Personal notes, stories, and tributes follow the memorial in the Fall 2022 issue of ASPB News
Share your memories or tributes to Jane in the comments below.
Blake Meyers: I met Jane in 2000, at an NSF PGRP annual meeting when I was a postdoc on one of the earliest-funded projects, and shared an idea with her. She encouraged me to write a proposal, even as a postdoc, which I did. It was ranked “not competitive” with some discouraging comments (“There was also a consensus that this project is not a good step forward on Dr. Blake’s career path”). However, Jane liked the ideas and used her power as Program Director to pull it from the low ranking and fund the project. This 2001 grant then served to launch my career, as I had a funded NSF PGRP project with which to find a faculty position, taking me to the University of Delaware. The project was the first publicly-funded use of next-gen sequencing (“MPSS”); the work built my lab’s informatics capabilities, led directly to the invention of next-gen small RNA sequencing, and allowed me to work with Illumina and their predecessors. Over the years since then, Jane always provided strong encouragement to me and my collaborators, and I will certainly remember her bright, supportive, and positive attitude that was helpful for me as a PI to address and overcome low moments such as criticisms and the numerous difficulties that one faces in science and life.
Scott Jackson: Jane provided mentoring in ways that even the recipient may have been unaware. Early in my career, Jane took a chance on a young PI and provided key advice as I began assembling a team to sequence the soybean genome. Jane later invited me to several NSF panels and seated me next to John McPherson, responsible for advances in physical mapping of the human genome, which led to a friendship and his help with soybean. Years later, I came to realize that Jane had “arranged” our meeting knowing that an outside perspective was needed. Like others, I was a recipient of the Young Investigator Awards that Jane began. This launched my career and my two-decade friendship with Jane. We both loved reading and often exchanged books, first hard copies and later by Kindle. This included everything from bios of Leonardo da Vinci and Keith Richards to Westerns to, most recently, young adult science fiction (Jane was to attend a wedding where the author was a relative). Jane was a great friend and advocate. A source of much advice and many laughs.
Anne Sylvester: I was invited by Machi Dilworth to join Jane as a rotator in the PGRP in 2002 through the exciting and seminal time in plant biology when methods to sequence complex plant genomes were just unfolding. Jane mentored me in the ways of NSF with patience, kindness, and attention; we worked together to develop workshops and meetings to engage the research community in establishing best practices for sequencing the maize genome; we traveled together on outreach trips where impact and inclusivity were key; we discussed on a daily basis “What’s the next big thing? How can we facilitate and support it?” From these conversations and time spent with Jane, I learned the value of collaboration in research and so many other work values that I carry with me today. I marveled at Jane’s scientific insights and ability to coordinate and administer the PGRP, along with her exceptional ability to guide and mentor so many. She embodied a life of learning through travel, reading, and art and of having fun: a co-worker once asked about the boisterous laughter coming from our PGRP office at 8 pm! Jane was a stalwart supporter, mentor, and friend through my own career changes. After her retirement, our friendship continued with a two-person book club and many dinners in-person and on Zoom. The world, and my life, is better for Jane’s presence and impact.
Michael Purugganan: The first time I met Jane was in NSF when she was introduced to me by my then program officer. All I remember was being intimidated by her at that first meeting.
The second time I met her was when she made me do a site visit for NSF in Madison, Wisconsin on the cold, gray weekend after Thanksgiving. I had arrived at my hotel early and so spent the afternoon in my room watching a show on 80s music, not knowing that Jane was in the next room doing the same thing. When we emerged that evening for dinner and found out that we both were watching the same cheesy show, we bonded as friends and have been friends ever since.
The impact Jane had on the direction of plant biology was immense. In her position at NSF, she shaped the modern contours of the field, and her work has transformed the field in so many ways.
I knew her professionally in her role in government, but I also knew her most especially as a dear friend. She wanted to always know about my science, but she also had a caring side that helped me in those moments when I needed a friend. We would meet every year either at NSF or at the annual PAG meeting in San Diego, but we also met up all over the world – in New York (where she came over once to view the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum with me), in Lisbon, and in Singapore. She invited me and my wife to go to Washington several times socially – once to view the cherry blossoms, another to watch the Nutcracker during the holiday season. She read a prayer during my wedding ceremony. My wife Alex said to me that she knew I was a good guy because I had Jane as a friend – and any man who could have a strong woman like Jane as a friend had to be OK.
The last time I saw Jane was virtually in the middle of the first year of the Covid pandemic. I had not heard from her in some time and we spent an hour chatting about all the things we were doing and how busy we continued to be despite the raging pandemic. She was looking forward to resuming traveling, one of the joys of her life.
I will miss Jane more than anything and I cannot really believe she is no longer with us.
Kathy Kahn: Jane had a special knack for encouraging and mentoring others, and I count myself so fortunate to have benefited from her wise counsel. She helped me understand and appreciate the vast opportunities for plant science to lead to positive impact beyond the research lab. Jane was so passionate about what we could do together to benefit smallholder farmers, yet also so clear about our differing roles, with her focus firmly on the basic research end of an “arrow of science” leading to impact. I learned a lot from her about plant science and perhaps more importantly how to foster effective research grants and collaborations. When I think of her, it is with her head back, laughing, exuding enthusiasm.
Machi Dilworth: With Jane’s passing, the world lost the biggest champion of plant biology research, and I lost a best friend. Looking back, having persuaded Jane to join NSF was the most significant accomplishment of my NSF career. From day one, Dr. Mary Clutter, Jane and I worked as a team. Each of us played different roles, and Jane’s was the most important – to keep the quality of science at the highest possible level. If it were not for Jane, the Plant Genome Research Program would not have made as big an impact on plant biology as it has. As a person, Jane was often misunderstood, especially in professional settings, because of her British reserve. The truth is that she was intensely loyal to her staff at work and to her friends in private. Only a few of us knew how Jane took upon herself the responsibility of keeping Mary’s spirit up in her waning years: she carried out the difficult task with genuine affection, respect, gratitude and grace. After my retirement from NSF, Jane and I would talk for hours through FaceTime, with the frequency increasing after Jane’s retirement. I could tell she was truly enjoying her “retirement” life, and I was very happy for her. When I heard the news of her passing, I was preparing to travel to Arlington to spend several days with her. Her sister told me that Jane had prepared new sheets for the guest bed. That is so Jane. I miss her terribly, but I am also grateful for the wealth of wonderful shared memories. Thank you, Jane, and A Hui Hou!!
Dick McCombie: I first met Jane right before she joined NSF. She was on a site visit team for a grant we didn’t get. But when she went to NSF I got to know her. First as a program officer and then more as I served two, five-year terms on the Bio Advisory Committee at NSF. It was there that I saw her tireless support and genuine caring for the plant genomics research community.
She would sometimes ask me to attend meetings where she thought my being there would help in some way, such as the meeting on data sharing in Toronto where she knew I would agree with the Foundation’s position on aggressively sharing genomic data before publication. At another meeting she asked me to attend, she was also in attendance and sitting next to me. At one point she saw me typing on my computer and pull out a credit card. She asked me what I was doing, and I told her I was getting ordained online as a minister and I paid extra to be made a cardinal. Later, we were at a maize meeting in Mexico City and a group of us did some tourist things in the area around the central cathedral in downtown Mexico City. We were walking and I stopped in front of an ecclesiastical clothing store and was staring at a manikin in the window dressed in the full vestments of a Catholic cardinal. Then I heard Jane’s voice behind me, “don’t even think about it”.
At one of the meetings we both attended, Jane literally saved my life. A group of us were walking around in Shanghai at a rice meeting. I wasn’t paying attention and was stepping into the street and felt fingers in the collar of my shirt and was yanked out of the street by Jane as a bus drove by.
We shared many interests. Plant genomics, fine food, and the Devon countryside of her youth among them. As was said of someone else, but also applies to Jane, the world is a less interesting place without her. I’m still in shock she is no longer with us but thank her for the time we spent with her.
Diane Jofuko Okamuro: Jane was a visionary who dedicated her life’s work to advance the plant sciences. She was a valued colleague, mentor, and dear friend to many. She will be sorely missed.