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J. Hodge Markgraf


By Del Wigfall, MD

I was fortunate enough to have studied Advanced Organic Chemistry under Dr. Markgraf, or J. Hodge as he often preferred. I remember him as a thin dapper gentleman with wireframed glasses, always rushing to complete something! His classes were well paced and thorough. His expectations were clear and his encouragement limitless. After a semester of his course, I sought to do a Winter Study project with him.

He had decided that he needed to arrange a series of experiments that would allow compounds to be identified by their reactions, so I set out to find out how a variety of chemicals could be solubilized, precipitated and purified with the aim of creating a colored solid at the end of a series of steps. These experiments would allow new students to study chemical reactions and identify unknown compounds that they were given. I went day after day and am convinced that I poisoned myself with dimethyl sulfoxide and those unknown chemicals. (I actually woke up with excruciating abdominal pain and hobbled to the infirmary (mistake). They did blood tests and sent me back to my room where I languished for another day with slow resolution.) At the end of that month, I had a wonderful appreciation for chemistry, the power of intellectual pursuit, and an unending friendship and awe of the very gentle, intellectually gifted J. Hodge.

Years later, he came to Duke University and reached out to me. I had no idea that he had spent months on sabbatical at Duke teaching Advanced Chemistry. I had grown into a medical school faculty person, a Pediatric Specialist and an Associate Dean for Medical Education. We met for lunch and commiserated about times past, and he told me how much he was in awe of me and a class of African American men who had matriculated together at Williams and gone on to careers in medicine. He didn’t realize that the fact that he had believed in and encouraged us to achieve as an expectation no different than his expectations of our majority classmates had allowed us to perform with confidence.

Sometimes we rise to the unstated excellence rather than being limited by biased notions. He felt as though he was the fortunate one in the relationship. I think we both were winners.

J. Hodge Markgraf
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