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Don Santiago Grisolía, the humanist scientist | watchtower

In January, on Three Kings’ Day, he was going to celebrate a century of life. He was looking forward to this celebration. A hundred years is a long time, but Don Santiago Grisolía was still eager to continue to fill his time with interesting things. He was a great scientist, but he was also great in his humanism and his chivalry. His intelligence of him was as exquisite as his education of him. His words from him were as wise as his gaze from him.

We all know of his professional wanderings at New York University under the guidance of the Spanish Nobel Prize winner in Medicine Severo Ochoa, with whom I have studied the malic enzyme. It was 1946 and, although he initially went on an annual scholarship, he stayed there. It was in the United States where this biochemist lived and carried out much of his research on him, including the metabolic cycle of urea; where he also met his wife of him, Francis, a researcher like him, who left us in 2017 at the same age: 99; and where his children and grandchildren remain.

They returned to his native Valencia at the end of the 1970s, when Spain was already enjoying democracy, and here he continued his outstanding career with his support for research and researchers; with intense scientific and social activity, in which he also demonstrated his management skills and his tireless work in the face of the need to put science in the place it deserves. Perhaps this is why he founded and chaired the Valencian Foundation for Advanced Studies and promoted the prestigious Jaume I Awards. Many of these professors and scientists deserving of this award came to El Escorial to participate in the courses directed by Don Santiago, high-level meetings that he organized together with Professor Elena Bendala. She has been one of the people closest to don Santiago in recent years, and her admiration and devotion from her to her master have been inexhaustible. I was lucky enough to coordinate some of these courses. And there Don Santiago was always there, making things easy, and teaching us how humility is not incompatible with greatness.

There are images engraved in my memory from those years, when Carlos Berzosa was rector, that are unforgettable. Wonderful anecdotes that shrink the heart and form a lump in the throat while at the same time provoking a big smile. We learned a great deal from Don Santiago, who had already received the Prince of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research. I don’t know if he was aware of the mark he was leaving on a group of young journalists to whom he was unwittingly giving us life lessons. Not only did he walk through the corridors of the Felipe II or the Infantes with his unlimited knowledge of him, but his elegance and the existence of love and tenderness were evident when his back of him was turned and he could be seen walking hand in hand withFrancis.

Memories that also take me back to Cuenca, the city where he lived for six years, until he was 16, and of which he spoke with great affection. There he was made an adopted son in 1991, and invested doctor honoris causa by the University of Castilla-La Mancha. It was April 2003, under the rectorship of Luis Arroyo, and although Don Santiago had already been recognized in different universities, it was the first time that he had received this appointment from the Humanities. The ceremony was held in the Faculty of Fine Arts.

He spoke with enormous serenity of his experiences, of his childhood in other cities such as Madrid and his games in García Paredes street; of his apprenticeship of him as a disciple of Severo Ochoa; of his role as president of the UNESCO Scientific Coordination Committee for the Human Genome Project; of the historical novel he had written; of the beauty of his land from him… He used to say that “science and culture are part of the same thing”. At times, one had the feeling of being in front of a man who had not realized what he was contributing to society. I think I am right in saying that his modesty was as real as his charisma.

He was going to be 100 years old and he was looking forward to it. The Valencian Foundation for Advanced Studies was already preparing some activities. Professor Bendala was happy with this centenary. Don Santiago continued to work in the Consell Valencíà de Cultura, the body over which he presided, with the same energy and strength as when he was young. I do not think I’m wrong if I say that this activity, his responsibility from him to others, was what sustained his incredible zest for life.

I don’t know if in his simplicity he ever imagined it, but, although he is gone, he will always be eternal. Bon voyage, dear professor.

PHOTO: Nacho Calonge

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