Throughout her career, Calista Eliot Causey '20 hunted the smallest but deadliest viruses known to man; danger and mystery were everyday companions. But when asked at age 81 to comment on her life, she said simply, "It was a very exciting and interesting life."

The comment--made 19 years ago--failed to fully describe the adventures Calista Causey experienced with her husband, Ottis Causey. Together, they spent three decades in the jungles of Brazil and in Nigeria, isolating thousands of airborne viruses and discovering nearly 50 new viruses.

Scientists have called the Causeys' contribution to the knowledge of viruses and the spread of disease invaluable and their methods of hunting down their prey original and effective.

"It was a story of love, suspense, mystery, travel, and teamwork," said Dr. Robert E. Shope, who worked with the Causeys at the Rockefeller Foundation, analyzing the viruses the couple sent to him in New York. He currently works as a professor of pathology at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

"What the Causeys did was to make original discoveries that gave a lifetime of work for scientists, including me," said Shope, who calls their work "spectacular." Scientists in the jungles of Peru are still using many of the techniques the Causeys devised, he said.

The Causeys also contributed to the development of scientists in Brazil: "They were completely unselfish in including Brazilians in everything they did. Today we're promoted on the basis of how many publications we have and how many of them have our name listed first," said Shope. "But in the Causeys' philosophy, it was just the opposite--it was how many publications the Brazilian scientists did. The Causeys' students continued on, and some of them are retiring today. We call that infrastructure-building."

The Causeys isolated more viruses, from 1940 to 1963 when they were in Brazil, than all the other scientific teams sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation combined. In the first four of six years they spent in Nigeria, one of every 22 blood samples they sent to the foundation's New York laboratory yielded a virus.

"I think this is an illustration of what hard work and teamwork and taking some chances--not being afraid and being willing to live your life away from the amenities that we have in the United States--has produced," Shope said.

Next Page
Next Page