Dick Lewontin is 80 today

March 29, 2009 • 5:15 am

My Ph.D. advisor, mentor, and friend Richard C. “Dick” Lewontin turns 80 today.  Still active at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, churning out pieces for The New York Review of Books (here’s a good exemplar), and chopping wood on his Vermont farm, let no one say that Dick has reached his dotage.  Distressing to the rest of us who are ageing fast, Dick has only a few gray hairs and wrinkles, and looks pretty much as he did when I came to his lab in 1973.   On his 70th birthday, several hundred of his former students, postdocs, and collaborators assembled at Harvard for “Dickfest”, and there will be a “Dickfest II” this summer.   This is not the place for me to wax effusive about Dick’s many talents as researcher, writer, and teacher; just let me say that I dedicated WEIT to him.  Hoist one for the “old” guy today.


If you’d like to see him in action, eloquent as always, below is an hour-long interview (“Conversation with History”) he did with Harry Kreisler at Berkeley:

8 thoughts on “Dick Lewontin is 80 today

  1. Last fall, a few graduate students at Harvard convinced Dick Lewontin to teach a biostatistics course even though he wouldn’t receive pay as an emeritus professor. We met at 8am every week (early for some students!) to take his class. I know that my peers and I were very grateful for the biological insight that Dick brought to his lectures.

    When and where is Dickfest II?

  2. In a guest post earlier I’d mentioned that my major professor was E.E. Williams, and de facto he was, but because EEW was retired, my official major professor was Dick Lewontin. So along with Jerry, I too will be hoisting one (or two) in his honor today. Dick is the smartest guy I have ever met. Dick once visited my friend and colleague Bob O’Hara, and Bob was explaining some things he was working on to Dick. Bob reported to me that, in five minutes, Dick understood his ideas more clearly than Bob himself did after six months of thinking about them. I once attended with my then infant daughter one of the regular seminars Dick hosted, taking a seat where I could make a quick exit if necessary. To my chagrin, Dick came and picked up my daughter, and played with her near the front of the room throughout the visitor’s seminar. When it came time for discussion, Dick’s opening question showed that, far from being distracted, he had taken in everything said, understood it, and penetrated to the heart of the matter.

    I’m not surprised Dick taught a class last fall on a volunteer basis. When I was a student, at the end of a fall graduate genetics class, he said he’d like to cover more topics, and asked if we would want to just keep on meeting through the spring semester– no official course, no registration, no credit, just for the love of it. We did. Happy birthday, Dick!

    Greg Mayer

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