Nydia Barker was born in the Ukraine, Russia in 1912. Her father, James, immigrated to the United States in 1913, settling in Chicago.
Three years later, as the Russian Revolution was escalating, her mother left their native country to join her father in the United States. It took them almost a year to reach Seattle, Washington. This was at roughly the same time the United States entered the First World War.
The Barker family lived in Chicago for approximately three years before moving on to Grand Rapids, and finally to Jackson, Michigan. It was here where Nydia attended high school.
Because she was unable to compete with others who had nice homes, clothes, and plenty to eat, Nydia focused on her classroom activities, the debate team, and dramatics. During this time the Great Depression was at full force and there was no money for her for things such as books or gym clothes. Lacking money, Nydia left school and moved to Detroit. Here she found whatever work she could, from waiting tables to jobs in factories.
In 1938, Nydia returned to Jackson to finish her last term
of high school, despite being nearly ten years older than
many of her classmates. She enrolled in Jackson Junior
College simultaneously with exactly $100 she had saved by
working as a typist. She finished JCC in two years with the
highest grades ever recorded. With a scholastic loan she
entered the University of Michigan as a sophomore and
Nydia Barker was working at Reynolds Field in Jackson to
help pay her college expenses. She was allowed one hour
of flying time per week as part of her pay. She obtained her
BS degree in Chemistry in 1942 and went on to work at
Firestone Rubber Company, General Laboratories as
She met her husband, Frederick Luthy, while working at the airport. He was also an aviation enthusiast. He encouraged her to continue her education as did the heads of the research lab. Nydia applied to Cornell and Stanford University, and was accepted at Cornell as a Research Assistant and instructor.
After a year at Cornell, where she was introduced to chemical microscopy, Nydia transferred to Stanford University in California. She transferred because Stanford had experts in the field of nitrogen chemistry. Nydia completed her Master's Degree in 1945, and her thesis was on the synthesis of possible anti-malarial compounds.
In 1946 Nydia married Frederick Luthy and began work on her Doctorate. Her thesis was to synthesize analogs of the active component of the quinine molecule. The professor under whom she was doing the thesis died of a brain tumor. This was when she had her first direct contact with the problem of cancer.
Finally, in 1948, ten years after she returned to high school, Nydia passed her Doctorate exams in Chemistry at Stanford University. She now had a B.S., M.A., and Ph.D., all in chemistry. At this time Nydia was 36 years old. The results of her doctorate were written up for publication and she had other publications in the Journal of Chemical Education, Journal of the American Chemical Society, and the Journal of Organic Chemistry. Nydia completed a paper for the American Chemical Society on certain physio-chemical properties of curarae, which was just beginning to be used as a muscle relaxant and adjuvant to anesthesia.
In 1950, on return from a trip around the world Nydia was charged with illegal
entry and deemed deportable. The following year Nydia would ask for voluntary
departure, having thought at the time that this would help her case for
citizenship. What followed was nearly a ten year period abroad which Nydia
deemed her "Strange Odyssey". (Nydia's own account of this period appears
further down this page bearing the title "Strange Odyssey")
In 1953, Nydia was invited to the University of Manchester, England as a Fellow
of the British Empire Cancer Campaign. This is where she began research in
possible chemotherapeutic agents. Her first publications in the British Journals
of the Chemical Society, and Pharmacy and Pharmacology were published
between 1954 and 1956.
In 1958 Frederick Luthy started a spark plug business in Havana, Cuba.
They moved to Havana and there Nydia taught chemistry and microscopy as a
full professor at the University of Havana. Frederick died of a heart attack in
Havana in 1959, shortly after Fidel Castro took over Cuba and Nydia left Havana, as it was no longer safe.
Nydia finally returned to the United States, specifically to Ada, Ohio. There her brother was a Professor of Psychology at Ohio Northern University. She was added to the staff as a research assistant and went of to head the Chemistry Department at Findlay College.
During her marriage with Frederick Luthy, Nydia had become acquainted with Allen Meyers through aviation. They married when Nydia returned to Michigan to work as a research assistant at the University of Michigan. She studied cancer in blood cells and became very involved in trying to get funding from the National Institute of Health for research on sickle cell anemia.
Nydia never received United States citizenship, despite living and working in the country for most of her life. She died in 1986 but is still remembered fondly. Nydia believed in education, and wanted to help young people get started in college. Nydia worked very hard for many years with no outside help to achieve her goals, and wanted to help others.
(The following is Nydia Meyers personal account of her time abroad following her voluntary departure from the United States. A PDF of the original copy is located at the end of the page.)
I am often asked the question, “Why did you leave?”. Today more than ten years later it is difficult to reconstruct the time, the attitudes, the hysteria of the early ‘50’s. McCarthy concepts and the man were riding the crest of support. Concentration camps for foreign born, especially those from “behind the iron curtain countries” were publicly announced, their location and building plans were published.
I was then and am still now a research scientist. I had the misfortune of being born in the wrong part of the world and at the age of four was brought by my mother to the United States. By a compounded set of circumstances I had never become a citizen although I was married to an American citizen. My parents had never obtained their final papers although they were for many years in process, and at one time it was thought I had derivative citizenship.
My citizenship was first questioned after a vacation trip around-the-world. This was the gift of my husband and climaxed my obtaining a doctorate degree after ten years of continuous study and laboratory research. We had traveled on one passport as was customary then. Now suddenly my whole world fell apart-- I was called a person without a country. Yet all my conscious life had been spent here in the United States. Every facet of American life and custom-- everything that is Americana is also a part of me.
During World War II, as a college student I assisted in the Civilian Pilot Training Program working after school hours and week-ends. I worked in a synthetic rubber plant as my first job as a chemist. My research thesis a year later in partial fulfillment for the Master’s Degree was the synthesis of possible antimalarial compounds. My Doctorate thesis was a fundamental study not only in that type of compound, but also basic nitrogen materials and systems. This was later to be part of my tools in cancer research.
But even before I had launched my college studies, I had worked in factories and offices to earn the money needed; I knew the full bitterness of the depression years. Now having emerged from the transformation of education and the fire of obtaining three college degrees--my country suddenly denied me. How could that be?
The hurt, the threat of confinement, the pity of friends to one who is proud was unbearable. Rather than continue the devastatingly cruel publicity both to me and my husband, I chose in 1951 what I thought then was an honorable solution for all of us. The Department of Immigration encouraged me in the belief that if I were deported (or took voluntary departure paying my own fare) at some later date my request for permission to re-enter would be considered favorably. Many people encouraged me in this belief, my lawyer, my friends. It was said that if I left voluntarily, it would not be considered a deportation--only now do I fully realize the trap into which I had fallen.
It was necessary to find a country to which I could go. At that time the Israel Consulate in Los Angeles said their country would open its doors and wrote a travel paper for me. In 1951 Israel was still in a state of uneasy truce with the Arab countries and unofficial border shooting was a way of life right within the city of Jerusalem.
After much discussion with my husband and lawyer I prepared a written statement to take an honorable voluntary departure. Everyone patted me on the back and said, “good girl” and the ODYSSEY began.
Within a month our beautiful California home and furniture was sold. Only my personal instruments, equipment, books were taken with me on the American Steamship Line, SS LaGuardia which sailed March 21, 1951.
There had been many farewell parties and much sentiment and talk how this was the loss of the United States and a gain for Israel--and never goodby. At Stanford University where I had been working as Research Assistant after obtaining my Doctors Degree there, one such party was given by the chemistry department faculty and graduate students who recorded these statements on tape.
I can never erase from my memory the picture of my husband standing on shore as the ship left New York Harbor--there were tears streaming down his face--he never quite recovered from the shock. Now looking back, I can clearly trace how his life was shortened by this. As the boat moved away I stood for hours keeping the vision of the Statue of Liberty in view as it changed its aspect in the setting sun. Only when it was totally dark did I go below into the stateroom, and soon we were being tossed by rough water of the March sea in the North Atlantic. Cables of cheer and good wishes were constantly coming to me aboard ship from friends and family--all the way to Haifa, the port of entry for Israel where I arrived two weeks later.
Upon arrival my currency was changed to Israel pounds--these were worth then only a few cents to the dollar on the International market. One received immediately too and identity card and the all-important food ration card. The country had just emerged from war and was committed to open its doors to the refugees and homeless persons. At that time 30,000 persons a month were arriving many without even a decent shirt on their backs. Air lifts picked up the wanderers on the desert, the dispossess from the Arab States. The people of Israel had decided to share all of their food with the immigrants. Only the children were allowed whatever fresh milk, meat, and eggs were available. For the adult population the staple was frozen War II surplus fish, bread and whatever else one might come upon. Water and housing were in short supply.
I was never able to open up my trunks in the three months I lived in Israel (April through June 1951). There was simply no room in the tiny hotel rooms or in the houses I shared. During that time I tried desperately to become assimilated. I taught myself a little of the state language, Hebrew. I visited the Universities in Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem, I was sent with members of the Israel Research Council to assist in the problem of food and hygiene in the Immigration Camps. I talked to the people at the Weizmann Institute. Everywhere there were possibilities in the future, but no money, no equipment, not enough chemicals and laboratory space.
In May 1951 my husband arrived on his first visit to Israel and he too plunged into the problem of attempting to solve the problems of food and shelter. Mr. Luthy who had a small automobile parts in Jackson Michigan and was well-known in his community and business world tried to help the industrialization program in Israel. However, hard currency was scarce and neither he nor I were ready for the drastic change in climate and ways of living. In between conferences and appointments we visited the Land of the Bible, the Holy Land, the Roman ruins, the Sea of Galilee.
But the hot summer was in progress and the sand storms which blow sand in from the desert to fill one's eyes, hair, clothes, and rooms. Both of us were physically weakened, and Mr. Luthy was very much concerned for my health which had deteriorated very rapidly. Doctors and friends suggested we go to Switzerland to restore our health and strength. The Swinss Consul issued tourist permits and the fact that Mr. Luthy had “hard currency” for tickets on Swissair to Zurich helped considerably. In July 1951 we arrived at Geneva to what seemed the most wonderful sight to our parched eyes and skin--fresh green grass, flowing water, and fresh food.
Mr. Luthy was obliged to return to the United States and his business, while I remained in Zurich. After a few days, I visited the famous University and was invited by Dr. Paul Karrer, Nobel prize winner (Vitamin A chemistry) to be a research associate. I went to work under his supervision and obtained a resident visa through his sponsorship (Karrer was Dean of the Chemisches Institute and that year Dean of the entire University of Zurich). I remained almost a year engaged in a synthesis of analogs of vitamin A. During one of the several visits my husband made in that time, we visited his ancestral home, a village outside the city of Thun. There, a clerk of records brought out a centuries-old book tracing the Luthy family for hundreds of years. Mr. Luthy’s grandfather had emigrated to the U.S. and driven a covered wagon to Michigan and built a log cabin in what is now Jackson Michigan. Upon obtaining U.S. citizenship the grandfather had renounced Swiss citizenship and this had been recorded in the old Swiss records book too! Otherwise we (my husband and I) would still have been citizens of Switzerland since the wife and family of a Swiss subject have the nationality of the husband. This is in contrast to the United States where contrary to common belief, the wife does not become a citizen by virtue of marriage.
However, the commuting to Europe was costly and tiring to my husband. It was suggested that perhaps a solution for us might be found in Canada. The Canadian government was accepting all manner of refugees from Hungary at that time. The Canadian Consul in Switzerland gave us tourist visas to Canada where we arrived in the summer of 1952.
In Canada, I visited several of the great Universities, and finally, Hamilton University offered me a research fellowship, and sponsored a request for a resident visa for me. At first the Canadian Department of Immigration was sympathetic. I told them the complete story. Many of my friends wrote firm letters of recommendation.
However there were innumerable conferences and delays. In the interim I did library research for a monograph on nutrition and assisted my husband with his pressing business problems. He commuted from Michigan and we had great hopes that we could be closer, but this was not to be. Canadian officials said regretfully that I would not be allowed a residence permit because there were certain understandings with the United States so that people who had been “deported” were not allowed in border countries. Both my husband and I were heartsick and weary. Then, through the sponsorship of a noted ceramic chemist, Dr. Felix Singer, I obtained a tourist permit to England.
In November 1952 I arrived in England where I talked with chemists of the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, London, Birmingham, Leeds. Finally, in the Department of Chemistry, the University of Manchester, I was offered a research fellowship under a Grant from the British Empire Cancer Campaign. They sponsored a resident visa for me which was granted, and I plunged into the most intensive and rewarding work of my life. With the help of the staff, I designed a project for the synthesis of possible anti-metabolites to act as cancer inhibitors. We proposed to starve the furious appetite of the uncontrolled cancer cell. I synthesized a series of compounds, derivatives of uracil (a constituent of nucleic acid) to act as anti-metabolites. Some of these compounds are being used clinically now in fluid tumors such as leukemia, but at that time very little attention was being paid to this work.
I remained in England for three and one-half years in this research working with the Chester Beatty Research Institute of the Royal Cancer Hospital in London. In addition I lectured and helped guide students towards their Masters’ Degrees. Mr. Luthy commuted from the United States to England where he had business in connection with ceramic insulators which he purchased there. I helped him too by writing patents for new designs for his spark plugs.
But the English climate, the rigors of constant travel, the cost, were deeply affecting my husband’s health. Nor did I really adjust to it. By working day and night in my laboratory I could at least keep warm and out of the Manchester smog, but this did not prevent my being depressed by my lonely exile. True, the people and government of England were kind; on the basis of my work and research, my resident visa was renewed yearly.
Finally, after an especially bad winter, Mr. Luthy and I decided on spending the Christmas holidays together in Jamaica, British West Indies (part of the British Commonwealth). My relief at seeing the sun shine brightly was dampened by the fact that my husband was definitely and seriously ill. An electrocardiograph quickly showed heart damage. Rest and temperate climate were advised, and so we decided to stay on.
When Mr. Luthy was able to move about again, he talked with the Jamaican Industrial Development Commission and they were intensely interested in his ability to set up small industries. The University College of the West Indies invited me to give seminars on my research. But plans were endlessly slow and the inertia of colonial living was difficult to overcome--nor did we overcome the subtle resistance to our nationality. (There is still antagonism towards the white American).
I rented land and began the development of a vanilla plantation in order to promote a high-dollar value crop. (The vanilla plant is a special type of orchid and requires much hand labor thus lending itself to the economy of the Island). I taught one season at the Walmer Boys’ School, and even swimming to the girls in the School of the Immaculate Conception. But both my husband and I felt we were not making sufficient progress in our respective fields. When his health improved, he became restless for action and to make up our heavy financial losses.
He had been receiving invitations from other Caribbean and Central American countries to develop spark plug industries. His United States spark plugs had been exported to these countries for many years, and were well-known and liked abroad. But he did not wish to go alone. We made plans to visit Mexico. At that time there were no direct flights from Jamaica and it was necessary to fly to Miami International Airport to transfer planes while in transit. When we arrived there the United States Immigration authority would not let me transfer to another plane even though it meant no official entry. We were forced to retrace our flight right back to Jamaica at great expense. But most of all was the expense of discouragement and frustration. Thus was driven home the lesson of a continuing persecution even after I had taken a so called “honorable and cooperative” attitude in 1951 when leaving the U.S. in a “voluntary departure”.
PETITIONS FOR MY READMISSION REFUSED
At various intervals in these years 1953-1975 my husband spoke to various people in the State Department about the possibility of my obtaining a re-entry visa. He pointed out the extreme hardship in this case, the separation of a wife and husband--and from her family, his illness and need for my help. But flat, curt, refusals each time. We continued living in Jamaica after our disappointing experience but about this time the Consul for Columbia rented a home adjoining ours. We shared a patio where the Consul and Mr. Luthy soon became good neighbors and friends. The consul urged us to come to Columbia where he assured us his country would make faster progress than any other Latin American country; they needed people with our background and skills. The Columbian Consul wrote his Industrial Promotion Board in Bogota and soon we were invited, granted visas, and on our way for a new episode in our life.
In Columbia we were received royally, entertained lavishly in the best private and military clubs. Mr. Luthy plunged into a series of industrial conferences and I assisted in the necessary written work. In my own field I was asked to visit the Universities of Medellin, Bogota, Cali, to lecture and in each I was invited to join the staff.
Mr. Luthy worked out a project with the Columnian government for the setting up a small airplane factory (he was well-acquainted in this field as well) and both of us were private pilots and knew the problems well. All seemed encouraging--but our dogged fates intervened. We had not realized how unstable was the socio-economic situation.
The Columbian government (a military Junta) was overthrown in Mary 1957. Suddenly we found ourselves in the midst of a South American revolution and were quarantined into our Hotel, the “Tequendama” along with other North Americans and tourists. From our 11th story window, we watched the armored tanks roll by and heard the shooting in the outskirts of the city. All outsiders were advised to leave. In a lull of the fighting, we learned that a new government had been set up and that all the agreements we had made were nullified. Our project was set aside-- we were persona non-grata. Finally we were able to obtain visas to leave in the crowded Mexican consulate who was helping to get foreigners out of the country.
We flew to Mexico city and began to pick up the threads of normality once more. Only the dauntless spirit of my husband made this possible. He re-established personal contact at once with his business connections and the importers who had purchased his products in the past. He always created interest and enthusiasm wherever he went and made friends easily. He sold his piston ring plant to one of the auto parts factories. There was talk of interesting the Mexican government in the same type of airplane manufacture he had proposed for the former Columbian government. But another election was soon to take place and people would not commit themselves until they could learn what the next Mexican government was to be. In the meantime I did library research at the University of Mexico for the California Foundation For Biochemical Research. This group had been writing me for some time about possible methods of our working together since there was now a growing interest in the type of anti-cancer compounds I had synthesized during my work and stay in England. The California Foundation scientists came to Mexico City and we made pans in which I would prepare on a large scale some of these possible therapeutic agents. The Hospital of Internal Ailments agreed to assign a section of a new laboratory that was being built. Once more our hopes were raised for our future work and advancement, and once more fate intervened--the Mexican earthquake of 1957.
It happened 4 A.M. on a Sunday morning. We were awakened by the rocking, the cries, the sudden darkness as all power plants shut off power immediately. When morning light came we went about the city and were confounded by the devastation and damage. Scores of the great buildings were condemned and new buildings in progress were a shambles of dust. The laboratory which was being built and where I was to have worked had collapsed and all was postponed once more. Government decreed that housing, schools, and medical care had priority. No one knew when my project would begin. Mr. Luthy complained of not feeling well and we returned for a time to Jamaica.
In this period had come a number of letters from Cuba (at that time still under the rule of Battista). There a group of importers wished also to start a factory to manufacture the auto parts they were now importing and thus increase their margin of profit. Mr.Luthy went alone this time to because I was unable to obtain a visa to Cuba and he wished to talk with these gentlemen. Soon he returned to tell me of the beauty of the island, of his welcome, and of the fine opportunity there. The only difficulty were the “fees” necessary to pay government officials who wanted $10,000 for the privilege of permitting the manufacture to start. Nevertheless, plans went ahead to form the company, “Bujias Luthie”, Inc. Our new friends helped obtain a tourist visa for me too so that my name could appear in the final papers. Their law decreed amongst other formalities that all the wives had to sign such documents.
We had not heard of Castro then, nor was there any evidence of the instability or the Battista government.
Christmas time 1958 was our first introduction to the inner strife that was facing the Island people. Our friends explained to us that there might be blood shed and fighting in Havana. Fidel Castro and his men were already in the city of Santa Clara. Mr. Luthy’s health was showing signs of strain. He had been in a severe accident--an elevator in which he had been riding snapped and fell. His ankle was broken, and he suffered a heart attack. I was the only one to whom he could turn. He needed expert help and where could we turn in this situation? Therefore I made a decision to bring him myself to Cedar of Lebana Hospital, Los Angeles where it was known were some of the best heart specialists in the world. Mr. Luthy was carried off the plane and rushed into the hospital just in time (this I was told later). For several days he was in a coma, and then came a very slow convalescence. While waiting, I did consultation work in chemistry. Finally, as if all this had been too much, I succumbed to pneumonia myself and was treated in the same hospital. Afterwards, both of us needed additional mental therapy and went to the Menninger Clinic. The experts there said nothing was wrong with me except the need for a home, stability, and some measure of security.
We returned to Jamaica while waiting for the situation to settle in Cuba. The West Indies Federation was now the form of government, but without the financial support of the Mother country, hard currency was scarce. It appeared as if there was a growing antagonism towards the white American, more suspicion towards outsiders. The first spurt of enthusiasm when independence from colonial status was forthcoming, now gave way to the self-same slow pace of the former island life.
In the meantime we followed the development of our company “Bujias Luthie” in Cuba. When Mr. Luthy felt stronger, his business associates there urged him to return and in January 1959 we witnessed the entrance of Castro into Havana. At first everyone was hopeful and happy. Our partnership set up offices, rented floor space, ordered printing for the Cuban manufacture. We found a beautiful home across from the Country Club.
Our spark plug company began negotiations for a loan from the Industrial Development Fund. To bring over the Jackson plant, move machines, buy raw material hard currency permission was needed. After dozens of conferences it became apparent that money would not be forthcoming.
In the meantime the University of Havana which had been closed for three years, was now reopened. I was asked to join the chemistry department and was given laboratory space. Later I was asked to teach a refresher course in the Department of Hygiene on newer methods for identification of impurities and trace elements in foods and medicines.
What happened in the following months of 1959 is now history--the change in the Castro government away from private business and promotion. Our partners in the spark plug development were losing every penny they had in their old business and in the new. Government decree stopped private export-import trade and took over this as well as other basic industries. Large sections of the population began leaving, professionals and scientists as well. Those who lacked dollars or relatives in the United States and abroad, became the nucleus of discontent. Castro’s internal and external policy was not winning over the governments of western countries. Once more we were advised by friends in the island that all would become worse in the economy which was taking an elevator drop with no bottom in sight.
In July 1959 Mr. Luthy was called to Mexico City to help solve certain technical problems in connection with the piston ring plant which he had sold there. Both of us went because of his precarious health, and then the altitude of Mexico City was too much for his weakened heart and system. He breathed only with difficulty. I put him on a train to take him down to lower altitude, but he did not improve. Finally at the border, he needed medical care and in our desperation I tried to walk with him across the border of the little town of Nuevo Laredo to get him into a United States Hospital. He feared being alone and would only trust in me for his care. Yet in all this he always thought of finding for me that have not only of peace, but where I could work at my highest level of ability. It seemed as if he wished to make that his final work of contribution.
But in spite of his illness, immigration refused us both, and turned us back the few feet into the desolate village of Nuevo Laredo. We stayed while I helped with digitalis and what other medication we could find. Finally we were obliged to obtain air passage back to Cuba. From then on he was under constant doctor’s care and bedridden.
I initiated a research project in this period coordinating the Biochemistry Department of the University of Havana, the Medical School, and Agricultural Experimental Station. This was to utilize some of the valuable medicinal plants of Cuba, but especially those of an oral anti-diabetic action. The many interesting results from this have been published in the Pan-American Medical Journal (Revista de Medicina, Panamerican, November 1960).
We had many visitors from the U.D. during the early part of our time in Cuba, but later these stopped with the continuance and increase of “incidents”--explosions, shootings, bombings. Finally after a particularly bad siege of illness, my husband suffered his last heart attack. He collapsed one Saturday morning, Dec. 5 1959. I tried to apply mouth to mouth resuscitation for two hours while Maria tried to find a doctor, but all was too slow and too late. The law of the land decreed burial in 24 hours. I phoned long distance to Mr. Mark Gooden who had been an associate of many years and had been designated as the administrator of the estate. He arrived only two hours before burial time which took place in Colon Cemetery and in the presence of a large group of our Cuban friends. My husbands whole life had been unusual and now his final resting place was as different as his biography. I had placed a headstone which read:
Frederic A. Luthy, Born Jackson Michigan
Now I was truly alone, and intensive work was my only relief. I began a new teaching course at the University at the request of the Department of Mineralogy, “The Use of the Polarized Light Microscope in Industry and Research”, and a special certificate was printed for this course. My first class graduated 21 students as microscopists.
However the changes in government were also being reflected in the University. Because of the difference in opinion amongst the professors, a “Junta” took over consisting of the military, the students, and pro-government staff. Most of the students were spending much time in military drill and marches often under the leadership of Castro himself. My position was to teach science only.
That summer (1960) I was asked to head a research laboratory for the largest pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in Cuba (Laboratorio OM). But it was increasingly difficult to carry on in any normal scientific manner. In rapid succession, the ship “The Cobre” exploded in the harbor and later the munitions dump exploded damaging my laboratory.
He was Dr. Arthur Furst of Stanford University (not at the University of San Francisco). Everywhere he was enthusiastically received not only for his excellent and encouraging reports, but also for his courage in coming.
At a special dinner for Dr. First, high on a hill overlooking the harbor of Santiago de Cuba, our table discussed the present and future of Cuba. Characteristically, at another table in the other end of the restaurant was another group speaking in a different language but undoubtedly discussing the same problem. They were visiting engineers and technicians from Eastern countries, Czechs, Poles, Russians.
We asked ourselves what should we do, stick it out or not? No one had an answer. The country was so beautiful, we had set out our roots, and planned for the future. Now should we have to become integrated into the plans of the Castro government? Harry said to me, “I wish I had a Father Confessor…”
When all the guests had gone and the visitors stopped coming, I was unbearably alone. The owners of the estate where I lived had disappeared--it was rumored they had fled to Florida. Only the maid was there with me and I had no one with whom to discuss my problem. Each day it was evident we were closer to a complete break of diplomatic relations with the United States.
To heighten the tension, the great hurricane of September 1960 was approaching and the northeast end of the island was being battered. We all prepared for a major lashing in Havana. But by the grace of God we were spared and most of the fury of the storm tore up Key West and many of its Bridges. That however, ended the ferry service to Key West.
The city was filled with all sorts of cloak and dagger activity. The black market in dollars, cigarettes, but especially in hard currency was everywhere. One could buy anything if one had dollars, because so many people wanted to buy airplane tickets. Pesos were 10 to the dollar, at one time they were equal in value. Where there had been gaiety and laughter, there was now strain, worried faces, and open hostility.
Then one night, when my own inner strain was almost unbearable, I suddenly heard shooting and angry shouting from the greyhounds Kennel Club. Previously there had been bombing incidents at the City airport (Columbia) whose landing approach passed directly over my patio.
The first of the great “Airlifts” had been announced for those who wished to leave. I felt that surely this must mean people like me. Had I not lived all my conscious life in the United States (40 years)--had I not at least an equal right with the refugee Cubans and other peoples who were being accepted? The future held only greater isolation from the only family I had left in the world, my mother and brother in the United States. Then I made my decision to come--and I joined a group going on the Airlift. I left everything behind my beautiful home, its silver and complete furnishings, my books, laboratory equipment, research notebooks, my car--and my husbands grave at the Colon Cemetery.
When I arrived in Florida, I felt suddenly very much relieved from finally having made the decision alone. Nothing seemed to matter--not even the financial loss. I slept for 24 hours from exhaustion; I was ill too--still weak from another bout of pneumonia just before leaving. I phoned my brother who was teaching psychology at Ohio Northern University. He and his wife had spent holidays with me in Cuba. They had been extremely concerned and were not surprised at my coming. They said I should stay with them to recover in their comfortable home and sort things out. After hospitalization and convalescence I became acquainted with some of the staff of the University.
1961 THE UNITED STATES AGAIN
The College had heard of my professional background and research. They were urgently in need of someone to teach organic chemistry in the School of Pharmacy. Even students came over asking if I wouldn’t teach and help through a difficult course (many were on GI training funds). Their progress and even finances was being held back for lack of instructor. Finally a contract was signed whereby I would teach as a full professor and also be a research consultant and help initiate research. I plunged into this activity to keep from thinking of the many problems behind and ahead of me. I taught from January to June 1961 at Ohio Northern University. At the end of the school year, it was suggested that I try to set up joint research projects between the three neighboring colleges.
In one such interview at Findlay College I met and talked to the President, O.J. Wilson. He said they were just then building a new Science Hall. At the end of the interview he asked if I would be interested in heading their Chemistry Department and introducing my plans of developing research among undergraduate students. The atmosphere was so friendly, the challenge so interesting, I accepted.
In the meantime, Mr. Mark Godden in his capacity as administrator of the Luthy estate, had been able to make one more and final trip to Cuba. He brought back my car and a few treasured pieces, the microscopes and accessories. He confirmed my description of the situation and said he had found even more hostility towards Americans. Soon afterwards a government decree ordered that the goods of all people who were absent for more than three months would be confiscated. Thus all my possessions in Cuba are gone, and I no longer had even those to return to. We filed a claim with the Swiss Consulate detailing these losses.
In the summer school vacation period of 1961, I initiated a cancer research project jointly with George H. Neeham, nationally known authority in microscopy and author of the book, “The Practical Use of the Microscope”. We wanted to develop better and simpler methods of studying, measuring, and diagnosing the presence of cancer cells. Mr. Needham had a real interest in the project since he was one of the increasing number of people who had recovered from an operable cancer! At this point Dr. Arthur Furst offered the necessary cancer cells for study from his group of test animals. We made some interesting discoveries about the nature, size, and pattern of growth of the cancer cells. This we felt should be shared with other researchers and made public, and so we reported our findings at several scientific meetings. They were also made a part of the Proceedings of the American Association For Cancer Research in its Atlantic City Conference, April 1962. Our technical results and developments especially in the use of fluorescent light are now being published in the Journal of the Royal Microscopy Society of London (to which I had been given membership).
In the fall (September 1961) I began my assignment at Findlay College. The building was ready, but nothing else. It was necessary to organize the department, the stockroom for the chemistry laboratories, move from the old basement laboratory--and teach at the same time. Because the college is small, and short of funds, I was the only chemistry professor and had to teach every type of chemistry and supervise the laboratory work. Ordinarily, this is done by at least three different people. However, I found much hidden talent and cooperation with the young men and women who were inspired by the privilege of doing research work as well as ordinary exercises. Thus we carried on the unfinished work of the project begun with Neeham and Furst. Our activities attracted attention; even high school students came in to visit our animals and ask if they could borrow some for their science projects. We welcomed all people on any level who wished to cooperate in service to the cancer research project.
Finally, the director of the Hancock County Ohio unit of the American Cancer Society visited and suggested I propose a grant-in-aid for our work. After much writing and discussion, the Ohio Division of the American Cancer Society agreed to support the work at Findlay College. This was an institutional grant of which I was to be supervisor. I found myself being asked to speak before very many groups and societies. I could hardly refuse, not could I stop the attendant
work, teach, and contribute to the country with research and scientific publications.
Ture, I have only admiration and gratefulness to Israel, but I was there only three months of my entire life. My country is the United States by work, study, education, language. My only remaining ties--my aged and sick mother who needs me are here, my brother and his family. All have appealed in my behalf. To separate us now in my remaining years would be undue hardship, and injustice to all of us. Nor would it be just to Israel to send a person who does not wish to come.
Is there not a tradition of acceptance and clemency in our country? Must I be always sailing, journeying, without a home port?? It grieves me too, that so much precious time be spent thus when there are so many scientific and medical problems begging to be solved. And yet a scientist does not live in a vacuum.. He too must have his home and be able to communicate with his fellowmen.
The strangeness of these wanderings is that consciously or unconsciously the wanderings have always led me back to this country, to the United States. And I hope with all my heart that this odyssey will end as all odysseys--with the sailor’s return back home.
Original Copy of "Strange Odyssey"