Friday, June 14, 2013

Henry Dawson, Leo Durochers and The Virile Age

In 1939, the fiery new manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers set the tone for his famous tenure at the beleaguered team.

The Dodgers, Leo Durochers thought, were nice guys.

However, the Thirties were a Virile Age, with no time for tortoises or 97 pound weaklings.

Hares beat tortoises every time and Goliaths defeat Davids : yes, nice guys are nice and a joy to be around, but nevertheless they finish last every time.

If terminal diffidence is a form of niceness, then Henry Dawson was definitely nice.

Far far too nice nice to be a successful scientist in an age of virile men, what we would today probably call Type A personalities and Alpha Males.

Fortunately for humanity, Dawson combined his extreme diffidence with a stubborn intellectual courage.

Point of fact, most Alpha Males have never expressed an unconventional thought in their lives.

True they make a point of being offensive to nice people and 'ladies' , offensive to conventional niceness.

But alongside of conventional public niceness is an equally large body of semi-public locker room sentiments.

Alpha males merely express publicly what a lot of people say and think in private.

One thinks of General Secretary Henry Dawson's much better known counterpart at the Third International Congress on Microbiology, President Thomas "Tom" Rivers., a favorite among the media.

Old fashioned Southerner Tom was always brutally and colourfully frank about preferring his "boys" , those on his teams of researchers who were within his favoured circle, his "good ole boys".

This in pointed contrast to his other researchers on the team ,left outside looking in : the colored boys, the Jew boys and the gals.

Dawson kept his mouth politely shut about his critics  - not just in public but apparently in private as well.

But he was intellectually stubborn, literally onto death.

If he didn't have tenure, he'd give up his career to see his weekend and holiday research completed over the resistance of his boss (Avery).

When he did have tenure, he bucked his critics by not requesting grants and extra facilities.

He knew of the snares in the strings that would come attached to those grants and extra facilities .

He stayed small and on the cheap, but he stayed free.

And if you like semi-happy endings and tortoises, yes he finished first, well ahead of his hare competitors . And then he died.

Died of the disease that crippled him all the time he was proving up the immediate use of wartime life-saving natural penicillin.

If he hadn't remained stubbornly in the race, we'd probably would not have had abundant natural penicillin for WWII's wounded and all those rendered sick in the hunger and dislocation of the war's end.

It turns out that even in The Virile Age, nice guys and 97 pound weaklings finish first....

No comments:

Post a Comment