Requiem for a Heavyweight
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Indeed, Cram's legacy speaks as much to his creative, electrified personality as it does to his singular achievements as a scientist. He was born April 22, 1919, in rural Chester, Vermont -- one month and a day before UCLA was officially established. Cram was 4 when his father died, and he was raised by his mother, Joanna, who taught him to read by age 5 and throughout his youth plied him with the works of Dickens, Kipling, Scott and Shaw.
Growing up in the teeth of the Depression, Cram learned a no-nonsense work ethic early on, earning 15 cents an hour doing odd jobs like digging potatoes or pitching hay for neighbors. By the time he was 16, he'd had 18 different jobs, had learned to play the guitar and piano, had developed the body of an athlete and was a veteran of his high school varsity teams in tennis, football and ice hockey. And he was ready to see the world.
After an odd, brief exodus to Lake Worth, Florida, where he worked in an ice cream shop and weeded lawns in exchange for room and board, he hitchhiked back north and settled in New York, finishing his senior year at a small private school, Winwood, where, in his words, he worked as a "factotum in return for tuition and board."
There he took his first chemistry course, and was hooked. He taught himself solid geometry from a textbook, and soon applied for, and won, a $6,000 scholarship offered by then little-known Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida.
Jack Rich recalls the Don Cram he knew in 1939. "Rollins was a natural match for him," says Rich, who was Cram's senior adviser and friend. "He had a strong desire to pursue science, but he loved the arts and wanted to get a broad base in that before he entered graduate school."