IN MEMORY OF JERRY YANG
Humanity stands on the shoulders of its champions: men and women who work, often in obscurity, all their lives, and when they die, become part of the great mountains.
On December 31, 2008, I received the following email, which I now keep in a computer file, the one marked Family.
Today is the New Year eve. Happy New Year to you and your family.
I am still on chemotherapy for my late stage cancer. I am still alive, longer than I thought.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for our friendship in my lifetime.
Cheers year 2009.
I hope to live another 1 or 2 years as a cancer survivor.
Time was not given to him. Just a few days later, Jerry was gone. He was just forty-nine. His friends and family, all who knew him, are diminished by his loss.
When I think of Jerry Yang, I think of a little boy in rural China, unable to go to school, because his family was too poor. His country knows poverty and famine all too well; Jerry himself nearly starved to death as an infant. His job as a child was to watch his infant brother while both parents worked in the fields. So Jerry took his brother to school. The teacher would not allow him in, because the baby would be a distraction. So, while the students learned, little Jerry Yang crouched outside the window, listening. When the baby got hungry, Jerry would chew his scant vegetable lunch—but not swallow—so he could give the juice to his brother.
He overcame tremendous difficulties to earn an education; then came to America, where he worked at the University of Connecticut (Uconn) and even persuaded a fellow scientist, Dr. Cindy Tian, to stop by and visit—because he intended to marry her– and they did.
Jerry’s goal was to fight starvation. He knew that one good milk-producing cow could mean the difference between life and death for a village like the one where he was born.
His work resulted in the first cloned cow in the world.
As an article in the Harford Courant stated: “Yang proved that early reports that clones would age prematurely were false. The Food and Drug Administration relied heavily on Yang’s work when it found meat and dairy products from cloned farm animals were safe to eat and drink.
“Jerry was one of the greatest scientists and cloning pioneers of our time,” Dr. Robert Lanza, chief science officer at Advanced Cell Technology of Worcester, a biotech company which has pursued creating stem cells through cloning, told The Hartford Courant. “He was a really great man who struggled to his last hours to better the world and to advance the scientific cause.”–Information from: The Hartford Courant, http://www.courant.com
We never met in person. I just called him up one day to express respect for his work, and to see if there was anything I could do to advance our countries’ cooperation on stem cell research. We became friends. He liked that I was trying to learn Mandarin and would say polite fibs about my non-existent skills with the language. For myself, I loved to hear Jerry talk. Even when the cancer operations on his face cut into the muscles and made speech difficult, he would not let it stop him. He spoke rapid fire, all enthusiasm, bursting with valuable knowledge.
Bob Klein speaks of him with great respect, and enjoyed meeting and talking with him back East, about stem cell research, and their shared hopes for Chinese-American cooperation.
Jerry’s “Bridges” project, building international scientific cooperation, will continue.
He did not live long enough to see the great changes he was part of , and which he influenced; but today we approach the dawn of a new day of regenerative medicine.
For the rest of my life, on New Years Eve, that special time just before a new beginning, I will remember Jerry Yang. He lived his life for good, and he has triumphed: succeeded beyond all expectations. His work will help feed hungry children all across the world.
Jerry Yang is a part of the mountains now.
But he will be remembered.