Last week I attended the funeral of Eric Chittenden, a chemist who spent almost all of his working life (49 years!) at the Cawthron Institute. He joined Cawthron in 1926, having left school four years earlier when he was 13. He had no formal qualifications and started in a very junior position as an assistant in the chemistry laboratories. He became a very respected soil scientist, making a huge contribution to agriculture and horticulture in the Nelson region. In fact, one of my purchases at the Founders Book Fair a few weeks back was a 1957 paper by Sir Theodore Rigg with Eric Chittenden as a co-author: a survey of soils, vegetation and agriculture of the Waimea County, Nelson.
I’ve just been listening to a child psychologist on national radio talking about optimists and pessimists. It reminded me of a management problem I faced at Cawthron Institute where I took rather a risk in order to communicate successfully.
The problem involved a young Ph.D. student from Japan. He had just discovered that his supervisor back in Japan had done something dishonourable, something which he felt would be to the disadvantage of his New Zealand hosts. He became deeply depressed, stuck in a dilemma which he eventually confided to another Japanese researcher working at Cawthron at the time: Dr Kawamura. Kawamura-san then spoke with the student’s Cawthron supervisor, who felt he was out of his depth and brought the problem to me. They were both extremely concerned with the student’s state of mind, even mentioning the ‘s’ word.
One day in the early 90s I got a telephone call from one of our clients in Christchurch. His Japanese wife had been working as an interpreter for a gentleman currently living in Christchurch who had expressed a great interest in visiting an organisation carrying out environmental research. He wondered whether the Cawthron Institute would be a good choice. I explained that we had a lot of contact with Japanese researchers at that time and he would be very welcome. The Japanese gentleman duly arrived, along with his interpreter.
I spent an afternoon last week with Deirdre Mackay, who’s been commissioned to write the history of the Cawthron Institute. Lot’s of stuff is coming back to me, so get ready for a string of Cawthron stories.
It’s successful turnaround in the early 90s owes a lot to many different people. One of them celebrated his 70th birthday a few years back, an occasion we thought important enough to celebrate with an appropriate gift. We chose to give the commission to Darryl Robertson, another painting on ceramic:
Again, the back story is fascinating. Read on if you are interested.
In March I read of the passing of Sir Ian Axford, a scientist who spent much of his working life outside New Zealand but nevertheless made a huge contribution to this country. I met him briefly when we invited him to present the annual “Cawthron Lecture” in 1996. It was the 75th anniversary of the official opening of Cawthron Institute.
To grab your attention, I’ve included a photograph of the present we gave Sir Ian that night. You may well think that’s a bit crass, but the story that goes with it is well worth telling. Here it is:
This week there was a small item on page 3 of our local newspaper announcing that the four major players in New Zealand’s mussel industry have joined forces to create a new company, Spatco. The four companies involved are Wakatu Incorporation, Sealord (both Nelson-based), Sanford and Pacifica Seafoods. Spatco aims to take baby mussels grown in the laboratory (“spat”) and grow them up to the size where they can survive on their own in the marine environment. The objectives are two-fold: to ensure a consistent, reliable supply of mussel juveniles and to take advantage of the ambitious selective breeding programme which has been going on at Cawthron Institute for the past five or six years.
Two of the many highlights from my time at Cawthron Institute were the successes of a couple of young women scientists in the prestigious UNESCO-L’Oreal “Young Women in Science” programme.
Encouraged by her mentor, Dr Lesley Rhodes, Dr Alison Haywood was the first of these in 2001. Much to everyone’s surprise and delight, she was one of only 10 women worldwide to be awarded the $US 10,000 international fellowship (and the first ever from the southern hemisphere!) Alison was a research scientist in the Biosecurity Group, where she completed a Ph.D. programme from Auckland University in molecular systematics (supervised by Prof Pat Bergquist). Her project was to rapidly identify, using molecular probes, toxic algae which can cause serious food poisoning.
The correct treatment of Maori artifacts (“taonga”) within collections and museums can present difficult problems. This is especially true when the history (or “whakapapa”) of the taonga has been lost over time. This is a story about one taonga, a large “hei tiki” that was placed in the care of Cawthron Institute more than 60 years ago, and the very successful resolution of a difficult issue.
Facebook is an odd space. I’m learning new ways of communicating and new definitions of old words. Such as “friend”. I have a friend on Facebook who was never a friend in the usual sense, we were students in the same engineering school 1967 and haven’t seen each other since. Lorraine, another Facebook friend, definitely does fit the usual definition. I was her boss for quite a while, at Cawthron Institute where she rose from a lab technician to manager of an analytical department of almost 100 people. She was superb, responsible for creating a customer driven culture that differentiated us from nearly all of our competitors. I watched her leadership skills and network grow as she joined Toastmasters, the Chamber of Commerce (where she became president) and various professional bodies. Then she was gone! She had fallen in love with a Spanish sailor (a sailmaker for one of the…
The other night was a “fellowship night” at my Rotary club: no speaker, just time for us to talk amongst ourselves. My friend Barry Brown is a trustee for the estate of Peter Dixon, a former president of our club. Our conversation touched on an event a few years ago which really deserves to be told.