Haseltine autobiography hits shelves

Ridgecrest native chronicles medical contributions to Polio, AIDS and now COVID-19

Haseltine autobiography hits shelvesBy BRUCE AULD

News Review Contributor

Dr. William A. Haseltine, a scientist, businessman, author, philanthropist and 1962 graduate of Burroughs High School, published his autobiography, “My Lifelong Fight Against Disease,” on Oct. 15. One might assume, now in his mid 70s, he would be enjoying a long-deserved retirement. Yet instead, “Today after a lifetime spent in science, medicine and pursuing better public health, I find myself once again logging eighteen-hour days battling a new and still somewhat unknown disease.” COVID-19.

“I have had a fantastic life, one I could not have imagined in my most optimistic dreams. I have created and contributed to cures for cancer, HIV/AIDS, anthrax, lupus, and diabetes, and, by applying genomics to drug discovery, speeded the discoveries of countless other cures,” said Haseltine.

Haseltine benefitted greatly from medical science himself when, at the age of two and gravely ill, he was one of the first civilians treated with the new miracle drug penicillin as an Army dependent at the Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis. Likely, medical science saved his life.

Born in St. Louis, his parents Duke and Jeanne were Naval Ordnance Test Station pioneers. Duke was a PhD physicist and former professor at UC Berkeley possessing a “perfect memory.” Jeanne, a French Literature graduate from UC Berkeley, became a China Lake culinary and cultural icon. She created extraordinary wedding cakes for family and close friends, just one of her many creative endeavors.

Haseltine (first Billy Haseltine, then Bill) would receive his entire Kindergarten through twelfth-grade education mere steps from his home on Lexington Circle, China Lake.

“My parents gave me great gifts,” he said. “The love of science, of music, of history and culture, of literature and food. The joy of knowledge, one of life’s great treasures. ‘Ask questions about everything possible,’ Jeanne and Duke Haseltine urged me. A life devoted to curiosity may have been their greatest gift to me.”

Haseltine has three siblings: Florence (Burroughs, 1960) and Eric (Burroughs, 1969), both highly educated and accomplished in diverse medical and engineering fields, and Susan (Burroughs, 1967) – “also brilliant, has chosen a much quieter life,” said Haseltine. (See related stories below)

In April 1962, Haseltine received two responses to his university applications, a “no” from Harvard and a “yes” from UC Berkeley, a much better fit for him.

“Many years after leaving China Lake, I came to appreciate what strengths my life on the desert gave me,” he said. “By then I had taught hundreds of Harvard graduates and Harvard Medical School students, many of whom were alumni of elite east coast boarding schools. I could appreciate that the informal education I received at home, coupled with all that I learned from many remarkable [Burroughs] high school teachers, prepared me for high-level college, graduate and post graduate studies as well as any east coast private schools would have.

“Over the past fifteen years, I have created two foundations with wealth from my business ventures, one to foster collaboration between the arts and science and another to advise governments around the world on how to bring high-quality, affordable healthcare to all of their people.”

“Bill Haseltine was president of the Science Club, president of the French Club, and had been chosen to attend the summer’s U.N. Pilgrimage for Youth. He was to be the recipient of numerous honors and awards at graduation while readying himself for entrance to U.C. Berkeley as a Regent’s scholar. He is now probably Burrough’s most illustrious alumnus by graduating from Harvard Med School and heading the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at that university before leaving for Washington D.C. to launch his own business. Dr. Haseltine was widely quoted throughout the 80s as one of the first experts on AIDS,” as stated in Ann Cierley’s 1996 “Reminiscences” of Burroughs Debate, 1960-1972. Cierley was the legendary coach of the essentially unstoppable Burroughs Debate program. She was inducted into the National Forensic League Hall of Fame for her work at Burroughs.

Haseltine’s relentless focus on delivering world-changing initiatives led TIME Magazine to name him one of the “25 Most Influential Global Business Executives.” He was voted “Most scholarly” by his 1962 classmates. Smart class!

“There must have been something in our family experience and the China Lake environment that conditioned inordinate success in science,” said Haseltine. “My older sister Florence has had a spectacular career. After graduating with honors in biophysics from UC Berkeley two years before me, she became one of the first women to receive a PhD in molecular biology at MIT. She built on that lofty foundation, earning a medical degree from the Albert Einstein School of Medicine, then rising to chief resident of obstetrics and gynecology at Harvard’s Boston Lying-in Hospital.

“On the Yale Medical School faculty, she trained generations of doctors in techniques of in vitro fertilization, then transitioned to government, leading extramural funding for the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health. She directed that agency’s federal Center for Population Research for nearly thirty years, to 2012, championing and ultimately introducing a policy to include women in clinical trials. She was founding editor of the Journal for Women’s Health, and later founded the Society for the Advancement of Women’s Health Research.

She holds several patents on inventions and organized a company to improve the mobility of wheelchairs. Her coauthored novel, ‘Women Doctor,’ is a journey, descent might be a better word, into gender bias against women in the medical professions in the 1960s and 1970s.

“Florence tried to retire in her early 70s, but it turned out to be just a pause. In 2019, she added another role model laurel, this time for aging baby boomers and following generations. At age seventy-six, she became a distinguished professor with tenure, teaching graduate nursing courses at the University of Texas at Arlington. The take-away? We should plan for at least three or four careers in our extended lifetimes, into our 80s.”

“My younger brother Eric also has had a wonderful career. After studying economics and psychology at UC Berkeley, he received a PhD in neuro-science (physiological psychology) at Indiana University, then became a manager and later engineering director at Hughes Aircraft, creating flight simulators to train pilots for advanced fighter planes.

“At famed Walt Disney Imagineering, he used his skills in vitual reality and human machine interface, creating large scale virtual reality experiences. In time he was promoted to chief technical officer of the entire corporation, responsible for technical aspects of all Disney ventures theme parks and the ABC television network.

“Following the 9/11 attacks, the government recruited Eric to become head of research at the National Security Agency. He later led the technical side of all our nation’s intelligence services in the Office of the Director National Intelligence. Now Eric consults for Disney, designing the first successful augmented reality toys and for our intelligence services. He is author of a growing list of titles on topics as diverse as his interests, and chairs the U.S. Technology Leadership Council.”

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, MD, Associate Professor of Neurosurgery at Emory University and Chief Medical Correspondent at CNN, said “The world needs more thinkers, people full of novel thoughts who consistently create and add to our fund of knowledge – people like Bill Haseltine. While the world knows him as prominent molecular biologist, biotechnology entrepreneur and global health author, Dr. Haseltine has also navigated the halls of Congress, the news media and Wall Street. He has touched and changed so many different sectors of our society, and we are all better because of it. If you are considering a career in science, or know someone who should be, place this book at the top of your list. You will be inspired to make an impact on the world, and will have a remarkable guide to help you on the path.”

Dr. Haseltine’s autobiography and his “COVID Commentaries” are available on Amazon. Two additional recent titles are “A Family Guide to COVID” and “A COVID Back to School Guide.”

Pictured: Burroughs High School Alumnus Dr. William A. Haseltine – scientist, businessman, author and philanthropist – and his new autobiography. — Courtesy photo

Story First Published: 2020-10-16