Remembering Wayne E. Crill

September 23, 2012

When I entered the Ph.D. program in Physiology & Biophysics (“PBio”) at the University of Washington in 1995, the department chair was a physician-scientist named Wayne Crill.

My interactions with Wayne were sporadic, so I only have a few enduring memories of him:

(1) He looked and spoke a bit like The Godfather.

(2) He was supportive of various grad student initiatives, such as our push for a department-sponsored Career Day and our proposal to determine our own representation on faculty committees.

(3) When I first visited UW, he said, without particular fanfare or emphasis, “We [the PBio faculty] really treasure our graduate students.”

“We really treasure our graduate students” — what a sentence! So concise, yet so unabashedly heartfelt!

At a memorial gathering last Wednesday, Wayne’s friends and family shared additional memories.

His daughter Jennifer noted that he was unusual in regularly employing the word “flabbergasted.”

Colleague Mike Shadlen recalled that Wayne would often introduce new topics with the phrase, “As you may or may not know…” — a phrase described by Mike as “so empty and tautological,” yet followed by incisive and fair-minded summaries of difficult issues.

And then there was the sign in the Wordeman lab: “WWWD?” What Would Wayne Do?

I was unaware of these things until they were mentioned at the memorial, but one other tribute did spur a flash of recognition.

PBio used to have (and perhaps still has) a departmental brochure that, along with the usual information about research areas, program requirements, etc., included several faculty essays on the nature of science. Wayne’s contribution was called, “Why I Hang My Shingle in Physiology and Biophysics.” On Wednesday his daughter Betsy read from it:

I am here totally by accident. My path was governed by Brownian motion with a nudge from common sense. This is probably incomprehensible to most people who plan their lives in great detail. I was just lucky that I ended up doing exactly what I wanted to do.

It’s hard to imagine a much better epitaph than that.

Wayne E. Crill, 1935-2012
(image taken from UW PBio website)

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