William Jacobs, professor of biology, emeritus, died March 3, 2019
Bill Jacobs, you are my hero.
I am so glad that I told him so – more than once.
In 1969 mutual friends who knew that Bill was looking for a research assistant introduced me to Bill and his lovely wife Jane at a local tavern with live jazz music. Just a few months previously I had returned from overseas through NYC, settled in Hopewell and found a technician’s job at a local laboratory to support myself and my three children. Bill made me a better offer as a Research Assistant. He later told me that he was ‘willing to gamble’ on someone who, though 20 years out of college, had done voluntary field work and published. And ‘if that enthusiasm at dancing could be applied to doing research….’
Bill taught me how to do science. His standards were exacting, formidable. After writing out a research procedure with references, laying out everything needed, checking off the steps as they were done, and doing the statistical summaries and tests twice, one felt that the results could be trusted. (In those days it was t-tests with a slide rule and ANOVA with the help of an adding machine.) Bill also had me audit a course a semester, in related fields, something that I continued throughout my career. There was the thrill of being acknowledged in papers, of co-authoring papers, of publishing a useful independent project. There were wine celebrations of new papers.
The lab staff was in awe of Bill Jacobs. We knew we were working with a star who attracted international post docs and research associates. (He would later (1998) be awarded the Barnes prize of the American Society of Plant Physiologists for lifetime achievement in research and teaching of plant physiology.) When Bill was writing or thinking his office door would be closed and one dared not interrupt him, as ideas and insights were being ‘tossed up like a juggler handing many balls and interruption would bring them all crashing down.’
Inside this awesome and exacting mentor was a delightful person with a sharp sense of humor, who was supportive of women, who was interested in our families, who noticed when we wore something new, who included us in parties at their home. And that was quite a harrowing story he told about being lost in the mountains for days after a heavy blizzard, being given up for dead except that his father insisted on one more flyover.
I celebrate the life of Bill Jacobs.
Hannah Bonsey Suthers
Professional Research Staff
Rest in peace, smiling professor. You taught us well and always had a kind word for everyone. It’s quite a coincidence that you and Henry, the two members of my undergraduate thesis committee, have both moved on this month.
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