By Patricia Guthrie
Happy Birthday Big Tree!
How I wish you were still around for all your kids to sing to you today on your 100th birthday, June 28, 2016.
But I’m not sure we could deal with you in this day and age of the Internet, social media, 24/7 communications and the ubiquitous telephone/camera/computer gadgets that no doubt would capture your attention beyond all reason. An example of this new world is today’s virtual Robert Guthrie Memorial Dinner. A few years back, ESPKU (European Society for Phenylketonuria and Allied Disorders Treated as Phenylketonuria) picked June 28 as International PKU Day. That’s because both you and your German friend and colleague, Prof. Dr. Horst Bickel, have the same birthday, June 28!
(You are the elder. Dr. Bickel’s 100th birthday celebration will be in 2018.)
Tonight, families from around the world may post photos and videos thanking you for changing their lives, for changing the course of living with PKU and so many other genetic disorders, the ultimate legacy of the Guthrie Test and dried blood spot detection.
Tonight, your children will gather in your honor and eat your favorite food — plain baked potatoes, cornbread, fake eggs, and of course, peanut butter and tomato sandwiches on wheat (dark) bread — the other famous Dr. Robert Guthrie invention. Tom, Anne, Barbara and I will gather. But your youngest son, James, won’t be able to join us in person but maybe by Skype, something else I’m glad didn’t exist when you were around. Jim has just been named acting dean of the School of Business at the University of Kansas (where you had a short-lived academic appointment.) Johnny will also be missing since he unexpectedly died a few months before you. Since he was such an influence on the many contributions you and Mom made, we will remember him as well, perhaps with a visit from the cardboard record salesman, the 6-foot banana and a Diet Coke.
Us kids here in Seattle, Washington will toast you and Mom with sweet white wine (but probably not from western New York’s Niagara Falls region.)
And perhaps with a Scotch tasting and a Rusty Nail, the rather strong Scottish concoction you taught me to make.
Websites are the new encyclopedia, Dad, so I’m putting this one together for you. In the future, this blog will focus on the people and issues of PKU and newborn screening. Here, I hope to carry on your tradition of caring about our children’s children. May I do you proud, as you have done your loving family.
Patricia Guthrie is the daughter of the late Dr. Robert Guthrie, the American scientist who developed newborn screening in the early 1960s. She is also an independent journalist, specializing in health reporting. Winner of many national media awards, she’s been a Harvard Nieman fellow and received her master’s degree as a Kiplinger Fellow at The Ohio State University.
Thank you Dr Guthrie!
Wonderful memories of a kind gentle man of science with an altruistic legacy of research. What a pleasure it was to listen to him speak and to sail with him from Wilson harbor on the Tahiti Ketch with the Toronto skyline to the north. Curious from the following car as to why he was stopping along the road to Wilson I wondered, did he have a car problem? No he was just walking back to us to point out a cobblestone house. He wanted to be sure we noticed it and explained how the builders had a special formula for the mortar that held the stones gathered from the lakeshore erosion and assembled to make a very sturdy home. He had a love for nature as well. I remember a huge Purple Martin house at the home with a giant hinged pole to allow for maintenance, similar in construction to the tabernacle fitting I helped install on another sailboat “Psyche” in the Buffalo harbor so he could unstep the mast for trips through the canals. I gained a wealth of knowledge from such brief encounters with the man, ever the educator and never too busy to explain things to you. 100 years would not be enough for most people to accomplish what Dr. Guthrie did in his lifetime. I was blessed to know him and his wonderful family.