Cindy 00:05 My name is Cindy Kendrick. I’m 53 years old. Today’s date is November 5th, 2010. We are in Knoxville, Tennessee, and I’m here with my friend Lee Russell.
Lee 00:18 My name is Liane Russell, but my nickname is Lee. I’m 87 and today is November 5th, 2010 and when we’re meeting in Knoxville. And I’m being interviewed by my good friend Cindy Kendrick.
Cindy 00:37 Lee, can you start out? Where were you born? And what are some of the most vivid memories from your youth?
Lee 00:45 I would have born in Vienna, Austria and there are lots of vivid memories. I had a very serene and stimulating childhood for the first fourteen years of my life. Although the outside influences got to be more and more threatening during that time, but I was living with a wonderful family; my parents and my sister. I had a brother when I was 10 years old, so he was almost of a different generation. We lived in a very lovely apartment fairly near the center of town but overlooking a garden of a palais, so it was a green vista from our apartment. I went to all the conventional schools starting with, actually before school with a Montessori kindergarten which was quite new at that time. It was just being tried and it was a very stimulating way to spend an early childhood. We spent during the school year. We were living in Vienna and during the vacation, summer vacation we sometimes, often rented a little house in different places in the country, so I had some experiences in the country too. Had lots of lovely weekends in the nearby Vienna woods and sports, like hiking on the weekend, skiing in the winter, we’d go skating to the skating rink in Vienna and it was… you know we’d go to, after I got old enough, we could go to operas and concerts and plays. It was just a very conventional and serene childhood.
Cindy 03:02 Sounds lovely. Was there someone who was particularly influential in your early life?
Lee 03:09 I would say probably my father was very, very influential in the sense that he was… he actually did, he spent as much time as he could with us, although he works full-time, but he would come home for…for midday meal, which was a main meal, and he’d spend all weekend with us and he was very much interested or influential in the sense that he thought that my sister and I should not be the conventional pretty girls you know not not do all the girl type of things that we should do everything that the boys could do and and not spend time on clothes and makeup and all that kind of stuff. He he made us feel kind of superior to the girls who were doing this and also he having been a scientist had a very scientific frame of mind and he would explain things very clearly and not be emotional about things. So in that sense, he was a good influence. He always thought I should end up being some kind of a famous scientist or something like that. Another person who was very influential and she was the the woman who ran a summer camp that I went to when I think when I was about 12 or 13 for the first time I ever had a couple two or three summers in a row and she got me very much interested in public affairs because I had always had a strong desire to a strong sense of justice and I felt very badly about, you know, oppressed people oppressed animals started with animals and then people and she gave a sort of an outlet to that to make me realize what was going on in the world and is it that they were other people who felt the way I did? So I think those two people are very influential.
Cindy 05:34 When did you leave Austria? And what was that like?
Lee 05:38 Actually it was when I was about 14 and just a little over fourteen it was because the Nazi Germany invaded Austria in the spring, in the early spring of 1938 and we were very fortunate fortunate to be able to leave about four to five weeks after that but not until we had seen what was going on. Of course, this threat has been looming for quite some time for all of Europe but particularly we were pretty sure that Austria was going to be the first place to be, to be invaded and so I remember very shortly after it happened. Of course, a problem was that they were being welcomed with open arms by the Austrian population and that was not very good to see. But the one of the first things I remember is my sister and I are being put to work tearing up books and flushing them down the toilet because it was very dangerous to just even own some books because they had all the public book burnings. We saw, looking out the window, we saw people being dragged out, out of stores, storekeepers, and being made to scrub the sidewalks and you know, just, just as a degradation. And so, we were very lucky that the Nazi officer who decided to appropriate my father’s business, my father, my father happened to represent some of, some foreign companies in Vienna some particularly British chemical companies and this man who was who was taking, appropriating my dad’s business was very anxious to keep the um, to be, also be designated the representative. So, he wanted my dad to go and establish the liaison and that’s why he made it possible for us to leave quite early.
08:07 So we flew out on one of the very early planes. There wasn’t very much plane service in those days. This was in the spring of ‘38. We flew first to Prague, and from Prague to Brussels, and then from Brussels. (Mumbles) We stayed in Brussels for several weeks. We went on to England and lived in England for three years, which was, we got there in 38 and the war started in 39, in September of 39.
08:49 My sister and I went to school in England, to a very nice girls’ school. We had been in the girls’ schools in Vienna. So I never had anything other than girls schools and this is a girls school in England, but when the boys started actually even before the boys started there had been plans to evacuate the London schools to the country and the plans that were made didn’t come about exactly as they were made originally. Actually, all the schools marched to the nearest train station and got on the first train and go as far out of London as we could go.
09:37 And we ended up eventually, after a temporary stop, we ended up in a town called Berkhamsted, which was just north of London and Hertfordshire and were boarded, all the school kids were boarded with local families, the school, our whole school occupied the premises of another local school and our school would have it in the afternoon and the local kids would go there in the morning.
10:13 So and of course this was during the war and the Germans at the time they were bombing the Midlands, the factory towns in the Midlands. They would fly across, over where we lived so we weren’t directly bomb, but sometimes they were on their way back from having bombs places, like Conventry. They would drop, they were jettisoned the remaining bombs on the way back. So they would be stray bombs coming down once in a while and my parents were living in London. And so when I went to see them, I experienced some of the Blitz Warfare
Cindy 10:59 You experienced some of the blitz?
Lee 11:04 Yeah, some of the blitz and so eventually we decided to, to move to the United States. My dad had been working for the company that that he had represent, represented. But the place the factory that he was overseeing bus bombed to smithereens. So that sort of partly evaporated his job.
11:38 And he…in London and it was very, very interesting and also kind of scared and when I went to see my parents the first time we went to visit them was before the blitz actually started and I was out on the shopping errant when the first air raid sirens sounded and I got into they had built some above-ground shelters. So I got into one of these above-ground shelter they were really, the only thing they would protect you against would be flying debris and stuff like that and I stayed in that. I was in there by myself if it’s just a little brick structure on a street corner and I was in there for about an hour and then the all clear sounded and nothing ever happened, but then the next time was an actual air raid and by that time we got into what was a, called an Anderson shelter.
12:47 they were built in people’s backyards. Just dug into the ground was told of like a big like a big sewer pipe kind of thing with earth piled on top of it. And so we used that during Air Raids until it got filled with water because it wasn’t built right we had not built it right so water the water would not fill the shelter after his the Anderson shelter got filled with water and we would shelter under the stair, under the stairs which was just far away from flying glass and so forth.
Cindy 13:27 Were you scared during this time?
Lee 13:29 I don’t think it was as scared as I probably should have been. Lucky, we didn’t have any close hits. Most of the hits in London were on a more industrial portions of London.
13:46 And so that you know, so nights in the shelters were kind of interesting because everybody and his brother was get in there and you’d meet some interesting people and my brother at that time was um, how old was he? 5 years old and 6 years old something like that. So
14:06 He was somebody who had to be taken care of. And it was just the mundane things; how are you going to keep dry? How are you going to keep warm enough? And would you have enough lights with you for the night? Because they all happen at night.
14:24 So that was interesting, and then we, we somehow secured passage to the States, but it was not possible, there were no passenger ships going across, so we got on to a converted punart (spelling) liner which went down to Argentina to pick up beef, from Argentina to bring back to Britain. But it went down an empty, So, they took a few passengers going down to Argentina and then, you know, that go back to Britain filled up with beef. So, from, after we get down there, we got another ship just an America ship, taking us to New York. And this was in June of, what… 41, yeah, I was June of 41, so it was before the states into the war. So, then I had another six months and then after I got back, got to New York, then, then the states got into the war too, but in a very different way, a very much more distance away.
Cindy 15:44 Did you continue your schooling in the states?
Lee 15:47 Yes, I did. I got into Hunter College. I had finished high school in, in England and I got into Hunter College in New York City. It has since become part of the City University of New York. It was an independent college at that time for of the city, one of the four city colleges. Again, it was all female, and it was, had very high admittance standards because it was very competitive it was free. Free to residents of New York, which was the only reason I went, you know, I managed to go there, and I had to pass all sorts of tests to get in there. But actually, schools in England were, by the time you get out of high school in England, you really knew a lot more, I think, then then what’s needed for getting admitted to college in New York? So, then I went to, to Hunter for the next three and a half years.
Cindy 17:00 What was your career field? And how did you get into it?
Lee 17:05 Well that was kind of a long way around because originally, I think, under my dad’s influence, he was always hoping I would be a chemist, because he was a chemist. So, I became a chemistry major when I, when I registered with Hunter. But I think I very soon, wasn’t very satisfied with, with just chemistry and I think I decided I wanted to go into medicine. So, and that was partly my wanting to, you know, help people kind of thing, not that much of a, a career choice in, in terms of other, other aspects. So, anyway I became also a biology minor and when I, Hunter College was just in the city in a big, tall building surrounded by a lot of other buildings, there was no campus really. So, one day I went up in the elevator and oh, and I had to wait, wait for the elevator and while I was waiting for the elevator looked at the bulletin board and at the bulletin board there was a notice from a laboratory in Maine that ran a summer school. And that summer school changed my whole life because it determined my career and determined all sorts of other things. But that, there I, for the first time ever, really did some, had an opportunity to do some research. I was a sophomore at the time and at that time summer programs were not as common as they are now. In fact, they were pretty rare. This one was very, very unusual in the sense that they, the kids they took, they were all sophomores, had, were assigned to staff members in a laboratory and each one got their own little research project, which was not just like acting an assistance to the person who was there but really doing their own independent research. And this is a, a, it was supposed to be a cancer research laboratory. It was the Jackson Memorial Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine and it was started, but it was funded by people who were interested in cancer research and it was the work was done on primarily on mice, almost totally on mice. But the people, but the staff members, of which there were not very many at the time, many of them were geneticist some were doing mouse genetics work. So, I happened to be assigned to a staff member doing a mouse genetics project. This was very far from cancer research, it dealt with the cancer of pigment, hair pigment in mice. That was my first summer’s work. And we also had various tutorials by, by different staff members, we got to know what else is going on and it was just incredibly exciting to realize that you were doing something that you were, however small it was, it was something that was not known before, whatever you were going to do find out that summer was something new.
21:14 And the person I was assigned to his name was Bill Russell. He also had designed the whole summer program and it was sort of running the whole program and he happened to be very much down on medicine. Not medicine in general, but the way, the way medical people we’re not really interested in basic questions. And were often doing things just things that they had learned by rote and, and not going back to the real basic information. And I think it was his influence that made me decide not to go into medicine but to go into research.
Cindy 22:11 Well, tell me more about your relationship with Bill?
Lee 22:15 Well, it developed into a lot of other things too. I came back a second year and then a third year and a fourth year and to cut a very long story short, we, you know, we ended up after the, see 43 was the first year I went, in 47, we finally got married. But it was a pretty rocky road to get there. The Rocky Run being the fact that he had that he was married. And so
22:57 My relationship with him was, was an incredible one.
23:06 We were, he helped me get into graduate school. He helped me essentially find the really good way to do work.
23:23 And we did, we had so many things we enjoy doing together. Even what, even starting from the first year I was up there. We would go on canoe camping trips and do you know all sorts of interesting things like reading and discussing books in other fields and particularly going out, getting outside of the lab. Going up the lakes and rivers in Maine which are very beautiful. Yeah, I think most mostly those things.
Cindy 24:18 How did you get to Oakridge?
Lee 24:20 Well, it was obvious we had to leave the Jackson lab because of, because of the fact of the divorce. And so, he started looking for jobs in which I too, would be able to have a job, looking, looking for offers. So, he interviewed quite a few places. He would have had some very good opportunities at a number of places but almost all of those had nepotism rules. That means I could not have worked in the same place and by that time I was very close to getting my Ph.D. So, I, I was in a, in a condition of being able to work if I if I got a job. Eventually, when he came to Oak Ridge, he found that there were no nepotism rulings, that they would welcome my working as well as his and I think that was the main reason he chose Oak Ridge over some of the other offers he’d had. It turned out to be a wonderful place to be.
Cindy 25:34 So we’re so lucky you came here. Tell me about your children.
Lee 25:38 Let’s see, I decided that we wouldn’t start a family until after I got my degree. So I worked on that for, when I came to Oakridge I was, let’s see, I was two years away from almost two years away from finishing my degree. I had done all my class work at the University of Chicago, but I had not done my thesis work partially because my mentor at Chicago, who was a totally brilliant person, but not really a very people-oriented person and he was not a practical person. So he was
26:28 Not the kind of person who is good at deciding research projects. He assigned something to me that turned out to be pretty impossible to do and when I came to Oak Ridge, I started my own work and convinced him that that was a good project to do so actually almost all my dissertation research work was done after I came to Oak Ridge and I had another year and a half of that before I finally got my degree. And so then my family was not started until, right after that, which was three years after I came to Oak Ridge. I had my first child, which was a boy, David, and two years later I had a daughter. So that, that, that was, that was a good decision, I think.
Cindy 27:29 Your, your career has yielded many awards and honors important discoveries and research papers. Will you tell me about one of your most gratifying career accomplishments?
Lee 27:47 Yes, I think there are…do I have time to tell you a couple?
Cindy 27:52 Yes,
Lee 27:57 Okay. The first thing was, was almost accidental and I have to tell you about the kind of research and a little bit of detail. I started out, Bill’s main task when he came to Oak Ridge was to set up a program to determine the genetic hazards of radiation because there was nothing really known about radiation, what the nature and magnitude of radiation hazards would be to people. All of the work having been done in the past on fruit flies and on Mary’s plants. So this was a large mouse genetics program with a very large mouse facility to induce mutations with radiation.
28:57 And to, to find out the magnitude of the risk, the number of mutations, the kind of mutations, things of that sort. So I thought that I could fit into this by working on a different kind of mutations because his program was directed to mutations that were transmitted to Future Generations. So they they were so-called germline mutations. And I thought that I would look at the same very same genes that he was looking at but in body cells rather than reproductive cells and so this is called a somatic mutation project and to do that I had to irradiated embryos because I need it for the cells that were mutating to multiply to, to giving a big enough patch of tissue that could be seen and measured.
30:06 So I was a irradiating embryos at all sorts to stages and in a process. It turned out that many of them ended up very abnormal. So I got sidetracked into working on embryonic abnormalities, radiation-induced embryonic abnormalities, and that got to be quite a big field. And the other thing, the second thing that I wanted to tell you that I really enjoyed doing was I was very interested in not just counting the mutations but looking at the nature of the mutations and I got into the basic genetics of, off that and during the course of that without giving you any of the details. I got to work on the sex chromosomes. And so we found among other things that females had, although they had two X chromosomes, only one of them was active.
31:06 So each female was, it’s actually a mosaic with one or the other X chromosomes active in some cells and sort of as a corollary of that work. It turned out that the Y chromosome was what determines sex in mammals which is unlike what had been known and fruit flies where most of the genetic work had been done. bracket method
Cindy 31:31 That’s an enormous discovery. Now switching topics, for decades You have tirelessly work to protect natural lands and resources. How did you develop such a strong passion for the environment?
Lee 31:45 I think I started more or less as a kid already and in some of the hikes we did. I was very loving, very loving the land and I was known as the kid who walked in front of everybody. So people wouldn’t step on the little animals that were in the trails.
32:06 I would look and pick them up and take them out of the trail. But anyway, when we got, we’d been here quite some time and I got to know some of the surrounding landscape but not really all of it. And somebody we knew at the lab took us down the Obed River and the Cumberlands, about less than an hour from Oak Ridge, on a canoe trip. Hardly anybody in the world knew about how beautiful it was. It was very hard to get to and we absolutely fell in love with it. It was just an unbelievable place. It’s a deep gorge, sandstone gorge, very wild. And about three months after we first had been there, we read about TVA planning this dam it.
32:59 So it would have been totally inundated under, under a big reservoir and we decided to fight that dam project. It was a very difficult and long fight, but it eventually turned out successful. We not only stopped them, but we managed to get some positive protection in the form of having the river designated a Wild and Scenic River.
33:32 And it wasn’t too long there after that. We started working on the Big South Fork which was another and bigger river, also in the north Cumberlands. It also was threatened by a dam. It was a very different kind of fight but it also ended up successful and not only it was protected, not only is the river itself but the land around it.
Cindy 34:00 What kinds of things did you do to win that protection?
Lee 34:06 Well, we managed very, very early we were very naive about it. But we met with Harvey Broome, who was one of the founders of the Wilderness Society and he said you’ve got a form organization. And so, we found this group which has since become the Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning. We formed that in 1966 primarily at that time to win the Obed battle, but it’s still going after 44 years, and it’s been doing lots and lots of things since then. It has fought strip-mining. It is fighting for Wilderness protection elsewhere.
Cindy 34:51 Tell me about some of your favorite places. And why you love them?
Lee 34:58 Not unnaturally the Cumberland plateau and the Cumberland mountains. It’s an unbelievably beautiful area. Fortunately not yet too well-known and therefore fortunately not yet overrun, but it’s getting there and it needs to be protected. It has the greatest biological diversity of almost any place in the United States. It’s got beautiful rivers running so gorgeous and forests, which are unlike anything else.
35:37 And so that has been one of our big, big battles to keep the North Cumberlands protected. I have been to many other beautiful places in the world. I love Maine of course because that’s where I spent a lot of my significant part of my youth. We we’re lucky to be able to travel all over the world in the 80s and 90s. We went almost to the North Pole and almost to the South Pole and we’ve been up and down South America and we been to all of states. That’s so many, people don’t know what a beautiful country we’ve got. We’ve got this very lovely country in such a varied country, you know, the Red Rock areas of Utah are just fantastic.
36:30 This is something we need to protect. So I think it’s the most beautiful country and but there’s lots of other beautiful places in the world. I’ve been to Nepal you know hiked around Annapurna area. We’ve been to Indonesia, which is very different. So it’s, it’s a lovely world.
Cindy 36:59 How would you like to be remembered?
Lee 37:03 Oh, I think maybe it’s somebody who, who protect, worked to protect, protect our world. The physical world and also the human world, I think maybe that.
Cindy 37:27 How did you manage to balance when you were so busy? How did you manage to balance family career and all your other interests?
Lee 37:37 I’m not sure that I really balanced it much. But as far as my children. I was very very fortunate in finding a wonderful woman about the time that my first child was born. Whom I totally trusted the children with you know when I was not, when I was at work and they were not in school. She was, her name was Inez, Inez Urban and she was just a perfect person to, I couldn’t have done what I did without her. I was able to work and even take my work home and of course later on when, not so much later, it was much more like when they were early teenagers, that’s when I got into the a conservation activities. And so that took up much of the time that I should have been spending on work. And so I really didn’t balance. I think people who really got along to the higher parts of science are the ones who spend a whole days and nights on it and think of nothing else and I didn’t do that. I already spend a lot of time with my children to spend a lot of time on the conservation work.
Cindy 39:02 One last question if you were to be reincarnated, what would you like to be in your next life?
Lee 39:11 I was thinking at one-time of some other animal, but I think I’d probably like to come back as a human. But somebody who doesn’t waste a lot of time on unnecessary things.
Cindy 39:24 Well, you’ve had a wonderful life and much more to come.
Lee 39:29 Thank you.
Cindy 39:30 Thank you
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