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Anecdotes

Adam Bernstein

As we go "live" with our obit blog, we hope to encourage readers to offer vivid anecdotes and remembrances about fascinating lives.

Here's one from the e-mail bag, about a renowned scientist and mushroom hunter:

Because you wrote the long obituary on Betty Hay, I thought you might be interested to know that I began working for her as her secretary/editorial assistant in June 1970, ten days after I graduated from Smith. She was obviously a brilliant, pioneering researcher, as you indicated in your article, and an avid amateur mycologist.

In her old station wagon, she kept a shovel and boots, and she would often stop on Jamaica Plain on her way to work to dig up a mushroom or hack one from a tree. At lunchtime, her staff (lab techs, graduate students, post-docs, and even lowlier me) would gather, as Dr. Hay would tenatively identify the specimen of the day. Someone would fry it up with butter and salt and pepper. We would all sample it gingerly. That was mandatory. "Nutty" was always the spoken consensus. Indigestion, from the mushroom itself or the worry about its true nature, was the common result.

Dr. Hay was not much distracted from her mission by the details of everyday life - her own or others'. But she was devoted to her cat in an uncharacteristically girlish way. One day she called to say she would not be in, because Barnabas was missing and she wanted to be home "in case he calls." For 37 years I have carried the mental image of Barnabas whipping out his emergency dime and making that call.

After a year of transcribing impenetrable lectures, articles, and grant applications, and sometimes weeping in frustation at my typewriter, I fled. But, curiously, I seem to have retained vivid memories of my brief time with Dr. Hay.

Sincerely,

Kathleen Muller
Washington, D.C.

By Adam Bernstein  |  September 12, 2007; 1:52 PM ET
Categories:  Adam Bernstein  
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