Dr. Michael A. Grimes

Let me say a few words about my friend and valued colleague Michael Grimes.

Mike and I met as postdoctoral fellows at Penn State in the late 1990s. Shortly thereafter, we found ourselves in a friendly debate about the underlying mechanisms of postpartum amenorrhea. Yet, we found a common interest in human reproductive ecology (a field within biological anthropology), and our differences of opinion led us to collaborate on finding answers. Our first publication was literally written together—both of us sitting in front of the computer writing and revising, sentence by sentence. It was a paper on the initiation of breastfeeding and colostrum feeding practices in a rural area of Bangladesh. Academic papers have a long gestation period, and this one was finally published in the Journal of Biosocial Sciences in 2001. It was the first of four peer-reviewed papers we published together.

In 1999, I moved to the University of Washington to start a new position as an assistant professor. Two years later, Mike took a position at Western Washington University. In retrospect, we didn’t make use of our geographic proximity nearly enough. But I did go up to WWU to work with Mike on occasion, and even gave a guest lecture for him once. Mike occasionally visited us and gave seminars talks, but with a growing young family, the visits became less frequent.

Two years ago, we had our first joint research grant funded. With colleagues, we are developing new biomarker tools and statistical methods for addressing that early debate we had about the mechanisms of postpartum amenorrhea. I flew up to Bellingham last June, and Mike and I spent the day working on that project and completed a manuscript.

On Tuesday, I got an email from Mike requesting a letter to support his sabbatical proposal. He wanted to use a one-quarter sabbatical for writing a follow-up grant application that would apply the new biomarker and statistical tools. Such letters can be difficult; this was one of the easiest I’ve ever written:

Dear Mike:

This letter is to confirm my commitment to continued collaboration with you, and to express my willingness to work with you in developing your new project in Winter 2011. This new work will build on our currently funded research to develop biomarkers and statistical tools for understanding the energetics of lactation and the mechanism of post-partum amenorrhea in breastfeeding women. For the proposed project, our newly-developed endocrine and analytical tools will be deployed on a large scale to investigate postpartum amenorrhea in a new sample of breastfeeding women.

We have had a very productive collaboration for the past decade, and I very much look forward to continued collaboration in this new research.

I attached it dressed up in letter head as a pdf and asked if it was what he wanted. Within minutes, he responded:

Yes. Perfect!!

That is the last I heard from Mike. Yesterday he suffered an aneurism and died.

When I think of Mike, the words “gentle” and “kind” come to mind. Any aggression he might have had was released through his passions for playing soccer and ultimate frisbee and drumming with Liverball back in the day. His greatest passion was his family—his wife Tammy and their three children.

Mike was a good man.

(Update: The WWU community remembers Mike.)

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9 Responses to “Dr. Michael A. Grimes”

  1. Laura Taylor Says:

    Professor Grimes was a wonderful man. I only had one class with him, as my focus is on cultural, rather than biological, anthropology, but this news has saddened me very much. He was a very smart and very funny man, and one of the best teachers I have ever had at WWU.
    I am glad I got to know him, at least a little bit, before he passed. I wish more people would get to learn from him, but at least he had an opportunity to teach something to those of us that got to be in one of his classes.

  2. Mark Litton Says:

    I was fortunate to have Mike as a professor in six of my classes and even more honored to have him write letters of recommendation on my behalf.

    While most of my instructors have been experts in their field of study, only a few have had an expertise in interpersonal communication. Dr. Grimes WAS an expert academically but even more, he was an expert at making his students feel valued, and helping them find confidence – not to mention a love for Anthropology!

    As one student said, “He had one of the best teaching approaches I have ever encountered; you were having too much fun to realize just how much you were learning.”

    He preferred his students address his as Mike, but I salute you Dr. Grimes. Thanks for being a FANTASTIC teacher, mentor, and friend. We love you Mike! You are missed.

  3. Darryl Says:

    Laura and Mark,
    Thank you for sharing your memories of Mike. It is comforting to hear what an inspiration he was to his students.

  4. The Raven Says:

    Sympathies.

  5. Alan Says:

    I was fortunate enought to go to high school with Mike and even lucky enough to share the soccer field with him. From the posts prior to mine, I see he never changed a bit. Always a great guy and wonderful friend. Words are never enough, but farewell and may God lay his blessing on Mike and his family.

  6. Rebecca Says:

    Dr. Grimes was my inspiration to stay in college.

    I was a frustrated student, turned down by the biology department and had gone to Bio-Anthropology in desperation. Thanks to Dr. Grimes, That desperation soon turned to passion as he inspired me to research various topics, and continued as I was a teaching assistant for him in two classes.

    On more than one occasion I sat at Boundry Bay, drinking a beer and grading tests with him while chuckling at his dry but wonderful humor. It is so sad that further students will not benefit from his wisdom and passion for Anthropology.

  7. Jason Williams Says:

    I too went to high school with Mikey — just one of those great guys that everyone liked. We will miss him!

  8. Jessica Klein Says:

    Professor Grimes was an inspiration. He was one of my favorite instructors at WWU. I remeber coming home from my first day of his anthro of human ecology class (at the tender age of 19) and hopping on my computer to web-surf for LIVERBALL (a rumor had been circling amongst the students in the class that Grimes had once been a badass as well as an intellect)…”seriously?!” i thought “this guy was in a rock band?” But sure enough, there he was in the pictures…serious and silly at the same time!

    As the quarter flew by, I learned more that I could have ever imagined. It was a joy and a pleasure to watch him in action with the whiteboard. He was spectacular in khakis and buttoned shirts, whizzing around in front of the class, dry-erase marker in tow; all the squiggly arrows, circlings around random words and underlined clippets of incomplete sentences which somehow he had culminated into one of the best lessons i had ever bared witness to. It was my first quarter with Grimes that made me say to myself “ok, college isn’t all that bad. Actually, its pretty cool to be an intellect.”

    My love and prayers to his family, I know his beautiful wife and babies meant the world and beyond to him. I light candles in prayer for them and for all of us who will always be a little smarter for knowing Michael grimes.

  9. WWU_2005 Says:

    Dr. Grimes was one of my favorite professors, and had a huge impact on my life. He was one of the few professors who would actually go to labs, hold study sessions, was tough on his students all while making us laugh the whole time! People like Dr. Grimes are rare in academia. He LOVED his kids and wife.

    Because of his dedication to us, I never wanted to let him down, and I studied much harder because of this. We are all so lucky to have known him!

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