Teach, Then Trust: Elizabeth W. Jones (1939-2008): Mentor to Many

By Connelly, Tracey DePellegrin; Lemmon, Sandra K. et al. | Genetics, February 2009 | Go to article overview

Teach, Then Trust: Elizabeth W. Jones (1939-2008): Mentor to Many


Connelly, Tracey DePellegrin, Lemmon, Sandra K., Mitchell, Aaron P., Woolford, John, Jr., Genetics


Even if the open windows of science at first make us shiver after the cozy indoor warmth of traditional humanizing myths, in the end the fresh air brings vigor, and the great spaces have a splendor of their own.

BERTRAND RUSSELL, What I Believe, 1925

FOUNDATIONS

Elizabeth (Beth) Jones reveled in the excitement of scientific discovery and fostered curiosity with steadfast determination. With high standards and rigor, she applied a firmbut gentle hand to cultivate the curiosity of generations of students. Inquisitiveness about science and the workings of nature was threaded through her life, unabated, from early childhood.

Born in Seattle, Beth spent her first decade in Diablo, a small town at the base of the Washington Cascades, in the Skagit River Gorge, where her father worked for Seattle City Light at the Diablo Dam Powerhouse. Lacking even a highway-trains provided the sole access-the setting provided Beth and her three siblings fertile fields for adventure. Educated in a one-room schoolhouse (Figure 1), they spent their days playing alongside the dam, building, climbing, and exploring the environs of Diablo Lake.

It was a very dangerous life. We were always out fishing, playing in the riverbed. My parents had to teach us and trust us.

E.W.J.

Beth's parents set her stage, encouraging reading, goal setting, and risk taking. Their tenet-teaching and then trusting-came to exemplify Beth's philosophy as an educator, an editor, and an experimentalist.

In an autobiographical lecture presented at Carnegie Mellon University last March, Beth acknowledged the remarkable influence herparents hadonher.Her mother, Dorothea ("Dowty"), was intrigued by plants and flowers; her father, "KC," was an avid bird-watcher. The family traveled extensively throughout theWest: Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Crater Lake. Beth said her parents "provided a background of heightened awareness of things around me that fed my curiosity."

Her father felt his children should reach for whatever they wanted, regardless of their gender. His influence can be seen throughout Beth's life, especially in the way she mentored women scientists.

My father, in a mental sense, raised me as a son. Although he had southern roots, he did not subscribe to stereotypical 'boy things' or 'girl things'; rather he expected me to do well in whatever I did and to seek out and make the most of opportunities . . . I didn't realize for a long time what a gift that was. I decided what I wanted to do based upon what I wanted to do . . . and didn't decide based on whether it was proper.

E.W.J.

Beth's early schooling sowed the seeds of her teaching philosophy. She learned to read at an unusually young age and confessed that she "became very cocky about [reading]."

Beth admired her teacher in the one-room schoolhouse, because she managed to keep track of the progress of every student and accommodate each one. Mrs. Kerchen "lay in wait" as Beth later described it. She once asked Beth to read aloud a selection containing the word "aisle," which Beth had never before seen and had no idea how to pronounce. She stumbled in the reading and thereby learned a lesson about being overconfident. As Beth's students (and many of her colleagues) will recognize, she adopted some of Mrs. Kerchen's teaching style.

That's the kind of teacher she was-very encouraging, but she didn't let you get by anything.

E.W.J.

Diablo had no high school, so the family relocated to a larger town when Beth's elder sister reached eighth grade. Middle school in Longview, Washington, held few challenges for Beth, who was nearly 2 years ahead in her lessons. She challenged herself by learning to play (and quickly mastering) the French horn. She was one of the 5 (of 162) students in her high school graduation class who went off to college. (One of them was John Abelson, Cal Tech Emeritus Professor and now on the faculty of the University of California, San Francisco. …

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