Sir John Vane: Improbable beginnings  pg. 5

To many of his colleagues and students, however, Vane’s competitive spirit and verve was invigorating. “John had a lively, productive lab,” Oates says. “He drew around him a remarkably talented and energetic group of fellows.”

When dealing with young investigators, Vane gladly shared his scientific credo: “Always do the simple experiment first!” Flower says, “He was a master of the clever, low-tech, high-thought experiment that involved nothing more complicated than a small strip of artery or similar tissue moving a lever or transducer.”

In his office in Beckenham in the mid-1970s, John Vane visits with long-time friend and colleague Professor Ryszard J. Gryglewski of Jagiellionian University Medical College in Cracow, Poland.
Needleman adds, “John Vane was like a symphony conductor. He was a great scientific strategist. The week I spent with him in 1972, I learned the bioassay methods very quickly, then we spent day and night talking about strategy.”

While Vane was fiercely loyal to those who worked for and with him, he was never one to suffer fools gladly. With a big booming voice and all the confidence of a British aristocrat (although he was raised in decidedly middle class family), Vane could command attention long before he became renowned for his research.

Needleman recalls one international pharmacology meeting in Switzerland in 1969. In keeping with the free-spirit attitudes of that era, the meeting organizers planned to allow a free-flow of ideas in the large amphitheater—an open, unstructured discussion among the hundreds of attendees.

Unfortunately, this was a disastrous idea. “It was bedlam,” Needleman recalls. “Everyone was talking at once, nobody had the floor. Suddenly John Vane stood up and in this wonderful English baritone announced, ‘I have a question!’ Everyone stopped talking to hear his question. Vane asked, ‘WOULD YOU PLEASE PAUSE LONG ENOUGH SO THAT I CAN LEAVE THIS MEETING?’”

At that point, Vane turned on his heels and headed for the exit. The others in the audience applauded and followed him out the door.

In 1982, Vane, Bengt and Samuelsson shared the Nobel Prize for medicine for their discoveries in prostaglandin synthesis. Oates finagled his schedule and attended the ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden, with a group of his international associates, cheering on their Nobel Prize-winning prostaglandin cronies. It was, he says, one heck of a party.

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