Passing of former CMB Faculty, William C Dewey

In Memorium: William C. Dewey, 1929-2021 

We are sad to report that Dr. William (Bill) Dewey passed away on November 15.  There are probably only a few people here at CSU that remember that Bill was the driving force behind the creation of the CMB program. In about 1967, several faculty members from different departments started a graduate course in cell biology that had no formal support structure. In 1974, a group of 20 faculty signed the CMB charter document that Bill channeled through the university administration to obtain funding to support a seminar program in Cell and Molecular Biology and a part-time program administrative assistant. The new CMB faculty revamped the two-semester (10 credit) graduate course and added a course coordinator to help organize and better integrate the content. New five-week lab modules were also developed, some of which were offered for more than 30 years. 

Bill was born in Omaha Nebraska. His father was a physician in the Army and the family moved frequently.  He attended five different high schools and then attended the University of Washington where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1951 with a B.S. degree in Physics.  Fulfilling his obligation to the NROTC program, he then spent three years as a junior officer in the Navy where he was assigned to an aircraft carrier, and was designated as the “Atomic, Biological and Chemical Warfare Defense Officer”.    He thought this interesting and when he left the Navy, he enrolled in a Ph.D. program at the University of Rochester where he studied tumor immunology and explored the possibilities of delivering radioisotope labelled anti-tumor antibodies to tumors.  In 1958, he took a faculty position at the MD Anderson Hospital in Houston where he ran the clinical radioisotope lab. His research interests expanded, and he soon was awarded NIH grants for studies on effects of radiations on cells with a particular focus on cell cycle effects 

In 1965, Bill moved to Colorado State University, to join a newly established department of Radiology and Radiation Biology. The program was greatly enhanced with Bill’s participation and expanded studies on somatic cell mutagenesis and chromosome damage as well as cellular responses to hyperthermia and heat-shock. He was particularly interested in factors underlying differential effects of these agents on tumor and normal tissues in relation to cancer treatment strategies.   Bill was very supportive of other complementary sections in the department, such as radioecology, and delighted in telling visitors that “…our department studies radiation effects on everything from the molecule to the biosphere!”  About 1980, thanks to Bill’s own research programs and the programs of faculty he was largely responsible for recruiting, mentoring, or collaborating with, the department ranked first among all CSU departments in federal research and training support per faculty member. 

Times change, but Bill Dewey’s example remains constant. He was always enthusiastic about establishing productive collaborations among faculty within departments, between departments and between faculty in different colleges.  Nothing bears witness to this more than his work leading toward the eventual development of our current CMB program. Even after his CSU retirement 1989, Bill remained very active through an appointment at the University of California, San Francisco, publishing more than 60 papers, ending in 2009 when turned 80. 

For those wishing to read anecdotes on Bill’s character and passion, or if you would like to contribute to this site, then please email comments/photos to GRAD_CellMoBio@Mail.ColoState.Edu with ‘Dewey’ in the subject line.  Comments may be edited at the discretion of the CMB website Administrator.

Comments from colleagues and friends of Bill Dewey

For anyone who knew Bill personally, it would be unthinkable to ignore some “extracurricular” stories that convey an important flavor of Bill from a personal perspective.     Following are a few.

Bamburg: …

All of Bill’s time at CSU was spent in the old Biochemistry and Radiation Biology (BRB) building, now General Services.  Bill’s major vice was enjoying a good cigar a few times a week and he used to take his smoke into the stairwell on the southwest corner of BRB where he had a comfortable sofa.  Of course, the BRB, which cost CSU $1 (it was a decommissioned Remington Arms building in Denver during WWII) met none of the standards for building safety even into the 1970s.  Bill was out of town when smoke alarms were first installed. When his cigar triggered the first smoke alarm, Bill was the most shocked of anyone in the building because he didn’t know what the alarm was or why it went off. This was his first, but not his last, test of the BRB smoke alarm system.

From a personal standpoint, Bill was instrumental in my success as a Biochemistry faculty member. My lab was above his on the west side of BRB and I would often stop and chat with Bill on my way upstairs. Because I had an interest in microtubules and Bill was interested in effects of heat and radiation on mitotic spindles, we developed a program project grant covering our common interests and obtained funding for a postdoc we shared. Some of these interests also expanded to future work with Joel Bedford, who Bill lured to CSU from Vanderbilt in 1975.

Bedford: …

I first met Bill in the summer of 1966, at a mountain-top barbeque party at an international meeting in Cortina D’Ampezzo.  I was finishing my doctoral degree in England, and was only an amateur partygoer, but the Italians and Bill were seasoned veterans.   It was painful to drag myself to the meeting sessions the next morning, but I did, and there was Bill; bouncing around like he never left the party.  Maybe he didn’t.

In 1975, Bill recruited me for a position in the Department of Radiology and Radiation Biology at CSU, partly to enhance (he hoped) a fledgling, new interdisciplinary program in Cell and Molecular Biology.  In the years that followed, I was not surprised by the number of times a variation on the Cortina-mountain top theme played out, usually involving a Friday night party/Saturday morning ski trip. It became clear that this was how Bill lived … entirely; not just party-going, but even more passionately regarding his research, his teaching, and his mentoring.

One other short story.   Bill liked to make sure his students were progressing toward completion of their degree programs, especially near the end when they were wrapping up with experiments and starting to write their thesis. One day I saw Rick Jostes pacing back and forth outside Bill’s office mumbling something to himself.   As I walked by, I asked Rick why he was pacing around and looking so grumpy.   He just laughed and said:  “I’m waiting to give my weekly progress report to El Cid !”    I gathered he didn’t have much progress to report that week.

Whicker: …

This photo speaks to Bill’s personal and professional life, both of which were lived with great enthusiasm and gusto.  This photo was taken one winter day near my cabin where he and his graduate students stayed with my students.  Some 15+ students, enjoying life into the wee hours, then cross country skiing many miles the next morning, for two days.  I don’t think the party slowed him at all, even at nearly 10,000’ !  One amazing guy for sure.

Bailey: …

During a post-retirement interview, Mark Dewhirst, a former student asked Bill: (paraphrased) Is there something that stands out as being a great memory for you…perhaps some kind of anecdote?

Bill’s response:  “Well, as you probably know, I’ve always enjoyed over the years having the party at the Radiation Research Society with Peter Corry and Doug Spitz. We’d have this party, everybody’s invited. Students, anybody is coming. We’d always have those parties, and these are great memories, the interaction we had between the people there at these informal parties we’d have in our room until we were thrown out by the hotel.