I was watching the PBS Newshour tonight, as I do every night, and there was an interview with Jeffrey Brown and Hope Jahren, a geobiologist who has won three Fulbrights and wrote a New York Times bestseller called Lab Girl, She has been all over the news this past spring, including a New York Times review, a Time magazine back page interview, being named Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, featured in our local newspaper, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, and tonight, being on the PBS Newshour. I keep seeing Hope in magazines, newspapers and TV — and guess what, she’s also a parishioner at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu and plays the French horn! In fact, I wrote out a French horn part for her in the Alleluia mass composed by my sister Doris Au MacDonald and Sharon Dennis.
I must admit I knew nothing of her stellar background until I happened upon her March 4, 2016 op-ed in the New York Times She Wanted to Do Her Research. He Wanted to Talk ‘Feelings,’ which was reprinted in our local newspaper. She described her encounters with sexual harassment in the field of science, and her dismay that “every school year, science, technology, engineering and math programs — known as the STEM fields — shed women the way the trees on campus lose their leaves in the fall.”
Her name popped out at me when I sat down to read my March 30th issue of Time magazine and there was an interview and picture of her on the next to the last page — one of my favorite features of the magazine. The interview by Siobhan O’Connor was titled “Hope Jahren on Plants, Mud Manicures and Science’s Woman Problem,” and it opened with a question: You study plants for a living. Do you have a lot of them at home? I was so surprised to read her answer: No. Absolutely not.
Then I received my issue of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People — and there Hope was again! “Her work has resulted in at least 70 studies in dozens of journals, but it’s also given her a platform—a megaphone, really—to talk about something else: widespread sexual harassment and discrimination in science.” You can read all about her here, called “Science’s great communicator.”
Just three days ago, Hope Jahren was the focus of a major story in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, “Geobiology professor recounts passion for plants, research in ‘Lab Girl.’ ” I was saddened to read that Hope, her husband and son, Charles, will be moving to Norway where they will be taking a position at the University of Oslo. When asked about what she would miss about Hawaii most, she answered: “We’ll miss friends. And baseball and church.” (That’s the Lutheran Church of Honolulu!) Hope’s son, Charles, has performed on trumpet and piano in the annual Children’s Benefit Concerts. I most recently spoke with Hope a couple of Saturdays ago when I saw her at the church’s book and media sale, and I said to her, “You’re a celebrity!” She demurred, saying something like it was her fifteen minutes of fame, and would be gone soon.
I found out also this week that Hope and I have a friend in common, Robert Larson, who lived here in Hawaii with his parents, Dick and Jackie Larson, some years ago. Dick was the choral director at Kamehameha Schools and he and Carl Crosier shared a very close collegiate friendship. When Joe Pettit, an organist who was in Hawaii for several years, posted on his Facebook page that Robert was in the ICU battling pneumonia with added complications, I responded with my sympathies. Hope wrote, “Oh my goodness, I was kids at school with Robert Larson, now come to find out that he knows folks at Lutheran Church of Honolulu, where I go to church now! It is a small world, and I know we are all pulling for Robert!” Happily, Robert is now on the road to recovery.
Getting back to Hope — she’s a genuine celebrity! Her book, Lab Girl, is readily available on Amazon and other booksellers. We are so proud of you!