Kevin Warnock

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Why in 1978 I moved to San Francisco from Chicago

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The Memorial Church at Harvard University photographed by user Siim Teller, April 22, 2011

The Memorial Church at Harvard University photographed by user Siim Teller, April 22, 2011

Tonight, September 2, 2012, I learned why in 1978 I moved to San Francisco, California USA. I never knew why until today, because I never thought to ask the right questions.

I was born in Chicago, Illinois, USA, at the University of Chicago, where my mother worked as a Pathologist.

My parents had married soon after she graduated from Harvard Medical School, where she was one of five women in a class with 145 men.

My mother met my father Robert Warnock at Harvard, where he earned his PhD in Physics.

My father and my mother got married in The Memorial Church on the Harvard University campus, a church I visited in 2000 when I was in Boston, Massachusetts, USA meeting with storage vendor EMC to discuss an investment by their venture capital division in my startup Hotpaper.

When I visited The Memorial Church, it was just another church. When I told my father about my tour of the Harvard campus, courtesy of my EMC provided limousine with two eager salesman trying to sell me an unnecessary USD $1,000,000 dollar storage array for my startup, my father said ‘your mother and I got married in that church!’

After they wed, my father decided to move with my mother to Chicago so that he could work at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT).

My mother was doing research at the University of Chicago, discovering that asbestos is even deadlier than was known at the time. Amazingly, the University of Chicago did not have a spectroscopy attachment for its electron microscope, and my mother needed this device for her research. IIT did have the needed equipment, but they charged money to use it, and IIT was a lengthy drive from our house at 5138 South Dorchester in Hyde Park, on the South side of Chicago. My mother rode her bicycle to University of Chicago, and it would have not have appealed to her to have had to drive to IIT on a frequent and regular basis.

My mother’s research was funded by the National Institutes of Health. I would think that a grant could have been won to order a spectroscopy attachment, but for whatever reason, that was not the path my mother took. Instead, she wrote to a friend she had worked with for a year some twenty years earlier in Seattle, Washington, USA. During that two decade span, that friend had become Chair of the Pathology Department at the University of California at San Francisco.

My mother explained her research and that she had heard that UCSF had a spectroscopy attachment for its electron microscope. My mother asked her friend if she could move to San Francisco and work at UCSF so she could use the required hardware. Her friend said ‘yes,’ and my mother started at UCSF as a full professor.

I learned tonight that my mother was promoted to full professor at University of Chicago just one month before she left for San Francisco. She had been an Associate Professor before that, and I remember as a kid the day my mother was granted tenure. Since I was young, I hadn’t heard that word before, so I thought she said ‘ten year.’ I assumed it was her tenth anniversary of employment. I told my mother that story tonight — perhaps for the first time.

I have a suspicion that University of Chicago panicked when they found out she was leaving for UCSF and rushed through the promotion to full professor, because the timing is so unlikely to have happened naturally. Even if that’s the case, I am sure my mother was pleased that she got to be a full professor at University of Chicago and University of California at San Francisco. My mother retired from UCSF years ago, so is now Professor Emeritus. She still has a website on the UCSF web server.

My mother decided to move our family to San Francisco, since my father had made the decision to move to Chicago. I did not know this until today.

I had always thought we moved to San Francisco because of its reputation as a great cosmopolitan city with superb weather. I had sometimes considered that perhaps UCSF had recruited my mother, but she dispelled that notion today. She did not have to interview for the job at UCSF. She did not have to compete with dozens of candidates. She asked her friend if she could work at UCSF and he said ‘yes.’

I am so thankful my mother needed a piece of equipment that University of Chicago didn’t have. She moved us to the center of the Internet world, and had we stayed in Chicago, I probably would not have become an Internet entrepreneur, which has allowed me to build a richly rewarding life that I cherish.

Thanks Mom! I love you.

A conversation with Janet D. Rowley

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Janet D Rowley of University of Chicago. Photograph via University of Chicago.

Janet D Rowley

I went to elementary, middle and high school with Roger Rowley, now the Director of The Prichard Art Gallery at the University of Idaho. My mother Martha Warnock always told me what a smart mother he had. I remember this even from when I was a young child. My mother was a professor at the University of Chicago at the time, as was Janet Rowley, Roger’s mother.

Janet Rowley comes up in conversation with my mother even now, because Rowley has been recently featured in two publications my mother reads regularly, The New Yorker and The New York Times.

The New York Times article was published in the print edition February 8, 2011. Sadly, I didn’t properly file my original paper version of the very long and fascinating New Yorker article, and I can’t find it via the search mechanism at that magazine’s website, or via Google. I believe I have the article at my house, and if and when I find it, I’ll scan it and amend this post, because it was captivating.

My mother thinks Janet Rowley will win a Nobel Prize. Given what I’ve read about her, I’d say that’s likely.

I wonder if I perhaps met her when I was at Lab School with her son Roger. I remember Roger Rowley well and sat next to him at dinner at my high school reunion ten and a half years ago.

[Note: Roger Rowley wrote to me shortly after I posted the above text letting me know that the Internet address for The Prichard Art Gallery has been updated. Please visit the Prichard Art Gallery here instead of via the link above in the first sentence. January 7, 2012 @ 5:20pm PST.]

Written by Kevin Warnock

January 7th, 2012 at 12:51 pm