"Long time, no chat!"
It was 35 years betwen visits for Dr. Glenville Jones, Craine Professor & Head, Department of Biochemistry, and Dr. Alfred Bader. The two had a lot to talk about.
Back in 1976, a young 29-year-old, recently-appointed University of Toronto professor and scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute was reading a trade magazine called Aldrichimica Acta when he came across a bold and innovative message from the Aldrich Chemical Company president: If you have a problem with any aspect of our products then “Please Bother Us.”
It has to be said that the young research scientist was somewhat skeptical that the president and CEO of a large U.S. company would even consider responding to a lowly customer in Canada, but being young and impressionable he decided to write anyway to “Please Bother Us” about problems that he was having over supplies of a custom-synthesized dienophile.
Imagine the scientist’s surprise when some days later the telephone rang and a voice announced “Hello, this is Alfred Bader, Sc'45, Arts'46, MSc'47, LLD'86, President of the Aldrich Chemical Company, you contacted me over supply problems you were having.” The scientist’s heartbeat accelerated as he realized that he was talking to a company president and that sometimes people do listen!
After some discussion over the fine chemicals during which Bader pointed out that “personnel changes” had been made in the Montreal office to improve Aldrich operations, he announced: “Look, I’m going to be coming through Toronto next week on my way to a small Ontario university called Queen’s University, where I'm a trustee, and I'd like to meet you. How about I come by the Hospital for Sick Children and we will have lunch at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)?”
A date was made and, of course, the young professor who was going to meet Bader was yours truly.
The day arrived and we made our introductions, a young green scientist and an experienced middle-aged company president; a mismatch if ever there was one.
It should be said that the young scientist had grown up in the U.K., enjoyed art and was not a complete scientific philistine, but on entry into the AGO he was amazed when Bader steered them from the beaten track into the room for European Dutch Masters and specifically towards one painting. It was at one end of the studio and in the opinion of the young scientist was a dark, somewhat-dreary painting attributed to Rembrandt (or perhaps one of his school).
After studying the painting for 5-10 minutes, Bader took the neophyte aside and remarked: “The sign says it is by Rembrandt but it is not. It was probably painted by someone in his school, but not him.”
It was clear to the young scientist that he was out of his league talking about art, but he suddenly remembered that the cover art on Aldrichimica Acta was actually Bader’s other love besides chemistry. When Bader was asked if he wanted now to view the other art in AGO including the Group of Seven, he dismissively remarked: “Rubbish! Let’s eat”
So over lunch in the AGO cafeteria, Bader was questioned over several topics including the Aldrichimica Acta cover-art which he admitted was a passion—finding Dutch Masters and investing in them. It became apparent that Bader owned many of the paintings on the front of each issue and wrote the incisive interpretations of the Biblical symbols in each work for the education of chemists.
Bader also explained his alumni connections to Queen’s after WWII and to a small college in Milwaukee. These were affiliations that he felt an obligation to honour. Since the young professor had trained at the U Wisconsin-Madison there was some middle ground. The meeting ended with business, chemistry and left the young professor with memories of the day he met a company president.
Flash forward 35 years. The young professor has now moved to Queen’s University (in 1984), has risen through the ranks and is now the 64-year-old Head of Biochemistry (2002-2011). He has never again met Bader despite his obvious Queen’s connections, was not invited to the various Bader endowments (ie. Chernoff Hall); and has watched from a distance as successive Heads of Chemistry, but not Biochemistry, have been introduced to him. All the more surprising when you consider that Aldrich Chemical Company with its biochemical affiliate, Sigma has spanned the whole range of the organic chemistry/biochemistry fields over the past half century.
More than 35 years since that fateful encounter, the biochemist has now met a few company presidents, has had a successful career in Vitamin D research, co-founded his own biotechnology company, Cytochroma and learned a few business lessons from that day at the AGO. So is it any surprise that the young professor wanted to meet once more with the company president, if only to relive that distant foray into Dutch Masters?
Note: Drs. Glenville Jones and Alfred Bader did meet again. They had lunch and caught up on 35 years of personal news when they had lunch, when Bader and his wife Isabel were on campus in May. To read more about the meeting, please see p. 16 of the Summer 2011 print edition of the Review.