Saturday, August 3, 2019

P. Edgar Hare: Staff member 1963-1999

Ed's retirement conference, 2000
            Ed Hare was born in 1933 in Burma, while his parents served as missionaries for the Seventh Day Adventist Church. He attended Pacific Union College, where received his B. S. in Chemistry. One year later, he earned a M. S. degree from University of California at Berkeley. For his doctorate, he studied at the California Institute of Technology, under the guidance of Hans Lowenstam. Ed’s dissertation was on the amino acids and proteins from carbonate minerals found in the shells of modern and fossil mussels (Mytilus californicus), which was subsequently published in Science magazine in 1963.
            His work attracted the attention of then Geophysical Laboratory Director Phillip H. Abelson. The two scientists corresponded for several years until Ed Hare was invited to join the scientific staff in 1963. During his early years at the Laboratory, Ed set up an instrument, new at that time, to measure amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. His first paper on the development of new methodology for amino acid analysis appeared in 1966 in the Federation of the American Society for Experimental Biology, in which he described the use of pressure coupled with automation to simply the analytical procedure.
            In 1968, Ed Hare and Phillip Abelson published the first paper on the discovery of left and right-handed amino acids in fossil shells. Living organisms are composed almost exclusively of left-handed amino acids. After an organism dies, the left-handed amino acids convert to right-handed amino acids, a process that Hare developed for accurately dating ancient shells and bones. His work for the remainder of his career centered around studying the conversion, called racemization, and exploiting for dating early Man in North America, early human evolution in Africa, and the geological progression of Arctic climates.
            When the first rocks came back to Earth from the Moon, Hare was involved in searching for signs of life on these precious samples. He published his findings in Science in 1971, finding some evidence for amino acids in lunar samples, but most probably from terrestrial sources. By this time, Hare’s laboratory became the training ground for young scientists from paleontology, geochemistry, archaeology, and biochemistry. In 1979, he published a landmark methods paper on new techniques for measuring the left and right-handed amino acids. With co-author and inventor Emanuel-Av from the Weitzmann Institute of Science in Israel, they obtained a patent on their invention.
            Ed passed away in 2006. I spoke at the memorial service for him that was held at the 7th Day Adventist Church in Takoma Park. He had retired in 1999 and died seven years later on the day of the Geophysical Lab’s Centennial Celebration, which also happened to be Tom Hoering's birthday. Ed Hare as one of three organic/biogeochemists at the Geophysical Lab worked with Tom and me from 1977 to 1995, when Tom died and George Cody arrived on the scene. Tom and I worked closely together over the years, but Ed was more of an occasional colleague. At the old Lab, Ed's lab and office were on the 2nd floor, whereas Tom and I were on the first floor.
            The memorial service brought up some of the central issues of Ed's Life.
First, to The Seventh Day Adventist Church and his family and friends, Ed was known as Peter, which is his first name. As we listened to the stories about Ed, it was even more clear that Ed as Peter was a completely different person than the man we knew at the Geophysical Laboratory. The 7th Day Adventist Church is one of the fundamentalist religions: they don't eat meat, their Sabbath is on Saturday, they don't drink alcohol (at least not when others are noticing). They also believed the Earth and the world were about 12,000 years old before Ed started his work in amino acid dating.
            The story came out again and again at the Memorial service that Ed Hare
(Peter Hare actually) changed the way this fundamental religion viewed the
Creation. At a party he was asked what was the oldest organic matter he had ever analyzed. "25,000 years", he said," but some rocks were hundreds of millions of years old". These facts blew the minds of the Adventists that day, but as earth scientist we knew he’d analyzed rocks billions of years old, and some of those bones were over a million years old. It was the dichotomy of Ed/Peter's Life. Ed was sent to graduate school specifically to try to prove that the Earth was only 5,375 years old, like the Bible claims. When he reported his findings to the Church along with Irving Taylor and David von Endt, the Church essentially excommunicated them for several years. Eventually, the Church came around, with Ed and his colleagues writing a book for them on rectifying science with stories in the Bible.
            At the annual Geophysical Lab Christmas party, I think Ed often ate a piece of the roast beef. Even in the Seventh Day Adventist Church, God is forgiving, and when the roll is called, Ed will be there. Near the end of his career at the Lab, he was heard to emit a swear word or two; God is forgiving, and when the roll is called up yonder, he'll be there. Let me describe his normal working day at the Old Lab.
            The door to Ed's lab was always closed. You walked into his office, which
was also the home of the amino acid analyzers and gas chromatograph.
Around a corner was another instrument lab complete with whirring liquid chromatographs and ovens. Further around the corner was a chemical prep lab littered with dirty glassware, old samples, various science trash, and a fume hood that never worked. In an interior room entered through a swinging door, was the acid room. Fixtures corroded to a fine, peppery green, acid stained floors, cabinets, windows, and the proverbial fume hood that did not work. Instruments that entered this room, never came out unless they were sopping with acid and completely destroyed. It was science the old way.
Glenn Goodfriend (l) and Ed Hare (r) circa 1993
            Layer onto this scene the people. When you opened Ed's door you could be assured that someone, that was a visiting scientist, would be standing at one of the machines. Ed had a complete spectrum of people from the biggest nuts of the day to the most prestigious and serious scientists. Often, the scientists/students were from the Church. Ed continued quietly to interface church and science as a professor at Columbia Union College in Takoma Park. Once a student or visitor came, they always returned. The legacy of people, who lined up to use Ed's one of a kind instruments, is enormous. When we planned his "retirement" festschrift, an argument ensued as to whether we should invite the legacy or only invite "amino acid scientists" with no regard to connection. It turned out that there were no amino acid scientists who did not originate in some fashion to Ed Hare.
            As the Memorial service went on, the accolades heaped on Ed, I could not help thinking about how we at the Lab and his close colleagues thought of him in the last 10 years or so of his career. Ed had turned into a difficult man. The timing was hard to pin down. Was it a difficult postdoc that he had? Was it the move to the New Building? Was it the requirement to write grants? Was it the death of his old Professor? Was something happening at home? Was he depressed or having complications from medication? We could not pin down the problem.
            Time after time, Tom and I would try to start a project with Ed, only to have it stall at the start, or halt in the middle, or putter out at the end. Ed was unable to write scientific papers, and his presentations were growing embarrassing. I recall his last show to the Visiting committee, when he appeared with some yellowed overheads, and talked about work he'd done twenty years before. In conversation, Ed had a way of looking off to the distance after about 5 minutes; in the lab, he could get angry and yell at a student.
            So we grumbled. I did my work with my friend Noreen Tuross. Ed's lab was propped up by Glenn Goodfriend (who passed away a couple of years ago himself), who was a "difficult" person at best. When Ed retired, he walked out of the lab, and I  was left the chore to clean it out and up. Ed never threw away anything, nor did he open any mail. I found some great correspondence, but threw out an enormous amount of stuff. (I frequently remind Doug Rumble that if I have to do this for him, I will hunt him down!) The signs were all there, but we were not able to read them.
            Within 6 months of his retirement, Ed was no longer able to hide his problems. It was determined that he had an advanced stage of Parkinson's disease, without the shaking. His wife Patti took over. She was on a mission to save her Peter from the ravages of this disease. They moved from their home in California to a retirement community in Florida. His wife was a true saint through out this time. Ed never recovered, and also had Lyme disease on top of this. After his death, it was determined that he had a form of dementia somewhere in the middle of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. He is gone; the roll will be called up yonder, and Ed will be there.
            At the service we heard only good things. Peter (Ed) was a trumpet player; he loved basketball and baseball; he took his grandchildren to fast food restaurants (and they too will be called up yonder, not to worry); he gave science lectures to the Church and changed their opinions about the age of the Earth and the Creation. There was little mention of how the disease had affected him, but it was in our minds, those of us who worked with him daily.
            Ed Hare was a great scientist. He revolutionized paleontology by enabling
people to date fossils. He trained an army of geochemists, archaeologists,
stratigraphers, and organic geochemists. At the Lab, he was both Yin and
Yang. The memories of Ed at the Lab today are dimmed, only a handful of people knowing who he was and what he accomplished. His last years did not help him. None of us understood what he was going through.
            As Type A people, we reward those scientists who continue "sharp as a tack" into the office every day until they die. We tend to judge older scientists with the eyes of youth--why aren't they on the same funding track as I am? Their labs are old fashioned, we really need their space. I'll never get old, and if I do, I'll make way for younger folks. And then, there you are. Looking retirement, or possible disability in the face, and what do you decide? What can I learn from Ed's story? A host of things-tolerance, learning not to judge without knowing all the facts, acceptance that old age isn't always Golden.

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