"We really didn't know what we would find, but we knew it was going to be fun looking," Calista said in 1979.
When they went virus- hunting, their weapons were syringes. Before they left on their daily blood-collection expeditions, they loaded medical kits and picnic baskets into a Chevy or Jeep or a Brazilian "gaiola," a lattice-lined river steamer that resembled a cage. Sometimes they rode in dugout canoes or on horseback; sometimes they walked.
They searched for people who had been sick for only a day or two, because they needed to take a sample of their blood before the virus died out.
To determine if the virus was in the blood, Calista or a laboratory worker she had trained would inject the blood into the brain of a mouse. If half of the mice died, she would inject a suspension made from the brains of those test mice into the brains of other mice to perpetuate the virus. The samples of blood from those mice were sent to the Rockefeller laboratory in New York for virus identification. From 1954 to 1963, the Causeys isolated 1,593 viruses; 34 of those were new to science.
Calista, who volunteered for the foundation, supervised the collecting and breeding of the mice, a practice rarely used in research of this kind until the Causeys developed it.
Ottis also developed the "Causey hood," a container that held mice and trapped mosquitoes under a hood. Later, Ottis rigged alarm clocks on the hoods so they would close at a certain hour to make sure that the mosquitoes that had been trapped were the actual mosquitoes that bit the mice.
To test other forest environments where viruses might be prevalent, Ottis also trapped monkeys in the trees and began taking blood from small mammals.
In 1964 the Causeys went to Ibadan, Nigeria, where Ottis established a virus laboratory. By the time they left Nigeria in 1970, the laboratory had isolated 1,500 airborne viruses and 266 other viruses. Of those, about a dozen were new, including two new agents related to rabies.
When they retired to their 2,000-acre ranch near Cleveland, South Carolina, Ottis pursued a lifelong interest in animal husbandry, and Calista drew up the architectural design to expand a small hunting cabin into a large home, with a porch, that could hold a party of 100.
The Causeys sold several parcels from their property to fellow researchers when they retired, and a community was formed.
But Calista embarked on another adventure, said Caroline Causey Brown: when Ottis had to go to a nursing home, Calista got her driver's license at age 85 so she could drive to the home to see him.
"Nothing ever stopped her," Brown said.
Nancy McCarthy, a Portland freelance writer, also wrote the profile of Ellen Knowlton Johnson that appeared in the May 1998 Reed.