John Cairns - A Difficult Personality

Barbara was a very interesting person, but there was a side to her, which I don't think probably has come out in the books written about her and the comments which I haven't read the books…She was an immensely difficult person who specialized in being difficult and one of her great specialties was hating whoever was director. So she used to give me a very tough time. I remember just after [my] arrival-I was desperately going on mowing the lawn and doing the pictures for the book [Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology] and everything and Barbara came complaining saying, "You mustn't do this and you must do this-the lab is a disgrace and something's got to be done and you shouldn't fiddle around with pictures and so on!" When I was just going doing the ordinary business of the Lab. She would always tell me how marvelous [Milislav] Demerec was-and how awful I was-and one day I got very fed up with this so I went to Al Hershey. I said, "This is very difficult because Barbara thinks Demerec is absolutely marvelous and I'm terrible!" And Al said, "She didn't think he was marvelous, she hated him!" Apparently, she was so difficult with him that he did not want to talk to her at all because he thought he would have a stroke when talking to her-so he kept out of her way. Well, anyway when finally I stopped being director and Jim [Watson] became director-I would go down to Barbara and say, "How's everything coming along?" and she would roll up her eyes and show the yellow-whites of her eyes, "Chaos! Disaster!" I at this point had moved into the sort of pantheon of heroes because I was no longer director-but I only discovered that just at the end after I became director so it was no comfort to me.