Gong Gong says

This is a posthumous blog of our father's (Lim Kok Ann) life. When our father passed away on 8 March 2003, he left behind an unpublished autobiography. We'd like to celebrate his life by sharing his autobiography through this blog.

"I have dredged these anecdotes from memory just to pass the time; if they amuse my grandchildren their purpose will have been served; if they provide any instruction, it will be a happy coincidence; that they are disjointed is probably to be expected.

Aurora was the name of my grandfather’s house in Kulangsu.   Amoy, where I spent the first five or six years of my life.   I still have vivid memories of events that took place when I was barely three years old.

Lim Kok Ann
October 1996"

Sunday, December 07, 2008

3:15 US Tour 1958 - Joseph L. Melnick, Baylor Medical College

Hale had with great energy obtained grants from the WHO, Geneva, and from the Rockefeller Foundation. New York. In the summer of 1958 he obtained a travel grant to visit US laboratories but learned before he left Singapore that Professor Wilson Smith was about to retire. Hale decided to resign from the University of Singapore so that he could be in England when Wilson Smith vacated his chair for it was Hale’s ambition to occupy it. In the circumstances, he felt obliged to cancel his American tour and recommended that I should use the funds provided for a six-months visit to the US; meanwhile, he would hold the fort until his six-month notice of resignation took effect. I was given only two weeks to prepare for my departure, but it was an offer that I could scarcely refuse though I was still in service bond on account of the leave I had taken in 1953-54. The University rule was that for each month of study leave you were given you had to work two months for the University, else repay the salary you were given while you were away. I had little intention of leaving the University, but the bond was an irritating reminder that I was a paid servant, a condition that my father had warned me against.

Rosie was exhilarated beyond words when she heard that she would accompany me to the US, well, not exactly accompany me, for she scoffed when she heard my travel plans: Singapore / London, non-stop, take the next convenient plane for New York and the great beyond. “Fly over all the interesting places in between?” she asked in derision, “I don’t want to fly when for the same money, or even less. I could travel by boat.” So Rosie made her own travel plans, and insisted on paying her own expenses from her savings. Her routing was Singapore to Rangoon by plane to see friends Amak had there, then take plane to Athens for a tour of the Grecian Isles, then take the Orient Express train to Brussels and London where we could meet briefly, then take ship from London to New York where we would rendezvous at Gajdusek’s house in New York, after which, “Que sera, sera,” we shall see what we shall see. Rosie’s plans were not unreasonable, so she left a two week before I did; we met in London for a couple of days before she took ship and I took plane for New York. Carleton Gajdusek came from Washington to meet me in New York and we visited his home in Bethesda, Maryland where he lived, near his work place, the National Institutes of Health, nominally in Washington, but actually located in Maryland and not in Washington, D.C. We went back to New York to meet Rosie off her boat and stayed with Carleton’s mother in New York before I set off for my final destination in America.

The first thing I did in New York was actually to report to the Rockefeller Foundation to see what plans they had for me because I had left Singapore at such short notice that I had no time to arrange where I should spend my six months in the US. When the Rockfeller Foundation learned that I was interested in poliomyelitis virus and tissue cultures they said that I should go to Dr. Joseph L. Melnick who had recently been appointed Chairman of the Department of Epidemiology in Baylor Medical College in Houston, and had a grant for work on poliomyelitis. I was a trifle put out when I discovered that Houston was in Texas, for I thought the best science centres were either in Eastern USA or in California, not in the deep south. I was mistaken. Houston had the NASA, the Space Centre, and was leading in open heart surgery, in the Methodist Hospital next to Baylor, amongst other things, and of course, had its share of the oil wealth of Texas. Melnick had been invited to Baylor Medical College to start a Department of Virology, and was meanwhile Chairman of the Department of Epidemiology and was responsible for teaching medical microbiology. Melnick had recently published a students’ text-book on Medical Microbiology. The arrangement in American universities was that they provided space and salary for the teaching staff one of whom was designated Chairman. For research expenses including the cost of major equipment, research assistants and technicians, each staff member was on his own and had to seek the aid of private foundations or government institutions interested in extending the scope of their work. Melnick was well funded in this respect, having received grants from the National Institutes of Health for work on polio, as well as from WHO and elsewhere. Instead of accompanying me to Houston, Rosie decided to take a course in the Visual Arts at Columbia University that covered the cinema and the stage. She stayed with Carleton’s mother in White Plains, a north New York suburb, and commuted to her classes by sub-way which in those days was not as dangerous as now. She had a wonderful 3-4 months in New York going to matinees on Broadway and visiting museums between her classes before she took off again to join me in Houston.


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