“If It Isn’t Fun.” – A Career Mandate
Not long after joining the LPH as research fellow in 1956, I was called into Ancel Keys’s office and briefed about the methodological needs for the far-flung studies he was planning. Because our talk was couched in Ancel’s customary indirect-speak, I assumed that the interview meant something between a suggestion and a mandate. There was, at least, an expectation. I should come up with systems, criteria, codes, procedures, and formularies for translating clinical information into quantifiable data for the Seven Countries Study. Faced with a similar and even more urgent mandate from Henry Taylor, who was about to get his U.S. Railway Study into the field, I realized at once, which I was not always quick enough to do in my junior career, that these were life-determining charges. What each senior colleague needed was applicable to both of their then-separate studies, directed by the independent and not always perfectly communicating principals, Keys and Taylor.
I was already committed to Henry Taylor for the U.S. Railway Study and its start-up deadline in fall of 1957. My imagination, on the other hand, was much taken with the vision that Keys painted of travels and surveys in enchanting lands, on a romantic quest for a kind of Holy Grail, the key to population differences in heart attack rates. I was smart enough then, which was not always the case, to devote myself to the tasks at hand and to let Keys and Taylor argue priorities for my clinical services in the field. Taylor won out because of the urgency of the start of his rail survey. They both saw the direct applicability of what I was developing to the upcoming international pilot studies in Italy and Greece. I put away my twinge of disappointment not to sail away to the Mediterranean in the 1957 pilot projects with Keys and company, and set my sights to develop and then test “Minnesota” clinical procedures in our new rail laboratory car, then residing in the old St. Paul depot.
For the next several years, I alternated between laboratory and field, with colleagues Punsar and Rautaharju from Finland, and Blomquist from Sweden, testing clinical and electrocardiographic criteria and procedures under field and central applications in Minnesota. It was a consuming time.
I remember as if in a daze how I led my little family aboard a Boeing Stratocruiser in June of 1958 and saw them off for six months to the grandparents’ home in France so that I could focus on the burgeoning Seven Countries Study tasks. We had the happy prospect of coming together again in Versailles in the fall when I would be en route to and from the first field survey in Dalmatia. These exciting, demanding times gave great satisfaction. They also took their toll in professional focus and in family cohesion.