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Biographical Memoirs: Volume 62 (1993)

Chapter: LAST DAYS

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Suggested Citation:"LAST DAYS." National Academy of Sciences. 1993. Biographical Memoirs: Volume 62. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2201.
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Page 106
Suggested Citation:"LAST DAYS." National Academy of Sciences. 1993. Biographical Memoirs: Volume 62. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2201.
×
Page 107

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MAX LUDWIG HENNING DELBRÜCK 106 rhythm. He was intensely and poetically interested in words" (D.R.S.). Max's musical tastes were classical, with a special liking for J. S. Bach. He played the piano poorly but with some enthusiasm, and taught himself the alto recorder well enough to play chamber music in home ensembles. LAST DAYS When Max reached the normal age of retirement in 1977, the Caltech trustees appointed him to the special position of Board of Trustees Professor of Biology, Emeritus, so that he could continue the research of his Phycomyces Group at the Institute. Early in 1978 he learnt that he was suffering from multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells of the bone marrow. This responded well to chemotherapy, apart from occasional remissions and the need for blood transfusions, so that he was able to travel to Paris with his daughter Nicola in the spring of 1979 to be inducted as a Foreign Member of the French Académie des Sciences. He retained the interest of a scientist towards his disease from its beginning, never complained, and, from first to last, retained the upper hand. A few months before his death he suffered a mild stroke which impaired his vision on one side; he found this more interesting than disturbing, and smilingly said, "The students need me as a guinea pig; they are setting up some tests they cannot do with the monkeys" (B.C.). When Max first learnt about his illness he started a diary which he called "Heimreise" ("Journey Home") to record his thoughts about its progress. Here are two entries: "Wohin gehen wir denn?" ("Where are we going?") "Immer nach Hause" ("Always toward home") This quotation was written on 24 September 1978, and his

MAX LUDWIG HENNING DELBRÜCK 107 thoughts on this theme were: "The journey of life which seems to be going outward, in the end turns out to have been going inward most of the time." On 5 March 1979 he wrote, "Im leichten Wellenschlag der Wochen treib ich dahin. Ein steuerloses Blatt bald zu verschwinden." ("I drift with the gentle undulation of the weeks. A rudderless leaf soon to disappear.") During the last few weeks of his life, Max announced one day that he had decided to live for two more years in order to complete his autobiography which he had recently started to write. Only 3 days before his death he began to dictate the chapter "Light and life" (B.C.). I WISH TO RECORD my most grateful thanks to Max's wife, Manny Delbrück, for her invaluable help in compiling this Memoir and commenting on the draft manuscript, and also to their daughter Nicola (N.D.) for her impressions of family life. Dr. Patricia Burke kindly provided me with a full bibliography, compiled with Manny's assistance, and Professor L. Hood provided an up-to- date list of Max's honours and other data. I am also indebted to many people who offered me impressions and reminiscences of Max. Personal and scientific recollections of his early career in theoretical physics were sent to me by Professor Sir Charles Frank, O.B.E., F.R.S. (C.F.) who also put me in touch with the University of Bristol, Dr. G. Herzberg, F.R.S., Professor N. Thompson (N.T.), and Professor V. F. Weisskopf (V.F.W.). Professor A. P. Eslava (A.P.E.) and Dr. E. D. Lipson provided assessments of the work of the Phycomyces Group, and Professor P. Starlinger (P.S.) enlightened me on the conception and birth of the Cologne Institute. Dr. P. M. Gresshoff, Professor G. S. Stent, and Professor M. J. D. White, F.R.S. kindly suggested appropriate amendments to the draft manuscript. Finally, I must also thank the following for permitting me to quote from their personal communications, contributions to Max's Memorial service, and other unpublished sources: Professor E. S. Anderson, F.R.S. (E.S.A.), Professor S. Benzer (S.B.), Fraulein Beate Carrière (B.C.) who recorded the last few weeks of Max's life (translated for me from the

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Biographic Memoirs: Volume 62 contains the biographies of deceased members of the National Academy of Sciences and bibliographies of their published works. Each biographical essay was written by a member of the Academy familiar with the professional career of the deceased. For historical and bibliographical purposes, these volumes are worth returning to time and again.

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