Monday, April 21, 2008

6 degrees of 30 years of separation

I get a call from my dad the other night.

"Hello Claudia, I just got invited to a formal dinner with the acting surgeon general."
Well, I'm not surprised, my dad is a science writer, covers medical ethics, history of science, and genetics, and he is just finishing up a book on agent orange with a Harvard prof.
"That's nice Dad," I say while cleaning my nails.
"He is giving a lecture and being honored at Stony Brook, and I wondered if maybe you knew him, he graduated about the same time you did."
Since Stony Brook University is at all times the size of a small city it is like someone saying hey you visited Walla Walla, Washington did you meet Joe? Sure, out of 30,000 students and employees, I ran into this one person.
"I was told that he specifically asked for me," says Dad, with a bit of awe.
Again, no shock. He was one of the most popular teachers of all time on campus and famous for lecturing to 700 students without a mike and keeping them all amused and awake even in early bird classes. He could also draw an epidemiology map of malaria in the world in 30 seconds on the blackboard. Quite a showman, very entertaining. I made sure I got an A in his bio 101 class for non-majors.
"And then I went though the stack of campus magazines you worked on and saw an article he wrote. He must have worked on the magazine with you."
"Uh, what's his name?" I ask.
"Steven G. A. L. (Dad takes a breath and keeps spelling out the name) S. O. N, with a "v", you know him?"
There is this silence on my end. The silence that asks, how did I not pay any attention whatsoever to the news and the importance of the role of the acting surgeon general?
"We both knew him Dad, I'm pretty sure you had him in one of your classes."
I pop open my laptop and do a quick google.
First of all, 30 years later is a long time. I squint and then over the distance of time, recognition snaps into place. Wow!
"He was incredibly bright, ethical, energetic, artistic and focused, even in college," I tell dad, "it was clear he'd have a great career, and clearly, he has. I'm sure you'll enjoy talking to him, say hi for me."


David Galson said...
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Claudia Carlson said...
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