Roger W. Hendrix July 7, 1943 - Aug. 15, 2017 Lover of Molecular Biology, Renaissance Music

By Huffaker, Christopher | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), September 5, 2017 | Go to article overview

Roger W. Hendrix July 7, 1943 - Aug. 15, 2017 Lover of Molecular Biology, Renaissance Music


Huffaker, Christopher, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Roger W. Hendrix loved words, music and science. He was a microbiologist - studying bacteriophages, viruses that attack bacteria - a clarinet and recorder player, and a lover of wordplay.

Sometimes he was able to bring those passions together. He held Christmas concerts in the University of Pittsburgh biology department and called the band the BSO, or Biological Sciences Orchestra, a play on the Boston Symphony Orchestra, said his brother Barton Hendrix.

"All the world's a phage," reads the subtitle of one of his more than 100 published papers ("Evolutionary relationships among diverse bacteriophages and prophages:" precedes the subtitle pun).

And those loves fed into each other. "That he was such an excellent musician had something to do with how easily he was able to see patterns" in his work, said Robert Duda, a research assistant professor who worked in Mr. Hendrix's lab for 29 years.

He also was, loved ones said, a wonderful man. "I can only remember one occasion when he ever said anything rude or negative about anyone, even in private to me," said Susan Godfrey, his wife of 46 years.

Mr. Hendrix died Aug. 15 in Pittsburgh following a stroke earlier in the month. He was 74.

Mr. Hendrix grew up in Walnut Creek, Calif., and spent his childhood backpacking in the Sierra Mountains with his family. He was already an avid scholar and musician in high school, part of the award-winning jazz band at Pleasant Hill High School, according to his brother.

He studied biology at the California Institute of Technology then completed his doctorate at Harvard University. His Ph.D. adviser was James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA.

It was due to Mr. Watson that he met Ms. Godfrey: Mr. Watson was director of the Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory of Molecular Biology, while Ms. Godfrey's microbiology Ph.D. adviser, University of Pennsylvania's Sol Goodgal, was teaching bacterial genetics there. They met while working in their respective advisers' Cold Springs Harbor labs.

While most men were turned off by her math background in that era, Ms. Godfrey said, Mr. Hendrix responded by peppering her with math and biology jokes. "What do you get when you cross a grape and an elephant?" Ms. Godfrey recalled him asking. "Grape-elephant-sin(theta)," she answered, playing on the mathematical "cross product" of two vectors.

Mr. Hendrix shared many of his loves with Ms. Godfrey.

One of the first times she met his family, she said, was a backpacking trip in the Sierras. Later, some Harvard friends of his trained them in ice climbing and took them to the Andes. …

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