Anecdotes about Sewall Wright

Sewall Wright (1889-1998) was a founder of the modern evolutionary synthesis and of theoretical population genetics, and a major figure in mammalian genetics. His shyness led to many anecdotes. Here are two of them:

Sewall Wright Penniless in Berkeley

This story was related to me by Tom Nagylaki of the University of Chicago

In 1973 Sewall Wright attended the International Congress of Genetics in Berkeley. Tom Nagylaki, who knew Wright from his postdoctoral years in Madison, went to the Congress and was walking down Telegraph Avenue when he encountered Wright, who looked distressed. He asked Wright what was the matter. Wright said that he had left Madison without ensuring that he had brought enough money, and now he was out of money. Nagylaki of course immediately lent him some. Meanwhile, the street was full of delegates to the Congress -- nearly all the people on the street were wearing International Congress of Genetics nametags. It had not occurred to Wright that he could have gone up to almost any of these people and asked for a loan.

Sewall Wright and the Coffee Cup

This story was told to me by the late Larry Sandler

The late Larry Sandler was a faculty member of at the University of Wisconsin about 1960. Before Department of Genetics seminars, coffee was available in the room across from the auditorium in the old Genetics Building (now the Agricultural Journalism building). Larry entered the coffee room one time and found Wright alone there. He was fumbling with the handle of the coffee urn and was not getting it to work. He was trying to turn the handle side-to-side when it needed to be pressed down. When he saw Larry he turned and started to talk to him, while holding his coffee cup and saucer up just below his mouth. Wright was a small man, and Larry was large. Wright was pretending to sip from the cup; Larry could see that it was actually still empty.