Microbiologists around the world lost a wonderful colleague when Cathy Squires died this past August. For Elio and for myself, this was also the loss of a friend. For many decades, our lives were connected in special and sometimes unexpected ways. A native Californian, Cathy obtained her BA and MS in Bacteriology at UC Davis, where she worked with John Ingraham. Her work with John on bacterial growth at low temperatures likely sparked her life-long passion for understanding growth physiology, focusing later on studies of ribosomal RNA. Cathy got her PhD in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at UC Santa Barbara working with Nancy Lee and then did a post-doc with Charley Yanofsky at Stanford. There she studied trp operon regulation, making important contributions to the understanding of both repression and attenuation. It was through conversations with John Ingraham, whom I've always considered my scientific padrino, that I learned of Cathy's work with Charley. She did not know it at the time, but her work greatly influenced my decision to post-doc with Charley.
Cathy got her first faculty position at Dartmouth and then moved on to Columbia, where she led a laboratory for nearly twenty years. During that time, she pursued many topics on E. coli physiology developing a strong liking for studying ribosomal RNA transcription. It was there that she also began the experimental path towards eliminating all of E. coli's seven chromosomal rrn operons, always with the aim of understanding the evolution and control of cellular growth. The "holy grail" of inactivating all of E. coli's chromosomal rrn operons would come, but not until after her next academic move. Along those years I followed Cathy's publications with admiration and had been delighted to meet the wonderful person behind the work at scientific meetings. But I would never would have suspected how our paths crossed next.
In the early 1990s Elio was looking to leave his post as Chair of Molecular Biology and Microbiology at Tufts Medical School. An open search for a new Chair began and, by serendipity, both Cathy and I ended up interviewing for the job. Notably, I never felt any tension between us during the process. Quite the contrary, there was a wonderful windfall for me, we became friends. Cathy got the job and moved to Tufts in 1994 and proved to be a caring and remarkably effective Chair. In reminiscing about her as Chair, Elio said, "She was a sensational organizer. Within a week, she mustered the basic science chairs to a meeting, where she pointed out that the dean had all the power. No more, thanks to her. No doubt, Cathy was a superb choice." Being Chair did not cause her to put her research aside. Her lab at Tufts was a vibrant place. And, in 1999, they published the landmark paper describing the E. coli strain with all seven chromosomal rrn operons inactivated. By having the only functional rRNA come from a plasmid, it was possible to bring in heterologous rrn genes, for example from Proteus and even a hybrid E. coli-yeast operon. They were still functional in E. coli despite millions of years of divergent evolution! Cathy left Tufts in 2007 and moved back to California. She spent several years at Stanford, working side-by-side with Charley Yanofsky. When Charley died in 2018, Cathy wrote his obituary for STC.
Cathy died in Winters, California. Incidentally, the town where I often visited John Ingraham so many years ago... the mystifying circles of life and death. Since Cathy left Tufts, our paths continued to cross, mostly at scientific meetings. She was always smiling and caring, there was always a big hug. Her cheerful spirit and positive influence live on.