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Adultery, Burglary Could Have Derailed a Brilliant Scientist

But the kindness of strangers kept Mary-Claire King on her path
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 19, 2017 4:04 PM CDT
Adultery, Burglary Could Have Derailed a Brilliant Scientist
President Barack Obama stands with Dr. Mary-Claire King of University of Washington, to award her the National Medal of Science, Thursday, May 19, 2016, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington.   (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

(Newser) – It's a story of devastating loss followed by one of incredible kindness, and it's a story that belongs to Dr. Mary-Claire King. Part of The Moth's latest book, it's reprinted by the HuffPost UK and takes place in April 1981, just days before King was scheduled to fly to Washington, DC, to do something the young scientist had never done before: present in front of the National Institutes of Health in hopes of securing a hefty five-year research grant. The Sunday before that flight, her husband told her he was leaving her and departing for Costa Rica with the woman he now loved. On Monday afternoon, King and her 5-year-old, Emily, returned to their Berkeley home to find it ransacked. She explains that she couldn't tell what had been taken from the home by her husband and what had been stolen by the robbers.

Her mother arrived on Tuesday, intending to watch King's daughter while King headed east. But her mom became "extremely agitated" over the split, berated King for thinking it was appropriate to leave Emily, and said she was returning to Chicago. King decided to pass on the presentation, and called her mentor to tell him so. Enter kindness No. 1: He told her he would immediately secure a plane ticket for Emily and watch her himself in DC, then hung up and arranged it. At the airport, King needed to help her mother get to her plane but risked missing her own. "Emily and I will be fine," said the man behind them in line. It was Joe DiMaggio, who watched the girl for 25 minutes until King returned. They made the plane, and King got her grant, which kicked off research that "has become the story of inherited breast cancer and the beginning of the project that became BRCA1." (Read more BRCA1 stories.)

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