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Human Biology 74.6 (2002) iv-xx

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Gabriel Ward Lasker—An Appreciation


Gabriel died on Tuesday, 27 August 2002, in his 91st year. With his passing Biological Anthropology has lost a very dedicated and professional colleague, who served the discipline in a great many ways for over 50 years.

Gabriel (Gabe) was born in New Earswick, near York in England on 29 April 1912, where his father, Bruno, a distinguished social scientist, worked as private secretary to Seebohm Rowntree, the Quaker philanthropist and owner of the Rowntree Chocolate Company. At the outbreak of the First World War, Bruno, being a German National, was considered an alien, and his Quaker friends arranged for him to go to the United States of America rather than be interned. Gabriel, together with his mother and sister, sailed to America in the summer of 1916, and he took United States citizenship in 1921.

His introduction to anthropology was unconventional. After completing two years of general studies in the Experimental College at the University of Wisconsin, he started as an architectural student at the University of Michigan, but found it "more business than art" and transferred to the College of Liberal Studies. There, he took courses in sociology, economics, philosophy—but no anthropology training. After graduating in 1934 he was unemployed except for some voluntary work, part of which involved work with his mother, Margaret, on the genetics of an inborn error of metabolism (xyloketosuria, excretion of a pentose sugar in urine). Gabriel learned how to draw pedigrees and taught himself genetics. The research showed that xyloketosuria was inherited as an autosomal recessive trait. The research paper detailing the findings was published in 1935 in the journal Human Biology, while it was still under the editorship of its founder Raymond Pearl. Margaret Lasker was listed as first author, a clinical colleague as second author, and Gabriel as third author (M. Lasker, M. Enklewitz, and G.W. Lasker). Little did Gabriel imagine that one day he would edit the same journal himself!

Gabriel's first exposure to anthropology was in China. Although he had gone there primarily to learn Chinese, he undertook research on metabolism of the Chinese and on growth in Chinese children. Gabriel appreciated that to become an anthropologist he would need a Ph.D. degree, and so after nearly two years in China he returned to the United States and was admitted into the graduate program at Harvard. There he was exposed to the teaching of Hooton, Coon, Chapple, and Kluckohn and met many of Hooton's students including W.W. Howells, F.S. Hulse, J.L. Angel, and S.M. Garn. He received his M.A. in 1940 and while studying for his Ph.D. held a number of fellowships including Teaching Fellow (gross anatomy) at Harvard Medical School.

The Second World War interrupted his studies. Gabriel had held pacifist views since his high school days and chose to become a conscientious objector, serving in a number of capacities including solitary lookout in a fire tower near Carson City, Nevada, and as an attendant in the hospital psychiatry department at Duke University.

In 1945 he completed his Ph.D., in which he compared the physical differentiation of immigrant and American-born Chinese. Hooton described his thesis [End Page iv] as the "biggest God damn thesis I ever saw. Really two theses: the one I wanted you to write and the one you wanted to write yourself." The effects of migration on human genetic variation and in relation to human plasticity were to become central research interests. He conducted fieldwork in Mexico, Peru, and England.

After the war Gabriel looked for permanent employment. In September 1946 he was hired to teach in the School of Medicine at Wayne (later Wayne State) University. Although he was to spend the next 36 years teaching anatomy at Wayne State, he took sabbaticals to teach anthropology at a number of universities, including Chicago, Wisconsin, California, and Michigan State. He became an adjunct professor in Anthropology and Psychiatry at Wayne State and advocated well ahead of his time (1955) the...


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