Herbert William Graham was born in New Brighton, Pennsylvania on December l8, 1905. He graduated as valedictorian of his high school class in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, and praised the teacher who got him interested in science for the rest of his life. On a field trip with the Western Society of Botanists, he met a professor from the University of Pittsburgh, who offered him a scholarship. While a student there, he worked in the Botany Department of the Carnegie Museum, and participated in field trips to Minnesota and Arizona. Herb played the trumpet in the University band, and also in a local professional band. After graduating with a B.S. degree in June 1929, he had a graduate fellowship to study phytoplankton in Lake Erie. When that was completed, he received an appointment from the Carnegie Institute to serve as a chemist and biologist aboard the brigantine Carnegie in the South Pacific Ocean.
At that time, the Carnegie was the only sea-going non-magnetic observatory for obtaining geophysical data. Herb conducted chemical analyses of water samples and collected and examined plankton samples, with particular attention to the dinoflagellates. In Apia, Samoa, on November 28, 1929, Herb and two others left the
vessel to collect some specimens while the vessel was being re- fueled. There was an explosion aboard the vessel, and it burned to the water line. Several scientists and crew members were severely burned, and the captain and cabin-boy died. All of this is documented in a book published in 1932: The Last Cruise of the Carnegie by J. Harland Paul, the surgeon on the vessel. (Herb’s duties and activities are mentioned in the book. He was 24 at the time, and may have been the last survivor of that cruise.)
In 1930, having fortuitously escaped the catastrophe, Herb made two momentous decisions. He married Ruth, a partnership that lasted 67 years, and decided to go to graduate school at Stanford University. He had fallen heir to the phytoplankton collections taken by the Carnegie and to a large amount of chemical data. These formed the basis for his studies for the next seven years at the Hopkins Marine Laboratory in Pacific Grove, California, and at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. He earned his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Stanford in 1934 and 1938, respectively. While at Hopkins, he had the good fortune to spot a sea otter—the first seen in Monterey Bay for decades. He was fortunate, too, to rent a cottage from and become a close friend of John Steinbeck, the famous author. He also befriended Ed Ricketts, co-author of Between Pacific Tides. (Ricketts was the model for the character “Doc” in Steinbeck’s novels “Cannery Row” and “Sweet Thursday.”) After receiving his Ph.D. degree, he accepted a position as Assistant Professor of biology at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. Herb returned to California in 1939, where he had accepted a position as Associate Professor of zoology at Mills College for Women in Oakland. He remained there until 1948, by which time he had risen to the rank of Professor of Biological Sciences. He was Chairman of the Zoology Department from 1941 to 1943. During World War II, his students included women training as nurses. He was an advisor for pre-medical students, and taught courses in zoology, animal ecology, and parasitology, and continued his re-search on dinoflagellates.
Herb joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in 1948 as an oceanographer in the Philippine Rehabilitation Program, based in Manila. This assignment ended in 1950, when he was asked to take the Directorship of the U.S. FWS Red Tide Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida. In June 1951, he was appointed Director of the FWS (later Bureau of Commercial Fisheries and National Marine Fisheries Service) Laboratory at Woods Hole, Massachusetts. He was responsible for developing new research programs relative to the growing international fisheries and to the renewed interest in marine fisheries, resulting from the passage of the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act. During his tenure as Director, Herb was instrumental in acquiring a new research vessel, the Albatross IV, a new laboratory building, and a public aquarium. He was able to strengthen the Service’s contacts with the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole through his friendship with Mary Sears, who had been with the Office of Naval Research when he was with the Carnegie Institute.
Among other duties, Herb was a U.S. representative to the International Commission for the North Atlantic Fisheries (ICNAF). Among the visitors to the laboratory during those years were Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Hurricane Carol, the latter in 1954. While at Woods Hole, Herb published chapters in books and papers in journals on a wide variety of subjects. The fishery papers were concerned mainly with Gulf of Maine groundfish and topics such as mesh size of trawls. He was among the earliest to discuss ways to manage multi-species fisheries. In an unpublished report (Woods Hole Laboratory Reference Document 55:04), he described special problems in the New England groundfish fishery, and suggested a seasonal change in “fishing habits” as one means of minimizing the incidental catch, while maintaining the annual value of the catch to the fishermen. (A change of this type implemented in the Bering Sea during the 1970s was successful in reducing the incidental catch of halibut by foreign vessels with no loss in the annual catch of the target species.) In addition to papers concerning the Carnegie collections and those relating directly to fisheries, he wrote about plant succession, sedentary marine organisms, respiratory mold allergy, chlorophyll in marine plankton, and climatic trends.
Herb retired as Director of the Woods Hole Laboratory in 1971. He remained active as a charter member of the Barnstable County Beekeepers Association and taught children the art of beekeeping. He helped design and build his son’s house. He was an avid gardener, and enjoyed local band concerts. Herb regularly attended luncheons of retirees from the laboratory. The discussions at these events covered a broad spectrum. On a day when the topic was mudpuppies, it was Herb who could recall the generic name.
Herb reminisced with a friend, AIFRB fellow Bernard E. Skud, about their experiences together. At a meeting in St. Andrews, N.B., Canadian scientists introduced the U.S. visitors to an evening of curling. None of the U.S. group had ever curled before, but all were athletically inclined and were confident that they could master the game. Herb, the oldest and slightest of build, was very adept at handling the curling stones, and not only out-performed his U.S. colleagues, but held his own with the expert Canadians.
Herb’s interest in bee-keeping began when he was 10 years old. When he left Pennsylvania with Ruth to attend Stanford in 1930, he drove across the country in a Model A Ford with a bee hive on the running board. When he taught at Mills College, the students in his biology class were given an “open-hive demonstrations,” and for 40 years Herb gave those demonstrations to school children. Herb and Bernard Skud participated in an ICNAF meeting in Poland in 1969. While driving in the countryside, he spotted some bee hives in a farmyard, and decided to investigate. The farmer didn’t speak English, but Herb and he were able to communicate in sign language. Herb found out all about the operation, including the fact that the hives were constructed with newspapers. Herb’s son David set up a hive outside the picture window at Herb’s house for him to watch the activities of the bees. Herb’s passion for bees, in addition to that for marine biology, remained as keen as ever after his retirement. His reply to the frequently-asked question as to the secret of his long life was: “Eat honey and wheat germ and have pure thoughts.”
Dr. Herbert Graham died at home in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, on January 29, 2009. He was 103 years
Anonymous. 2009. Herbert W. Graham [obituary]. AIFRB Briefs, 38 (1): 5-6.
Skud, Bernard. 2007. Herbert W. Graham: happy 102nd birthday!! AIFRB Briefs, 36 (5): 6-7.
Personal communications: Teri Frade, Karen Heise-Gentile, Suzan Oliver, Bernard E. Skud.