Presented by the University Archives of the University Libraries, with the Department of Biochemistry of Virginia Tech
Fifty-Year Celebration of the Department of Biochemistry
Juel Albert: Faculty in the Department of Agricultural Chemistry and the Department of Biochemistry Juel Albert

Date of Interview: February 14, 2002
Location: Sound booth, Media Building, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia
Interviewee: Juel Albert
Interviewer: Robert R. Schmidt
Transcriber: Sheila M. Early


Part Three

Albert: Then another thing, he said you know no one has ever done anything on garbage. He said, "We are going to have to check this stuff." The next thing I knew I was running garbage samples. He was right. He was on the ball on that stuff. He had persons bring in samples from various places, some from campus and other institutions in the state and we would process them.

Schmidt: What did he want to find out?

Albert: He wanted to find out what the nutritional value was. No one knew, because we did not know what was in the garbage.

Schmidt: So, I guess he had a plan for recycling garbage somehow, but it never took off.

Albert: He just wanted to know what value it had, because it varied from placed to place.

Schmidt: I guess you could get some idea about the health of the people based on their garbage.

Albert: You recall the studies we talked about on the preteen girls. No one had measured any of that stuff. They had calibrated diets very carefully, so that was why we needed to monitor samples daily. We had to be certain the girls did not go into a negative nitrogen balance, which was not good. Then they had to add protein to their diets as needed.

Schmidt: Was that work being done in collaboration with the Department of Human Foods and Nutrition?

Albert: No, I don't think they were involved. However, several states were involved and each state had responsibility for certain analyses. I know that Nelson [Price] analyzed some of the minor elements on these samples. Woodrow and I did the protein. That was very important and had to be done every day.

Schmidt: I knew that Nelson was involved in analyzing copper and zinc.

Albert: Yes, and he and Woodrow had developed a method for analyzing molybdenum.

Schmidt: You know that Roddy and I were talking about molybdenum being a problem in pastures and interactions between molybdenum and sulfur.

Albert: I don't recall that problem, but I know there was a person from Pennsylvania who came down here and knew that they had published some stuff on it. He begged them to give him a copy of the method just to use. You know where that method showed up? It was published in a Journal of Nutrition shortly after that. I told Woodrow he should go to Philadelphia or wherever and stop that work.

Schmidt: There are some persons who use information that way. So we all learn to be a little more careful in sharing information.

Albert: We had developed a method for nitrate analysis. I told Nelson we should publish the "cotton-picking thing" before someone else does. We were running the analyses and some guy from Richmond called and asked for the method. I told him I was sorry, but it had not been published yet and I was not sure what we were going to do. He said, well you guys are turning out the samples and we can't do that down here. It was not a very precise technique, but you quickly got a range. So if you got into a dangerous range, you could tell right off.

Albert: It has been there a while, hasn't it. I can't recall anything other than just what I told you. Just like I said, I had good relations with Harold Mead. If I had any problems or he had any problems, we always solved them.

Schmidt: Yes. I guess Kendall King's father-in-law too, was the head of buildings and grounds, so that helped.

Albert: Yes, that helped some. You know a whole lot of people couldn't get along with him very well.

Schmidt: I heard that. I always thought, I guess because I had been Kendall King's student that I had an in with him.

Albert: But you know he'd do anything in the world for me. All I had to do was call him up.

Schmidt: He helped me too, because I'd call up and say I want to build something. Do you suppose the plumbers can help me build that and he'd say "Bob, what do you want built"? I'd explain water baths and things, and he'd say let me talk to my plumbers, they might be a little reluctant to let them do something like that but next thing I'd know, one of the plumbers would show up and say what would you like to have done - we're willing to help with whatever you want and they'd do some fine work for me.

Albert: Oh yes. Yes, I had good relations with the plumbing department and all of them, you know. If we had a problem in the building anywhere, I'd just call the plumbers, the electricians or whatever and boy, they'd come right over and fix it.

Schmidt: It pays to have connections and have friends in places like that.

Albert: Well it's just like if you know people it makes a difference. I'd been there so long that I knew so many of them personally that it fell right in there and they'd do exactly what we wanted.

Schmidt: I can remember when you used to come to our faculty meetings and Charlie Engel would turn to you and say "Juel, can you take care of that"? whatever it was and you'd say okay. We were all thankful (the rest of the faculty) that you were taking care of a lot of those things that made our work a lot easier for us.

Albert: Yes, just like I say, he'd tell me what he wanted and I'd take care of it, whatever it was.

Schmidt: Well, I'm trying to think of other things we can add. When he came here in the early fifties and started the new department going, I know there was some shuffling of space in Smyth Hall.

Albert: Oh yes, I gave Dan Lane a whole bunch of space I had and just let him put his desk and his lab benches in and then he needed some more and he came back and you know those two little rooms just before the new addition, where Nelson and all of them were. I said "you can have this bench right in here if you want it." He said that would be fine. Everything just worked out just great with all of the people. I had no problem whatsoever and in fact, I ran into Clem the other day in the doctor's office - he has the same doctor that I have. [laughter]

Schmidt: Doesn't he have a plumbing business?

Albert: No, he doesn't now - he did at one time. I guess Clem is completely retired now and doesn't do anything, like the rest of us.

Schmidt: I haven't seen Clem Ackerman in, I guess, about 20 years.

Schmidt: That was a fine group that we had. We all worked together. I remember I'd be real proud - we'd meet as a faculty and have faculty meetings, I guess once a week maybe had them once a month.

Albert: Yes, once a week.

Schmidt: Once a year, Dr. Engel would say "well how did each of you do, in terms of your publications"? And, he'd say, "Kendall King, how many publications did you have this year; Dan Lane, how many did you have?" What he was doing was trying to foster a gentle type of competition among us. And Lane would say, well my group had nine publications this year; and Kendall King would say I had nine; and I'd say my group had six. He'd say only six - let me go on down the line. I thought I'd gotta shape up and do more. It was the little nudge like this. [laughter]

Albert: He had a unique way. I'll tell you another that he did. When somebody would kind of raise up and think well what I'm doing is more important than anybody else's, he would put you back down in your seat and let you know that we all work together.

Schmidt: Yes, he did it in such a way though that he didn't really alienate the person, but you knew you better shape up and be a team player.

Albert: Yes, that's right, you knew what he meant. [laughter] He was great, as far as I was concerned.

Schmidt: I know I was real busy in my early years and he'd say, "Bob, I want you to go talk to a high school and tell them about biochemistry. I'd say "I'm too busy to do that kind of thing." He'd say we cannot afford to not let the public know what we're doing - you've got to go out - we've all got to go out and talk to the public and tell them how important biochemistry and how important science is because the younger generation and their parents are the ones who are maybe going to be funding the universities and coming to the universities. You need to do this. I'd say "Okay Charlie". Off I'd go and talk to the high schools. I really enjoyed it, but he'd push me into things like that.

Albert: Oh yes, he'd do that. He came in here one day, I'll never forget. He said "Juel, can you get me down to the Woodrum Field (Roanoke Airport) in 45 minutes?" [laughter] I said not in that derelict '58 Chevrolet we've got out there with the floorboard out. [laughter] I said I'd have to take that old cadillac of mine, if we go. He said, "I don't care what you drive, just as long as you get me down there. I said "I'll get you down there in 45 minutes in it."

Schmidt: In those days it wasn't as easy to get down there.

Albert: No, I know it. I went out to his house and I picked him up and he came out carrying a little gym bag. I said, "Doc is that all you going to take with you for your trip?" He was going around the world. He said you know it took me nearly 40 years to learn how to travel, He said, "Everything I got in here I can wash it and everything I got on I can wash it and hang it up in the bathroom and the next morning it'll be dry and I can put it on." He said "that's the way I travel now." And that's the truth, he had a little hand gym bag. I got him down the Woodrum Field about five minutes before his plane was due.

Schmidt: Wow. That was Piedmont Airlines in those days.

Albert: Yes, it was.

Schmidt: This has been great, I've really enjoyed going over things. If you had to say what was one of the most important things in the early history of our department, of Biochemistry and Nutrition. What would you say was the most important, if you had to condense things down to say a real pivotal change in the department that really helped it grow.

Albert: Well I think when they developed all the faculty that he got. I think that was one of the most important things because they all seemed to work together Bob, as far as I'm concerned.

Schmidt: Well he started out remember, by having faculty who had joint appointments. Chick Wisman was joint between Poultry and our department and Fontenot with Animal Science and our department. I think that helped build our importance of the department with the college and then of course, he gave space to Don Cochran. Do you remember Don? He didn't have a joint appointment but he was from Entomology and really played an important role in our department.

Albert: Yes, I remember Don.

Schmidt: Entomology, I guess from over in Price Hall, where Biology was located.

Schmidt: So you worked in the department there and Agricultural Chemistry for 30 years?

Albert: Well, yes 30 some years. I worked 43 years altogether. The last part of it was in the Dairy Science department.

Schmidt: That must be a record really.

Albert: Yes, that's a long time. You know it's a funny feeling, Bob. I went over to a meeting where they give you the pins and belt buckles and whatever for my fortieth year and the fella that was head of the steam generating plant well the electric plant, Warren Broce, was in there and he had 40 some years at the time and, of course, I had 43, but they wouldn't recognize except every 5 years. I said Warren, when are you going to quit and he said "I don't know, I'm gonna work a while longer". And you know, he stayed there long enough until a steam line blew up out there and killed him.

Schmidt: Oh my gosh, how sad!

Albert: And I thought to myself "Boy, you just stayed a little too long." At the time, I used to know all of them, nearly everybody on that campus. Of course, I've lost out now, they've got so many people up there, I don't hardly know anybody.

Schmidt: I'm the same way. There's a nucleus of people I know, but most of them I don't know anymore.

Albert: It's a different ballgame now. The things started changing about the time that (Bruce) Anderson came up there as head of the department.

Schmidt: I think that Engel and Anderson each had a different focus. Engel really wanted to focus interacting with other departments and I think Bruce Anderson had more the focus of building just biochemistry as an entity in itself.

Schmidt: Let's see, we were talking about the Kjeldahl apparatus.

Schmidt: We did not get to see you as much after you moved over to Dairy Science. I remember when you were in the building, you and Dan [Lane] would gather by the coke machine and check out the bottom of the bottles.

Albert: Oh yes, we would play that distance game and Lewis Barnett would come down there every day. (Laughter)

Schmidt: Well, I think I have taken enough of your time.

Albert: I have really enjoyed this. I am really glad that you came down.

Final revision 3/6/03 by S. Early



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