human being.

    John spent the academic year 1957-58 in Edinburgh and was sorely tempted to apply for a Senior position in Botany at the university. But Princeton got wind of this and immediately offered him the rank of Full Professor, and he returned. I entered my Senior year in Fall 1958 and chose him for my Senior thesis project on spore germination in Dictyostelium. This work produced a short article in the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Society and I was ever so pleased to see my name shown as co-author. But had John decided to leave Princeton at that time, the course of my life would have taken a very different turn. Perhaps my point is this: There are important junctures in one’s life where teachers (and others) can exert enormous influence and guidance for others. For me, John Bonner stood just at one of those juncture points. If I can say this appropriately, I loved him for what he was, a most remarkable man, a wonderful teacher, and a very important person in my life.

    My years at Princeton exposed me to such extraordinary teachers and colleagues as John Bonner, Colin Pittendrigh, Bill Jacobs, Bob Allen, Arthur Pardee, and many others. How fortunate I was to have been part of that program, and to have enjoyed the friendship and mentoring from one of the true giants in the history of Princeton University, John Tyler Bonner.

    George Russell, A.B. in Biology, ’59

  5. Sam Smith

    I am working with University of Michigan biologists to develop a Human Life Cycle Ontology, for which we are using Dr. Bonner’s book “Life Cycles: Reflections of an Evolutionary Biologist” as the starting point. If our efforts result in something useful and well regarded, I am suggesting that the work be dedicated to Professor Bonner.

  6. Petra Fey

    I met John when working with Ted Cox from 1993 to 1999. I tremendously enjoyed that John was part of our universe and in this environment I fell in love with Dictyostelids. His mind, generosity and friendship were one of life’s wonderful gifts. When we last communicated over Christmas, he said that he misses running and dancing and his beloved Cape Breton. However, he also was looking forward that his latest essay on the evolution of evolution was being published by the Journal of Experimental Zoology. He said he wanted to stick around long enough to see it, I’m afraid we have to appreciate it for him. I’m very saddened and will truly miss John.

  7. Vidyanand Nanjundiah

    Getting to know John has been among the richest experiences of my life. Our first encounter was at a slime mould meeting in 1974. Finding it difficult to believe that I was in the the presence of someone who had published a great paper as far back as 1947, I was in awe of him and tongue-tied. It didn’t take long for his informal style and sense of humour – in speech and in writing – to transform the feeling to one of friendship (though the hero-worship never wore off). On one of the times he came to Bangalore, he was working on a book. People kept dropping in to his office all the time, mostly without advance notice; he invariably gave them the impression that he had been waiting for them. No wonder he was an instant hit with everyone he met. A special memory is of evenings spent at a meeting in Naini Tal, listening to John and Tokindo Okada trade stories of Waddington. He showed me that science could be fun and that deep insights could be conveyed in simple language. I wonder how many scientists there are about whom that can be said.

  8. Henry S. Horn

    John Bonner was the Chair of Biology who hired me as an Assistant Professor in 1966. At that time the University was forbiddingly hierarchical, but John treated me as a full colleague from the start. Even as the Chair, with an international reputation for front-line research, he set an example for the rest of the Biology faculty by teaching the same number of courses, and sponsoring the same number of undergraduates in their Independent Work, as he expected us to do. And his teaching and mentoring always balanced insight and rigor with charity and a loving sense of humor. He shepherded me through tenure and promotion, reading and commenting constructively on papers that I wrote, and building my confidence by asking the same favor from me. He asked me to sit in on his undergraduate seminar on the evolution of social behavior in animals, and then to co-teach a graduate seminar on evolution of development, … and when some of the ideas from the latter course turned out to be worthy of publication, he generously offered me co-authorship for what were mostly editorial contributions. When Betty and I had our first and second child, he provided an exemplar of fatherhood, a hand-me-down bassinet, and other machinery for domestic engineering. He gave counsel and solace when we faced medical problems and the loss of a beloved colleague. When I took on a heavy burden of administration as founding director of Princeton’s Program in Environmental Studies, his example and advice helped me to balance that job with teaching, research, writing, and the rest of life, including my passion for music. Very early on he shifted from formal mentor Doctor Bonner to treasured friend John, and I discovered that the same transition happened for many of his students, post-docs, and colleagues. His office door was open most of the time, and there was always a seat on the couch for anyone in need, and a filled teapot ready for the flame from an archaic gas burner. John retired to Emeritus status in 1990, but continued to lecture in Introductory Biology for 19 more years. And he was writing and revising papers and corresponding up until a few months ago. When he moved to Portland Oregon to be closer to his family in 2012, I inherited his office, with its slate blackboard, conical green glass lightshades, maple-and-cast-iron worktables, and one hundred and thirty-nine feet of bookshelves. Here I hope that I can live up to John’s example of “retired-but-not-so-you’d-notice.”

  9. Hannah Bonsey Suthers

    Even the birds saluted our beloved John Bonner.
    John told me that he was an avid bird watcher as a young man and wanted to be an ornithologist. His father gifted him with a book by renown scientists to broaden his perspective on a career in biology.
    One of the winning procedures of John’s leadership as a Principal Investigator was that he expected his students and research staff to co-author papers with him, the final draft being in his eloquent language. Just look at his papers for a history of his lab groups!
    Another was that John encouraged his lab group to pursue their own interests. Two Starlings in cages by my desk were laboratory control birds for my personal project on intercontinental transport of cellular slime mold propagules by ground-feeding migratory songbirds. In his morning “How are things” rounds through the lab John would stop by my desk whereupon a student-tutored Starling would burst out whistling the first stanza of ‘Hail to the Chief!’

    Hannah Suthers
    Senior Research Assistant, 1978-1990

  10. Louise Deis

    I remember John with great fondness. He was such a friendly man, and erudite, interesting. He used to come to the Library quite a bit. I got him to sign a few of his books in our collection. I was intrigued with his work — and film — on slime molds, and I used to make the clip available to my husband who was — and still is — teaching at Rutgers. He would talk about John Bonner’s work and show the film clip. I remember when Henry Horn cleverly, with illustrations, introduced John for his lecture (in Guyot 10) on the evolution/development of multicellularity , probably one of his last at Princeton.
    I must have read one of Eric Newby’s books and enjoyed it, because then John suggested that I might like a favorite of his, “Love and War in the Apennines”. I loved it!

  11. Alison A. Moore

    John, or Dr. Bonner, as I knew him at Princeton, was my first and enduring mentor. He introduced me to aging research, studying successive asexual life cycles of cellular slime molds. I have remained in academic medicine studying aging and valuing mentorship in large part because of my experience with him as my junior independent paper and thesis advisor.

  12. LS

    My heart goes out to the Bonner family for their loss.
    John Bonner was a remarkable man who was a source of inspiration. His generous spirit and contribution to biology will prevail .

  13. Sue McDonald Kezios

    I had the distinction of being John’s last grad student. He was an unbelievably supportive advisor and mentor. We kept in touch over the years. When my holiday card was returned a couple of Christmases ago – I panicked. Imagine how happy I was to learn that he was busy traveling around the country to discuss his most recent book! It was an honor and highlight of my life to know him.

  14. LSC

    My very first classroom moment at Princeton was a 9am Bio 201 lecture, in Guyot 10 with Dr Bonner, in Sept’73.
    Dr Bonner exuded enthusiasm and curiosity, while reinforcing the value and necessity of rigor, preparation and clear thinking.
    He continues to inspire and guide.

  15. Ben Webb

    V Sad to hear of his passing, he sent me a lovely email a few months ago. Have been reading his books recently and messaged him about one, expecting no reply, but received a touching one. A wonderful writer- what a fulfilling life he led

  16. Andrew Reynolds

    I got to know Professor Bonner here in Cape Breton after discovering from one of his books that he had a summer home here in Margaree Harbour. He was a very gracious host and I enjoyed several visits with him to talk about my interests in the history and philosophy of cell biology and protistology. He was a scholar and a gentleman, and I was very proud that Cape Breton University acknowledged his long (summer) presence here with an honorary degree in 2004.

  17. Jeffrey Levenson MD

    I fell in love the summer before my senior year at Princeton. My girlfriend lived in Florida, and all through September she’d send me letters, scented with her perfume. When I told Dr Bonner I’d like to write my senior thesis about how it was that I found the scent of a male musk ox so compelling, and what that might mean for the world, he smiled briefly, then laughed out loud. That was Yes. He took an active interest in the project, and later encouraged me to publish the thing. Ever supportive, ever curious, brilliant and helpful and approachable. Forty years later my wife doesn’t wear perfume any longer, but we took it out and sniffed it this morning in celebration of his life.

  18. Althea M. Hamilton, MD

    My relationship with Dr. John T. Bonner, my mentor and thesis advisor, was a critical and memorable aspect of my Princeton experience. He stimulated my intellectual curiosity about the differentiation of Dictyostelium rosarium. A world renowned scholar Dr. Bonner was nonetheless approachable, friendly and caring. He created a very inclusive and harmonious environment in the lab. Dr. Bonner became a friend with whom I had corresponded for the past 39 years. I am saddened by his passing and will miss him.

  19. Jeanne Altmann

    When I joined the EEB faculty John Bonner had been ‘retired’ for almost a decade. Although I knew of his research and fame, I hadn’t known him personally before my arrival in Princeton. What a treat was to follow. Every weekday morning during term time John was in his office just below mine or in our 4th floor lab, peering in delight and wonder through his microscope and camera setup to explore the results of his latest experiments with his wee beasties, eager to share the latest discoveries. Rarely did a week go by without our chatting, and if it did, one of us would pop in to check on the other, to be offered a cup of tea and one of John’s favorite butter cookies, and for me to be gently mentored by example. I felt the loss when the time came for John to move to Oregon but some joyful visiting was still to come as John welcomed my Portland daughter and me for visits, with tea and butter cookies of course, when I came to town. He remained eager to share his latest writings and thoughts as well as to hear Rachel’s Portland activities, and mine in Kenya and Princeton, always wanted to hear EEB updates and had wry comments on the them. Although I am one of the many who will greatly miss John Bonner, I’m grateful for having been allowed a small share in his long and rich life.

    Jeanne Altmann

  20. Ken Jasko '78

    Dr. Bonner was a true gentleman. He was my senior thesis advisor in 1978. My thesis involved a time trial over 2 days where I had to test a chemical every half an hour. He told me I could sleep on the sofa in his office for the nights I had to be there, which was kind of him. Never have I slept better among the slime molds!

  21. Nancy Hawkes

    John Bonner was the most kind, most generous, and most witty academic I have known. Although he was not my advisor, he provided needed perspective during my graduate years at Princeton and I continue to be grateful. I last corresponded with him on his 90th birthday and am sad to hear of his passing. He was an exemplary human being.

  22. Ernest Williams

    John Bonner was a kind, gracious, and thoughtful man. When I was a young grad student in biology a number of decades ago, John talked with the grad students as a friend and an equal. His influence on us all was enormous.

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