- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

Belfer Center Founder Paul Doty: Groundbreaker and Peacemaker, Colleague and Mentor

| Spring 2012

Paul Doty, who founded the Belfer Center in 1974, died on December 5, 2011. He was 91.

Below, Steven E. Miller, director of the Belfer Center’s International Security Program and editor-in-chief of the journal International Security – and a member of Paul Doty’s early staff – remembers his colleague and friend.  Miller’s complete comments, along with those from other colleagues, can be found at http://rememberingpauldoty.org/

Paul Doty was a man of immense accomplishment: a world class figure in both science and public policy, a builder of institutions, an intellectual leader, a stalwart at Harvard for more than 60 years. He had major accomplishments in biochemistry and molecular biology. He was a leading expert on nuclear arms control. He founded Harvard’s Biochemistry Department and the Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He created leading journals in both fields. He built teams of colleagues that were second to none. His former students and fellows represent a legacy that would make any scholar proud.

Despite his stature, he was unassuming, almost self-effacing, and approachable. He rose high, but on his merits, because he seemed to lack almost completely the self-promotional instinct. There was no doubting his incisive, penetrating intelligence and his unerring ability to get to the heart of the matter. In a low-key, civilized way, he was full of intellectual integrity: no pandering, no backing down, no retreat from his beliefs in the face of high-powered opposition. Easy to underestimate, he was exceptionally effective at navigating the political and bureaucratic thickets at Harvard and in the wider world; in the end, it was Doty, more than most, who got things done.

Paul was particularly devoted to the unknown and unproven. In the institutions he created he surrounded himself with young people – incipient scholars whom he cared about, watched over, nurtured, and helped. People, he often said, were the principal purpose and product of the Center – and he took warranted pride in the long list of distinguished alumni that accumulated over the years. Paul had a deserved reputation as a particularly good judge of talent, but his ability to calibrate was in part due to his deep engagement with the young scholars in his charge; he could judge them well because he knew them well.

Paul was a man of substance. He cared deeply about the issues on which he worked and was unflagging in his efforts to make a difference. He made dozens of trips to Moscow…and countless trips to Washington DC, seeking to promote dialogue between the Soviet Union and the United States even in the darkest days of the Cold War, and helping to construct an arms control edifice that might help reduce the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. His main aim in creating the Belfer Center was to train successor generations to carry on this essential work. His sense of purpose suffused the Center and enveloped those he sought to train: here was work that mattered; here was a cause worth devoting a life to.

It was my enormous good fortune to fall into Paul Doty’s orbit several decades ago, when I was awarded a pre-doctoral fellowship at the Center he had then recently founded….  I was quite likely the most junior person in the Center, not long past my PhD general exams (by today’s standards I would not even have been eligible to apply). But it did not matter; all were treated with respect and judged by their performance. Everyone was given the chance to partake of the intellectual riches offered by the Center. This was the Doty ethos.

Within three years, to my own considerable astonishment, I found myself to be the junior member of the Center’s directing staff, working with Paul and his wonderful colleagues, Albert Carnesale, Michael Nacht, and Dorothy Zinberg. …Looking back, it was a golden time; working with Paul and his team …combined serious work with fun and friendship. Paul was then and forever after a good and cherished friend, a wise and reliable mentor, and an admirable but unmatchable role model. So many young scholars have benefitted from the opportunities that Paul made possible for them, but few have benefitted more than me.

Paul Doty did not get cheated in this life. He had a full, rich 91 years that left him looking back in wonderment, having covered such a vast distance from his humble origins in rural, small town Pennsylvania and having so greatly transcended his mother’s dream that he might become, some day, the math teacher at the local high school. A life so long, so good and so meaningful should not be lamented, but those of us who knew him, and whose lives were touched by him, will miss him dearly: the warmth, the kindness, the wide smile, the hearty laugh, the wry sense of humor, the twinkle in the eye, the generosity and freely proferred help, the unfailing wisdom, the very human qualities of Paul Doty – this is a disappearance that is not easily replaced….The world has been diminished by the loss of a great man. 

Tribute above by Steven E. Miller, director, International Security Program, Belfer Center


Additional Reminiscences by Colleagues

--Graham Allison Paul was a great man who made huge contributions to many of us personally, to the institutions of which we are a part, and to the purposes we care about. He was a lifelong peacemaker, building bridges between Soviet and American scientists and promoting nuclear disarmament since the 1950s—work that helped the Pugwash Conferences earn the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995.

--Matthew Bunn Paul had a rare and amazing combination of intellectual brilliance, commitment to making the world a better place, and unfailing warmth and good humor. He was a great mentor and friend to generations of younger scholars and practitioners — myself among them. There is no doubt that the world is a safer place, and the store of human knowledge is larger, than it would have been if Paul Doty had never been born.

-- Albert Carnesale Generations of colleagues and students owe their success in large part to his guidance and support. In 1974, he invited me to come to Harvard and help him build what is now the Belfer Center, and he brought me under his wing. Because of him, I’ve had opportunities beyond my most optimistic dreams, and memories to match.

--Ashton B. Carter (Boston Globe, Dec. 6, 2011) Paul had a vision of the role of science in the service of international security, and today so many of his apprentices are working to realize that vision.

--John P. Holdren (Boston Globe, Dec. 6, 2011) Paul Doty was a giant in science and a pioneer in building institutions for communicating relevant insights from science to policy makers. He was a mentor and an inspiration to me and many others.

--Matthew Meselson (Science, 13 Jan. 2012)  Doty's seminal contribution to science was the discovery that the separated chains of the DNA double helix can be specifically reunited. It was known that the two chains of the double helix could be separated by heating. But Doty's laboratory showed that the separated chains could be rejoined by incubation in solution a few degrees below the melting point, a result that came as a surprise to many…. The discovery opened the way to the development of many of the most powerful and widely employed methods of biological investigation and genetic engineering in current use, including primer-initiated DNA sequencing, polymerase chain reaction, and chip-based analysis of transcription.

At Harvard…Doty became highly effective in building molecular biology as a field distinct from traditional biology and chemistry, first in recruiting James Watson as assistant professor and later in creating a separate department, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (BMB). Nearly all of the 16 eventual members of the new department were or became members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and three received Nobel prizes.

--Michael Nacht:  I had the privilege of being Paul’s colleague and friend since 1973, the start of what has become the Belfer Center. He changed my life, as he did countless others. Paul had an indefatigable commitment to excellence.

--Joseph S. Nye We served together on the Ford-Mitre Report on Nuclear Energy….I then joined the Carter Administration to try to implement some of our recommendations, including the cessation of reprocessing and the breeder reactor program. Our policy was not popular with the nuclear industry… and I was heavily criticized. But Paul was always there with scientific advice as well as emotional support. He was always a friend in need and deed….

--William Tobey:  Across nine decades, starting with teaching his fellow high school chemistry students, he was committed to teaching and mentoring younger generations. I will always appreciate his generosity with his time and wisdom.

--James Walsh Paul was a leading light in the great generation of our field. Together with people like George Rathjens, Carl Kaysen, Jack Ruina and others, he helped shape the post-war world and prevent a Soviet-US nuclear war that would have ended life as we know it.

--Stephen Walt (Foreign Policy, Dec. 6, 2011, “Paul Doty 1920-2011”) What I remember most was his rare ability to cut to the heart of an issue, and his quiet fearlessness in confronting those with whom he disagreed. …He was, in short, a truth-teller…. In that most basic of virtues, he was a model for us all.

--Dorothy Zinberg Paul Doty never took a course in leadership; it was in his DNA. Even in his last visit to the Center weeks before he died, he was thinking about the future. Casting his critical eye about, he suggested that the library get rid of its Cold War books, create an alumni/ae association that could in time become a new institute, and publish a book of best articles from International Security….His unique combination of intellectual brilliance, organizational skill, laser-like focus on issues of freedom and peace all interspersed with wit, mischievousness, drollery, and unspoken insight left a powerful human and humane legacy.

The full transcripts of these and other memories of Paul Doty may be found at http://rememberingpauldoty.org/

Links are available to the articles noted above, along with others, at http://belfercenter.org/pauldoty/.

A memorial service for Paul Doty is planned for Friday, May 4 at 3:00 pm in Memorial Church, Harvard Yard.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Miller, Steven E.. Belfer Center Founder Paul Doty: Groundbreaker and Peacemaker, Colleague and Mentor.” Belfer Center Newsletter (Spring 2012).