Verne Ray

As the Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Society ages, it is an unfortunate fact that we will see more and more of our earliest movers and shakers pass on. Verne Ray was one of those pioneers in the Society.

Verne passed away on October 16, 2001 at the age of 72.

Verne served the Society in many ways, as Councilor, as Treasurer and as President (1981-82). He took an intense interest in all of the Society's activities. In the 70's and 80's, he was outspoken about the values of the newer technologies, including the Ames test, cytogenetics and the micronucleus assay. In defense of these assays, and armed with data instead of rhetoric, he took on several equally outspoken critics.

On the personal side, I had the honor of working with Verne at Pfizer for about 20 years. All who knew him will agree he was fiercely bright and equally colorful.

What some may not know, Verne had a number of skills, talents, and, some quirks. Can anyone think of Verne and not remember his booming, sonorous, James Earl Jones, voice? He seldom needed a microphone, even in a large auditorium. With adjacent offices, I was privy to all conversations he had on the phone! He loved to use his speaker box and sit several feet away to carry on the conversation.

Although only a chosen few may have been priviliged to witness it, but Verne was an extremely gifted musician. Often, after a long day at scientific meetings, (and a few libations) he could be coaxed into sitting at whatever piano that might be available. His audience would then be treated to some of the most beautiful classical music which was on a par with any professional pianist. And he played without any sheet music!

In his office, Verne had an absolutely bizarre filing system. And it worked! Instead of categorizing his papers and then filing them properly, he would simply put the most recent document on the top of a stack piled on the floor. Over the years, he accumulated myriad stacks throughout his office. The amazing part was when he needed a particular paper, he had an uncanny skill for going to a certain pile, and because everything was chronological, reach into the stack and pull out the precise paper!

This filing system did backfire once. In the mid 70's, we had a particularly fierce Nor'easter on New Year’s Eve. Winds were gusting to 60 MPH and the temperature was -18°. In the wee hours of the morning of New Year's Day, the large plate glass window in Verne's office imploded. The damage was not discovered until mid-morning. Unable to reach Verne, security called me and I went in to survey the disaster. A disaster it was! Verne’s carefully stacked piles of paper had been converted by the wind into a monolayer throughout not only his office, but, because his door blew open, out into the lab as well. My first impression was that it had snowed 4 inches inside the building. Verne spent the next three weeks sorting and restacking his valuable records, sputtering mightily all the time.

We will all miss Verne Ray. Our condolences go out to his wife Mary Ann and his children, John and Verne Jr.

Henry Holden

Contributions in his memory may be donated to the EMGS Verne Ray Memorial Fund. You may include your contribution with your annual EMGS membership renewal form, or send it to the EMGS Business Office.

If you have any photos you would like to contribute to this page, please send them to the EMGS Webmaster. (Thanks to Mike Salamone for providing these historical photos from the EMGS archives.)