Paul Greenberg

Dear Close Reader,

It was wholly a pleasure to learn that something I wrote got you to thinking about a great teacher you once had. What I'd written was: "We can still remember the piercing, unblinking blue eyes of a professor of biology who could look right through you, and see every vacuum of knowledge you were so desperately trying to cover up in class."

That memory of mine got you to thinking about your own days in law school:

"Students were called on to recite the assigned cases and explain what point of law should be applied. The professor was a genius at selecting students who hadn't read the case. Slump in your chair? He noticed it. Sit behind the biggest guy in the class? He would come right back to your desk and ask. Bluff your way through by sitting upright and looking eager? It was almost a 100 percent certainty he would call on you. Law class soon became one I was always ready for, thanks to the professor with the piercing eyes."

My own imposing professor -- of biology -- was named Mary Warters, who taught and inspired for almost half a century, 1927-71, at little Centenary College in Louisiana.

Dr. Warters turned out a good part of every entering class at the state's premier medical schools, LSU and Tulane, during those years. She was the finest teacher I've ever had, bar none, regardless of subject. Clear, direct, she made the complex simple and the involved as plain as the unforgettable drawings she'd dash off in colored chalk every class. After all these years, they're still engraved somewhere in the creases and crevices of my little gray cells. In color. She managed to teach even me a little biology and genetics, which have stood me in good stead in the debate of late over the use of human embryos for stem cell research.

Dr. Warters had no politics you could tell, thank goodness, but she did have an iron Presbyterian will that would accept no excuses, evasions or equivocations. And the debate over using embryonic stem cells for research has been full of them. But with Dr. Warters, a fact was a fact. Life was life. You knew or you didn't know. She could tell. And you'd better know. Behind that soft Georgia accent laid an absolute intolerance for the slurred answer, the shoddy evasion and lazy thinking in general.

A widely recognized researcher in genetics, Dr. Warters spent her summers at national laboratories like those at Oak Ridge and Bar Harbor experimenting with Drosophila melanogaster -- that's fruit flies to you and me -- in the days before DNA, the double helix and the human genome project were all over the papers.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.