Friday, May 6, 2016


I started this blog with him in mind, and he was my most faithful reader. He would have laughed at the fact that I had to argue with the Ithaca Journal over paragraphing in his obituary.
Zahler, Stanley

Stanley Zahler, age 89, of Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California, and formerly of Ithaca, died April 26, 2016, of complications following a fall. Born May 28, 1926, in New York City, to Clara and Irving Zahler, Stan attended Townsend-Harris High School and started college at CCNY at the age of 15. He enlisted in the Navy air force just before his 18th birthday and was commissioned as an ensign at age 19, immediately after VJ Day.

Following his discharge, Stan attended NYU, expecting to become a doctor. Two years later, he changed his mind thanks to a great professor who described the wonders of scientific investigation, and instead enrolled in graduate school at University of Chicago. He worked in the lab of James Moulder and spent hours each day reading science in a booth at Reader's Drugstore. One day he met a young woman named Joy, who returned to her dorm that night to tell her roommate, 18-year-old Jan Haugness, that she had just met the man Jan was going to marry. Jan scoffed but finally allowed Joy to drag her to Reader's, where she asked Stan about a topic she expected to be tested on in her freshman biology class. Stan explained, Jan got an A on the test, and after she showed up in Stan's lab to thank him, they saw each other daily and were inseparable for the next 65 years.

In 1952, Stan moved to Urbana, Illinois, to work as a post-doc with Salvatore Luria. Jan went overseas with her brother and was in a serious motorcycle accident that left doctors sure that she would never walk again. Stan decided they should be married right away and that she would indeed walk again. They were married in November; six months later, she walked. From then on, they could be seen anywhere they lived, walking hand in hand every evening.

During their honeymoon, Stan and Jan attended the symposium at Cold Spring Harbor where James Watson presented the double-helix model of DNA. Fifty years later, Stan still considered it the most exciting scientific talk he'd ever heard.

Stan next spent five years in Seattle, teaching microbiology at the University of Washington. His two daughters were born there. The family moved briefly to Morgantown, West Virginia, before settling in Ithaca, where Stan would teach and do research on B. subtilis at Cornell University. He began work in the Department of Dairy Industry, teaching microbial genetics, a new course. His son was born that year, and the family moved from one side of the lake to the other, rarely staying in one house for more than a couple of years. A sabbatical in 1966-67 brought the family to southern California, an area Stan and Jan loved and to which they would eventually retire.

In his 35 years at Cornell, Stan was a co-founder of the Biology & Society program, Associate Director of the Division of Biological Sciences, and Chair of the Genetics & Development Section. He wrote dozens of peer-reviewed papers as well as chapters in books and textbooks on virology, bacteriology, genetics, and molecular biology. He mentored graduate students from his first (Ph.D. 1967) to his last (Ph.D. 1992). And he taught microbiology to some 2,000 students. In 2008, one of his former undergraduate students, who had taken his introductory course 40 years earlier, endowed a display case in Stan's honor in Mann Library.

Stan retired in 1994, and in 1999, he and Jan moved to Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California, for winters only at first, but later permanently. For many years they traveled between California and New York by car, exploring every corner of the country as they went.

Stan leaves behind his wife of 63 years, Jan; daughters Kathy (Paul Lutwak) of Freeville, NY, and Diane (Philip Sicker) of Wassaic, NY; son Peter (Lisa Herb) of East Chatham, NY; his brother Burt (Sachiko) of St. Johnsbury, VT; grandchildren Ben Sicker, Olivia Lutwak, and Gabe Zahler; and several beloved nephews and nieces. At Stan's request, there will be no service, but in his memory you are invited to flip over a rock, identify a bird, argue a fine point, pick up a snake, read a good book, take a walk in the woods, and otherwise express your joy at being a fascinated human being on a fascinating planet.

1 comment:

Steve Adams said...

A life well lived.