Thoughts from the President During a Pandemic

September 19, 2020 - Remembering Bill Danforth

Dear Danforth Center Community,

Bill Danforth and I once made a day-trip to Chicago in 2012 to visit several Danforth Center supporters and donors. We were in the early stages of fundraising for the Danforth Center’s expansion – a new wing, more scientific teams, new facilities. We made many such fundraising trips and visits together, and they all went the same way. Just before the meeting, perhaps during the drive from the airport, I’d ask Bill about the people on our agenda. He would usually give an interesting story or two, but never all I wanted to know. Looking for some tactical insight, I’d ask, “How do you think we should approach the meetings?” He would say, “Oh, I don’t know, just talk about the Center.” Again, that was not quite the answer I was looking for; the only plan we ever had was, he would talk first and I would talk second.

Our hosts always treated a visit from Bill as an honor. Meetings started with Bill and host reminiscing about something interesting they did together and catching up on mutual friends. Bill would ease into talking about the Danforth Center and our mission – our Big Why. The hosts would listen with deep reverence and admiration for Bill, his message and the enormity of his vision. Regardless of how much they knew about the Center, they were inspired and elevated by hearing it from Bill. As I listened and witnessed the reactions in those moments, I usually had the same thought: “I can’t match that!” When Bill handed the conversation to me, the host would turn, our eyes would lock, and they communicated without words, “Alright, kid, what have YOU got?”

On that trip to Chicago, it was the flight home to St. Louis that I remember most. We boarded our Southwest Airlines plane in the first group and sat in aisle seats across from one another near the front. When general boarding started, a passenger stopped at our aisle, introduced themself to Bill, and told him he was wonderful to have spoken at an event they attended recently. A quick moment later, someone else stopped, introduced themself to Bill, and said they were a proud Washington University student when he was chancellor. This pattern now had my attention. Another person stopped and said they admired everything Bill had done for St. Louis. Then another…and another. I watched this play out through the entire boarding process, occasionally looking behind to see Bill’s admirers telling others about their experience with him. It seemed like every other person on that flight stopped to say how their life was affected – in a big or small way - by something Bill had done. Bill spoke with each in his generous, joyful manner, expressing as much appreciation to them as they showed to Bill.

Astonished by what I witnessed, I asked Bill, “Is there anyone you haven’t influenced?” He responded with the typical Bill Danforth smile and usual self-depreciating, understated humor, “Well, I think it just means I’ve been around for a long time.”

Bill was here for 94 years, but it was the profound and remarkable use of that time that made all the difference.

Learn more and be inspired at the Center’s written and video remembrance of Bill Danforth.

Jim Carrington (a proud Friend of Bill)

Previous Weekly Messages from Jim Carrington

Danforth Center Response Plan

The Danforth Plant Science Center recognizes the potential of exposure to Coronavirus (COVID-19) in our building and the impact it could have on our people and the Center. Accordingly, we have a plan in place in the event of a positive test for COVID-19 of an individual who was present in our Building(s).

Danforth Center Updates

During this unique moment in history, the first priority of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is the health and safety of our Center community, our families, and those who work with us.