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Biographical Memoirs: Volume 81
JAMES VAN GUNDIA NEEL
March 22, 1915–February 1, 2000
BY WILLIAM J. SCHULL
ARGUABLY, GENETICS—particularly human genetics—was the most dynamic of the biological sciences in the second half of the twentieth century. It is widely acknowledged that one of the world’s leading contributors to the latter discipline was James V. Neel. Some have called him the father of modern human genetics. Jim, as his colleagues knew him, was born in Hamilton, Ohio, on March 22, 1915, to parents comfortably placed, if not economically well off. An assured middle-class upbringing came to an end, however, with the death of his father when he was 10. His mother and her three children then moved from Detroit, where the family had been residing, to Wooster, Ohio, and it was here that he came of age. The times were parlous, and as a result of the Great Depression and the death of his father, a college education was no longer assured. Fortunately, the community his mother selected was the home of the College of Wooster, a small but outstanding liberal arts college to which he won a scholarship. Jim’s career directions were not fixed when he entered college. Once enrolled, however, he came under the influence of Warren Spencer, an inspiring teacher and highly regarded Drosophila population geneticist and soon saw genetics as the direction he