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Reminiscences of John Page Schroeter, PhD

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Reminiscences of John Page Schroeter, Ph. D.

by Margaret Ann Goldstein, Ph. D.


I received news of John's death by e-mail on Monday night Sept. 25, 2006 here at Clare Hall, Cambridge Univ. It has taken me a while to grasp that John will not be a phone call away and available for a chat about "ceiling wax, cabbages and kings" or about the next NASA mission or about a computer problem. John understood and appreciated things at so many levels: the zen state of a mountain walk or a well-rehearsed lab routine for a NASA experiment, our connection to all living things and the energy that flows through everything in our known universe, black holes, the space-time continuum, lasers, electrons, muscle lattices, brain synapses etc.etc. It was just such fun to go to depth on so many topics.


John opened his arms and embraced the mystery of life. He had so much love to give. He was always open to new possibilities. I was always so glad to see him when he walked into the laboratory. My face would light up in a big smile as I said "Hey, John-o." As someone already said, he was a breath of fresh air. One of our secretaries once said you could tell how the work was going by what color high-tops John wore and whether or not the laces were contrasting color or pattern. I loved the wonderful colors and designs of his T-shirts and always commented on them. John lived the 3-d world of shape and color we inhabited in our computer reality of reconstructed protein lattices.


Dr. John P. Schroeter was a superb scientist. He was very clear about what he knew, what was said to be true, what the data are, and what could be possible. As you know from his pie-throwing contraptions, he could build all sorts of equipment from odds and ends in the laboratory, and he loved to make things work. It made a nice balance for the intense abstractions of muscle biophysics, writing computer code and the tedious repetitions required in science. It was so much fun to share the "aha" moments in science. John would always laugh and say "Yeah, it's the hook that keeps us going back for more."


We have been colleagues in science since 1973, when he was a graduate student and I was an Assistant Professor of Cell Biophysics at Baylor College of Medicine. We clicked; it just worked. I had areas of expertise that complemented his, and my background in biology from the whole animal to the cellular and molecular provided a different perspective. John knew lasers and optical diffraction and could help me look at crystals in muscle. Dr. Ronald Sass, a physical chemist at Rice who was making the transition into biology and was already working on crystals in cells, joined us and we began a collaboration that lasted 25 years.


So many times John's sense of humor saved me. I can just hear him say with glee, "I have got the key to the universe" and then with his sad face say immediately, "but I just lost it." For all his zaniness, John was absolutely reliable and he never missed a deadline. I told John once that the highest compliment in the Celtic tradition (my maiden name is McNeill), when translated roughly from the Gaelic, is "at my back" and is given to the one person you choose to guard your back. For my whole career, John was that person.


Dr. John Schroeter was a superb teacher. He was at home in the classroom, at national meetings, and in the laboratory. Over the years I saw John turn down some interesting offers for business and academia. He could have chosen the traditional path, but opted for the one less traveled that allowed development of his own strong personal style. I think John profoundly understood the power of freedom. He and I often talked about how once you enter the realm of ideas, you are always the teacher and always the student. He taught me so much.


I close with a letter to John in cyberspace.


Dear John-o,


I miss you already. Where are you? In David Bohm's implicate order? the field? the astral plane? the realm of infinite possibilities? If you are in the astral plane defined by the work of Gary Schwartz and Bill Tiller, I expect to hear from you. You will know when I am in the receiving mode. I have some more questions for you. I am so glad we shared the journey for so many years in the same part of the universe as earthlings. As ever, Ann