Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

Dick Fluck's Remarks on the Occasion of Carl Pike’s Retirement

I’m here to tell you  about Carl Pike, the boy from New York City. A big city boy who came to Lancaster in 1971 at the age of 26—a transplant, a mere sapling. He quickly put down roots into Lancaster County’s rich soil, and over the next 40+ years, he grew into a big tree. For those 40+ years, Carl has been an upstanding member of the Biology Department, this College, and the Lancaster community.

Like David Stameshkin and me, Carl was born in 1945, just a bit early to be an authentic baby boomer. He grew up in post-war America—the America of the Cold War, of Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, of the Civil Rights movement—and in post-war New York City—the New York City of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, and Willy Mays. He was a Yankee fan, but he knew the stats of not only the Yankees but many other players and teams as well.

(Unbeknownst to Carl when he was growing up was the fact that a young woman named Ellen Leader was growing up in Boston, rooting for her Red Sox and their star, Ted Williams.)

Carl knew the New York City subway system so well that he was the navigator for his high school’s athletic teams when they traveled to away games.

He likely inherited his predilection for numbers and keeping track of things from his father, who was an accountant. I never knew Carl’s father, so I can only speculate that Carl inherited his cool detachment—his Joe Friday-like “Just the facts, ma’am” approach to difficult situations— from his father. This cool served him well as a professor, a department chair, and a member of the Professional Standards Committee and the many civic organizations he serves.

Carl did his undergraduate work at Yale, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude, with honors with exceptional distinction in biology, and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. He stayed at Yale for his M.Phil. and then went on to Harvard, where he received is Ph.D. in biology.

Somewhere along the way, he met and married Ellen Leader. When they met, he was the—no doubt proud—owner of a Mustang, which hit the market in spring of 1964. Carl’s was painted—big surprise!—green.

(Alas, soon after their second child was born in 1977, Carl and Ellen traded that Mustang for a brown Chevy Nova.

1977: The year that Charlie Chaplain, Elvis Presley, and three members of Lynyrd Skynyrd died. And the year that Carl Pike traded his green Mustang for a brown Nova.

1977 was also the year that Carl was promoted to Associate Professor. Perhaps he thought that a Nova suited his new rank better than a Mustang.

In the Biology Department, Carl has always been “the plant person,” the professor with the green fuse. Following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Art Shively, Carl brought to the study of plant biology his expertise in biochemistry and genomics. He has always been a force for constructive change in the Biology Department and for forging connections with Chemistry, Earth & Environment, and, more recently, Public Health.

Carl brought his love and knowledge of plants to all students at F&M with his courses in Food & Nutrition, in which he helped students understand Wendell Berry’s statement that “eating is an agricultural act” and Michael Pollan’s statement that eating is, also, a political act.

For his excellence and commitment as a teacher, Carl received F&M’s Lindback Award and the “Excellence in Teaching Award” from the American Society of Plant Physiologists.

He published papers in not only the area of his research but also in journals such as the Journal of Chemical Education and Biochemical Education. His co-authors on these and other papers included numerous colleagues and spouses of colleagues: Jake Freedman, Jane Grushow, Ken Hess, Dave King, Phyllis Leber, Alice Richardson, Joe Richardson, Tim Sipe, Scott Van Arman, and me.

I had the good fortune to work side-by-side with Carl in Cell Biology, Biochemistry, and in pioneering the department’s new core course in Physiology & Development in the mid ‘90s.

In fact, I learned about Franklin & Marshall because of Carl. In the early ‘70s, both he and I were doing research on a possible role of neurotransmitters in plants; and as fate would have it, in the summer of 1974, both he and I were presenting papers at the annual plant physiology meetings at Cornell.  When he and I sat down to talk, I thought we were there to talk about our mutual research interests, but he thought that we were there to talk about a job opening at F&M. So we talked about both, and here we are tonight.

In the spring of 1972, in Carl’s second semester at F&M, Science magazine published a Letter to Editor from him. Printed under the heading “The College Professor,” Carl asked why so few men and women from undergraduate colleges were officers in AAAS or on committees. He wrote, “Why does the AAAS have active participation from all components of its membership save from those colleges that do not grant doctorates? These institutions represent an important segment of our educational system, and prepare many of our future teachers, doctors, and (hopefully) scientifically aware citizens. I hope that the AAAS officers will recognize that science is not the province only of the university, the corporation, and the government.” Thanks to the work of Carl and many others like him, including other professors from F&M, colleges like F&M now do have a seat the at the table at AAAS and other professional societies.

Carl’s research has been mostly in the broad area of plants’ responses to changes in their environment. Unlike most animals, many plants—and certainly the ones that Carl has studied—can’t re-locate when environmental conditions become unfavorable. Those changing conditions include the presence of heavy metals in soil; large increases or decreases in temperature; and changes in day length during the year, which—at least in this part of the world—plants use as a way to “predict” changes in temperature.

Grants from Research Corporation, the National Science Foundation, and Merck/AAAS supported his research. He chose his sabbatical venues carefully, not only to pursue his research and learn new methods but also to explore the world: the Carnegie Institution of Washington at Stanford; the University of Texas at Austin; and the Australian National University.

He also helped to get external funding to support science education at F&M. He received an NSF grant to purchase instruments for measuring photosynthesis—instruments that are being used by students in regular courses, Independent Study, and other research. He was the chair of the Biology Department when F&M submitted its first—and successful—proposal to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (or HHMI), which strengthened neuroscience at F&M; was a force behind our second successful proposal to HHMI, which strengthened biochemistry at F&M; and was a long-time advocate for bioinformatics, which is the focus of our third successful HHMI award. The field of biology has changed immensely in the past 40 years, and Carl has helped his department and college keep pace with the change.

As the “plant person” in the Biology Department, Carl had to live with the fact that most biology majors were interested in going to medical school—and were therefore interested primarily in animals, specifically animals that have hair and can bleed.

Despite that “handcap,” Carl mentored more than 60 students in his lab. His first Independent Study student, Judith White, was the first woman to receive the Williamson Medal; and another of his students, Mark Golden, received the Williamson Medal in the following year. Carl formed and has sustained friendships with these and many other students.

Carl has served his department, College, community, and profession well. He chaired the Biology Department twice; and during that second term he finessed some difficult, delicate situations. He was on external review teams for 3 colleges; served on NSF review panels; served 4 terms as president of the local chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. In 1998 (!), he was a member of the Committee on a Teaching and Learning Center.

Carl’s commitment to education, plant biology, and the environment have extended to Lancaster City and Lancaster County. He was a member of the School Board for the Lancaster School District for 8 years—and its president for 2 years—and has been a member of the Lancaster City Shade Tree Commission since 2001.

The College and Lancaster are better places because of Carl’s—and Ellen’s—commitment to education, liberal education, and community. Carl, thank you, for all that you have done for our students, for our College, and for Lancaster.

Carl and Ellen have already taken their first “post-retirement” trip—to the Galápagos Islands. I’m sure that this was only the first of many such trips.

  • Carl Pike