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Leon Todd Garretson

Died: May 24, 1995

The Garretson family, originally Quakers who conducted escaped slaves on the underground railway, moved from Ohio to Iowa in 1837 and maintain a relationship, including a family cemetery plot, there to this day. But they live where their work takes them. Thus Leon Todd Garretson grew up in Roswell, NM and played trumpet in the school band.

Anticipating a move east, his father sent Leon to the Taft School in Connecticut so that he would not have to change schools frequently or on short notice. Leon spent three years there and graduated in 1962. At Yale he sang bass first in the Freshman Glee Club and then in the Spizzwinks, Yale’s oldest singing group. Our class year was one of the finest in Spizzwink history (four became Whiffs); they made a 50th anniversary album with Leon, among others, on the cover.

Classmate John Beeson introduced Leon to the pleasures of opera, which became a passion for him.

Mark Greene recalled Leon’s sense of humor: A number of the Spizzwinks were, even as undergrads, losing their hair, including Leon. One day he got a haircut; he anticipated being teased as the group was waiting for a bus to a singing engagement. When the ribbing came, he pulled an envelope from his pocket and handed it to his tormentor. It said, “Good hair, like trees, thrives on pruning.” The laughter lasted the whole trip.

In a classic photo a tux-clad Leon stands beside a Thunderbird, the suave Spizzwink.

He dropped out from Yale junior year to undergo specialized treatment. During this leave he had a part-time job as a laboratory assistant at Yale-New Haven Hospital, operating an electron microscope and studying the compound eyes of insects. He returned to finish at Yale from 1968 to 1970, living off campus.

After graduating he stayed in New Haven, working in the departments of ophthalmology and physiology of the School of Medicine until 1973, when he moved to The New York University School of Medicine in a similar position. In 1980 he moved to Houston and took the first of two jobs at the University of Texas (Houston) Medical School in the Department of Physiology and Cell Biology, still working with electron microscopy. On the web he is listed as co-author of two journal articles, “Video-enhanced microscopy of organelle movement in an intact epithelium” in the Journal of Morphology and “Seasonal variations in the fine structure of the Necturus maculosus urinary bladder epithelium: Low transporters and high transporters” in The American Journal of Anatomy.

Several people who knew him, including the principal author of one of the papers, think that he moved from New Haven to New York and then to Houston for music rather than science. He was following his passion for the opera.

Leon died of AIDS in 1995. He is buried in the family plot in Salem, Iowa.


Karl Karnaky, Jr. University of Houston, remembers:

My wife and I first met Leon in Maine at the Mt. Desert Island Biological Laboratory where he spent summers working as a technician in Dr. Jose Zadunaisky’s lab. He was a music lover, and we discovered that he was a fine pianist as well after he spent an evening playing jazz at the lab. In 1980 Leon moved from New York City where he worked in the Zadunaisky lab at New York University to Houston to work in my lab at the University of Texas Medical School. He frequently went to and enjoyed the Houston Opera and the Houston Symphony as well. He was funny, extremely witty; and we used to say that he knew half of everything, given his vast knowledge of many topics. He passed away in Houston in 1995. We still miss him.