Eli Minkoff

Offered  by Robert Thomas, Professor of Biology, and Joe Pelliccia, Association Professor of Biology, on May 7, 2007

In light of his impending retirement, and on behalf the College, the two next most senior members of the biology department, Joe Pellicia and BobThomas, wish to thank and acknowledge our esteemed colleague, Professor Eli Minkoff, for 39 years of dedicated service.

Eli has touched many lives at Bates during his long academic career. Through many well received published texts, laboratory manuals and study guides he has also touched many academic lives elsewhere. We will not, however, provide a formal recitation of his academic accomplishments. Go to Who’s Who in Science if you need one. Instead we offer our personal reflections on this generous and multi-talented soul.

Eli Minkoff photographed by Phyllis Graber Jensen.

Joe: I remember one day during my first week on campus in the fall of 1979 as I was sitting in my office feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of my first teaching job when I heard someone walking down the stairs in Carnegie. In a perfect rhythmic accompaniment to the sound of shoes slapping down the steps was the most curious music I had ever heard. It took me a while to realize it was someone harmonically whistling and humming at the same time…I think it might have been a bit of classical music. Over the years I would hear bits of show tunes, Sousa marches and Gershwin. This was the first, but certainly not the last time I’ve been amazed at Eli’s many talents.

Bob: Johnny Carson once had a guest on his late night show with the same featured talent. I remembered thinking then that Eli could do as well or better.

Joe: Later during that same semester of that pre-Xerox machine era, Eli proved to be the Picasso of the mimeo machine. He commented to me one day that simple purple colored mimeos couldn’t describe the intricate subtleties of vertebrate development and so showed me, his naïve junior colleague, how to produce them in four colors! That was just one of the many ways he helped me to realize that my PhD education had not prepared me for life at Bates!

I remember talking to a student who was enrolled in Eli’s course on primates when this student…in words that rapidly shifted between incredulity and awe, recounted how Eli got up on the table in the classroom and bounded around the room demonstrating some of the fundamentals of primate behavior!

One of the things that most amazes me about Eli is his depth of knowledge…not only about the theories and principles of the life sciences but also his mastery of the most arcane trivia. In moments when time was short or I just didn’t feel like trekking over to the library to look something up, a short walk across the hall would bring me into Eli’s office where I could find out nearly anything, about any topic, at any time of the day. Whether I was asking him about the derivative of a technical term in biology or the life history of an obscure South Atlantic jawless fish, Eli’s eyes would brighten, he’d pause for just a few seconds to collect his thoughts and then would deliver a detailed twenty minute long treatise on the topic complete with a full historical background. And, unlike today’s more modern equivalent, Wikipedia, I was never adverse to cite anything Eli told me as his comments always came complete with a full oral list of references.

Eli’s office is a monument to the life long accumulation of “stuff.” Piles and piles of books and papers are stacked all over the place, in seeming random fashion. However, during our casual conversations, whenever he wanted to more emphatically make a point, Eli would immediately go directly to the pile that contained exactly that item that would address whatever we were talking about. Most amazing of all was when Eli had to change his office during the Carnegie renovation project. Shortly after that move it looked to me as if each and every pile had magically transported itself up to the 4th floor in order to occupy what I now know was anything but a random order on his office floor.

No one would ever accuse Eli of having a soft voice. He lectures with the door to his classroom wide open and, a savvy colleague could certainly learn a lot of evolution or paleontology, even if the classroom were down the hall and around a corner.

Bob: To the best of my knowledge, Eli has never intentionally offended anyone. He genuinely cares about the well being of the College, his colleagues, and his students. When I had a particularly nasty accident in the winter of 2001 that literally kept me off my feet for months, everyone in the department pitched in to help. But Eli was the first to express concern and offer support. Despite the pain and medication, I have a very distinct recollection of a phone conversation with Eli that took place in the hospital and had to be terminated as I was wheeled in for surgery.

Eli is a family man, devoted to his wife and kids. He loves children and plays with them at a level they really understand. When Neil and Linda (his two children) were young, I would sometimes bring a dessert to his home to share. Eli got quite a chuckle over Neil’s contemplated used of a meringue pie. When my two kids meet Eli at work, he treats them like little colleagues, and they leave feeling ten feet tall. Neil and Linda are grown now with children of their own. They live in the Boston area. Nancy, his wife, has spent much of her time there for years. Had you asked Eli over a year ago what his plans were for retirement, he would have told you “why retire, this is what I love to do.” But his devotion to family and the lure of grandchildren is very strong.

Bob and Joe: Eli, your unique presence will be missed. We wish you all the best in retirement.