1987 in the FSU Biological Science History project

1987 In the Department of Biological Science at Florida State University (updated 25 Apr 03)

     Back to Margaret Y. Menzel in memoriam page

Reproduced with permission from the ASB Bulletin of the Association of Southeastern Biologists.


On the morning of 30 May 1987, Dr. Margaret Young Menzel died after a long illness. Dr. Menzel was well known to members of the Association of Southeastern Biologists, having been an active member since 1950.

Born in Kerrville, Texas, 21 June 1924, Margaret grew up in south Texas and graduated magna cum laude from Southwestern University (Texas) in 1944 with majors in Biology and English. The next year she taught chemistry and microbiology at Lamar College in Beaumont. She received her Ph.D. under the direction of Dr. Orland White from the University of Virginia in 1949, where she met and married Winston Menzel. At Virginia she was, as she said, a "Blandy Farmer." This time at Blandy Farm was very special to her, and friendships made there persisted throughout her life. After receiving her doctorate she held appointments as Instructor of Agronomy, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, College station, Texas; Research Geneticist, USDA, Tallahassee, Florida; and Research Associate, Associate Professor, Professor, and Univesity Service Professor, Florida State University, Tallahassee. While at Florida State she directed eleven masters theses and five doctoral dissertations.

Margaret Menzel, in addition to being an excellent scientist, was active in many women's rights groups. She was instrumental in founding NOW in Florida and also championed equal pay for women.

Chromosome structure, meiosis, and the evolution of genome nonhomology occupied most of her research efforts in material ranging from tomatoes and Physalis to schistosomes and clams. Her research or other intellectual interests were never confined to one thing at a time. She once defended such wide interests by saying,"After all, genetics is co-extensive with the universe," and the frequent lively discussions at her house convinced most people that she was correct. While at College Station she formed a lasting and very productive friendship with Dr. Meta Brown. Of Margaret's 83 papers, 20 are coauthored with Dr. Brown, and these form the source of much of our knowledge of cotton cytogenetics and the behavior of translocated chromosomes and our ability to locate quickly any mutation to a linkage group in these plants. She and her students made over 60,000 interspecific crosses in the genus Hibiscus and the information gained from the study of meiosis in the hybrids allowed her to trace convincingly the spread of the various genomes throughout what was Gondwanaland, demonstrating that most genomes are older than most species.

Her interests included activity in many professional societies, among them the American Genetic Association, American Society for Cell Biology, Botanical Society of America (Secretary-Treasurer, Genetics section), Genetics Society of America, and Sigma Xi (President of the FSU chapter). Her greatest commitment to such organizations was reserved for the Association of Southeastern Biologists. Margaret served as Secretary, Editor of the ASB Bulletin, and Vice President. She organized one symposium on Chromosome Structure and Function in 1977 and co-organized another in 1981. Her students understood that they were to attend and be active in ASB, and we were introduced to the membership. At her first ASB meeting in 1950 she received the Research Award, and at her last in 1985 she received the Meritorious Teaching Award, thus becoming one of the two people at that time to have received both of these highest ASB honors.

Margaret required the same high standards of her students as she did of herself and once complained that the designations "undergraduate, graduate student, assistant, associate, and full professors" were all wrong. She thought the designations should be "learner 1, learner 2, learner 3," etc. because, in her eyes, we are all learning. She taught by teaching us to think and demanded critical thinking about genetics and about life, whether you were a "learner 1" or a "learner 5." Margaret found support for her students when none was obvious, stood up for us (and students who were not her own) when necessary, and taught not only in the classroom but also in the laboratory, in the field, and at regular sessions in her home. She followed our careers, visiting us, corresponding with us, and as late as March, 1987, pointing out literature we should have known. Her sense of humor, infectious laugh, and sometimes irreverent observations about "pompous, self-important" people and institutions kept all contact with her very lively.

When, in 1984, Margaret learned that she had a terminal illness, she called her lab colleagues together and told them that there was work to be done and little time to do it. She and her colleagues turned out 18 articles in 1985-1987 and, with former students, organized the Boone Chromosome Conference in 1986. She taught us how to think, and, in many ways, even in her dying, how to live.

Clare Hasenkampf, University of Toronto; Dwayne Wise, Mississippi State University; and Ken Shull, Appalachian State University.

This page is part of the Departmental History Project of the Department of Biological Science at Florida State University. Can you help us fill in the blanks? If you were once a student here, or a member of our faculty or staff, we'd love to hear from you. Send an e-mail to thistle@bio.fsu.edu, a fax to (850) 644-9829, or snail-mail to Dr. Anne B. Thistle, Editor, Department of Biological Science, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306-1100. And thanks!