The Perkins Lab -- Neurospora Genetics and Biology
Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University

From Barbara Turner, Stanford University

Dot was a dear friend of mine for 40 years.  Even as her strength and health failed, it was a joy to visit her, and her passing makes me realize what a unique bond we had in sharing both our careers and our family/community lives. 

Dot Newmeyer Perkins lived two lives, conveniently separated by her two names.  Actually she often said she regretted the decision to do that and told young women to avoid it.  It seemed convenient to me because when I answered the phone in the lab, I knew which persona was wanted depending on whether the caller asked for Dr. Newmeyer or Mrs. Perkins.  This got me into trouble once when a person who didn’t know the code asked for Dorothy Perkins.  Thinking it was about domestic concerns, I said, “She isn’t here.  Would you like to speak to Dr. Perkins.”  He answered icily...”I am calling DOCTOR Dorothy Perkins.”  I didn’t try to explain.

As Dr. Newmeyer, Dot was a tactful mentor and a highly valuable collaborator.  She improved every paper I wrote, even in recent years when she had very little stamina.  When Dot went through a paper, she picked up ambiguities, inconsistencies, and unsupported conclusions like nobody else, and she tried to figure out “how to fix it”.  Sometimes she chided David for having such flaws in an early draft, but he would say that he was just roughing out what he hoped would be settled by a few more crosses, and he knew he could rely on her to see that nothing got to the final edit without being in perfect shape.  (Her response to that was a half grin and a groan.)  Dot paid close attention during lab seminars as well as to the papers she helped with, and I was often surprised and pleased with the details she remembered about my past and ongoing projects.

As Mrs. Perkins, Dot was my confidante and companion through the years of raising young children, the teenager years, dealing with ageing parents.  She got me into peace activism during the Vietnam war, and I recruited her to work with me in a tutoring program in East Palo Alto.  She was deeply devoted to David and his career, and I am sorry that many of the people who know of his devotion and care during recent years are too young to know of the years when she cared for Sue and for David’s mother, ran the home, got up a petition drive to get drainage that would stop their home from being flooded every year, and still felt guilty for not accomplishing more in the lab. 

I have never known anyone who cared as much as Dot about every single human being who crossed her path—or those she just learned about.  For example, she became so sad about hungry people that she developed a form of anorexia.  If there was something she could do to help an individual, she would do it.  If there seemed to be nothing to do, she would ask me or others for suggestions.  Long after she became homebound she continued to write letters to newspapers about international and national issues, usually trying to educate people about something that was under-reported or distorted.  At her insistence, she and David habitually gave very large donations to peace organizations, and the time came when she overcame her reticence and contacted the directors of some of these organizations with ideas that she thought were important.

Having a friend like Dorothy Newmeyer Perkins means never feeling that I am being too generous, too patient, or too saintly.  She set the bar way too high for that.


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