Edman The Person

Shyness And Social Anxiety System

Treating Social Phobias and Social Anxiety

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I believe that most people who met Pehr Edman for the first time got the impression of a courteous, kind but also reclusive man with a hint of shyness. There was, in his personality, a certain aloofness, which people who did not know him may mistakenly have taken for snobbishness. People who came closer to him could fully appreciate other qualities: generosity, warmth, humor, and sympathy.

15Many scientists have asked me why Pehr Edman never got the Nobel Prize. Considering the importance of his work, as we see it today, the question is relevant but I do not have any definite answer. Perhaps, the scientific community did not, during his lifetime, fully appreciate the width of Pehr Edman's contribution to protein chemistry and molecular biology.

Pehr Edman had a vast knowledge in many areas. His mind was logical, he was stringent in expression, and, most of all, had an admirable and respected integrity. In his opinions he was rock-firm, almost to the extent of stubbornness; but he could change views if well-founded reasons were presented. Pehr Edman was not an individual who thoughtlessly followed fashions in his thoughts; he was too analytical and had too strong desire to reach for causes at fundamental levels. In trying to describe Pehr Edman's character, words like incorruptible and uncompromising come to mind, as do sincerity and loyalty to his friends. In Pehr Edman's language "yes" and "no" stood for fundamentally opposite meanings. He had courage and dared to express opinions, which he felt were morally right; without hesitation and without political or opportunistic con-sideration.16 The uncompromising quality of his personality made him distrust politicians with few exceptions. Át the core of his personality was a sincere humanism. Therefore, he was, on the whole, against violence and oppression and he was a sworn enemy of militarism in the world. His expression of intense dislike for the oppression of black people he had witnessed in África in 1957, on his journey by ship to Australia, is an example of this.

There was in Pehr Edman's personality an encompassing trait of purism that may be common to many scientists of his caliber; his teacher Erik Jorpes had it, and so had Jons Jakob Berzelius, the first professor of chemistry at the Karolinska Institutet.

16This brings to mind a letter written by Pehr Edman to Joseph Fruton in connection with the failure to obtain a visa for travel to USÁ to attend the meeting of the American Chemical Society in 1951 (20). I quote from the letter: ''This is to inform you that I failed to obtain a visa for the United States. On my visit to the American Consulate in Gothenburg it was made clear to me that I was suspected of holding views dangerous to the security of the United States. The reason for this suspicion was the fact that I had signed the Peace Appeal (the so called Stockholm Appeal). In spite of the fact that this appeal contains no one-sided or ideological statement a signer is apparently considered to be a Communist. My declaration that I was not and had never been a member of the Communist Party was not satisfying since I was called on to state my political views. This I refused to do. As a consequence my application for a visa was declined.The reason for my refusal should be obvious to anybody to whom freedom of thought is an indefeasible right.''

Pehr Edman's urge for purity and perfection in life may, therefore, partly have been a cultural heritage. Whatever its origin, inborn or acquired, this quality was very likely in play when he joined the socialists as a young man in the thirties, when he chose the self-imposed expatriation in the fifties, and it was probably a strong driving force in his scientific accomplishments. For a purist nothing except the whole is good enough. He is beset by one idea: to reach perfection and impeccability. This quality in Pehr Edman's personality was most likely a prerequisite for his motivation to spend so much time and effort on perfection of the phenylisothiocyanate method.

Pehr Edman had broad interests outside science. He loved nature and this goes all the way back to his childhood. Birds were of special interest to him. I believe he was almost as knowledgeable in ornithology as he was in chemistry. Music was another of his preoccupations. He could sit for hours listening to his favorite records in classical or contemporary music. His thoughts also turned to literature, apart from science, where he was also well read.

Pehr Edman had many friends, but most of them were from circles outside his scientific field. There were a number of Swedes in Melbourne during his years in Australia and many of them became his closest friends. Among them his shyness seemed to disappear and he would allow his distinct and clear Swedish to flourish and there was his wonderful humor, sometimes drastic, but to the point. I believe that he felt most at home in this company. At this point it should be mentioned that Pehr was a gourmet, a fine wine connoisseur as well as an exceedingly fine cook. Of course, we cherished his friendship on its own merits, but animated discussions gave extra pleasure when enjoined with dinner, prepared by Pehr. It may have been dishes with crispy duck or simply with Swedish meatballs. The dishes prepared by Pehr Edman were always cooked in a masterly way - thoughtfully and meticulously.

Margareta Blomback and I met Pehr Edman for the first time in 1957, shortly before he left Sweden for Australia. We had tried the phenylisothiocyanate method to determine end groups in fibrinogen. We discussed our results with Pehr and he gave us suggestions on how to proceed. Pehr apparently liked our work and a few years later we were invited to come to the St. Vincent's School of Medical Research in Melbourne, for a one-year stay as visiting scientists. Before we left Sweden, some people hinted that Pehr Edman was not the easiest to work with, unsociable, and difficult in general. The man we met was nothing of that kind. Toward us he was warm, friendly, and considerate and we became close friends. I recall our stay in Melbourne with happiness. Not only did I learn a lot about protein chemistry and how to think scientifically, but also had the rare opportunity to come close to him as a person. I remember the evenings at our favorite restaurant with enjoyable discussions for hours and the fact that Pehr was so widely read surely increased the pleasure of those occasions. Other memories pop up; the talks in his

Helena Edman Henschen
Pehr Edman with family. From left to right: Helena, Pehr, Carl, Agnes.

home in front of the fireplace after wonderful meals prepared by Pehr, or the long excursions into the wilderness of Australia to Wilson's Promontory for hiking, fishing, or bird-watching. Or, on Sundays in winter time the shorter trips to Sherbrook forest to listen to the lyre-birds in the damp woodland; and we grilled lamb chops over an open fire and ate them with potato salad and drank red wine.

It was not without sadness that we left Australia for Sweden in 1962. But Pehr made several visits to Sweden during the following years. We happened to have bought a country house on a small island off the island of Singo, in fact quite near, separated only by an inlet from the place where Pehr used to spend his summers during boyhood. Pehr visited us there several times. He was delighted to come back to the nature of his boyhood - there were his flowers, pike inlet, birds. A circle was somehow closed.

In 1966 we returned to Australia to attend a conference. With us on the travel was Agnes Henschen. Pehr met Agnes and what follows is a love story that would last until the end of his life. They married in 1968. The encounter with Agnes changed Pehr Edman's personal life to a happier direction. He now appeared relaxed and at peace with himself and the years to follow were certainly among the happiest in his life. They had two children, Carl and Helena. In his first marriage Pehr Edman had two children, Martin and Gudrun.


The personal photos in the present communication were kindly provided by Agnes Henschen-Edman. She and Pehr Edman's son Carl furthermore gave much helpful commentaries and corrections of the manuscript during its preparation. All of this is gratefully acknowledged.


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Selected Topics in the History of Biochemistry: Personal Recollections VII (Comprehensive Biochemistry Vol. 42) © 2003 Elsevier Science B.V.

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51 Ways to Overcome Shyness and Low Self-Esteem

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  • Hugh Gleeson
    Something brought me to look up the name of Pehr Edman on the Internet - a family friend I remember<br />From my childhood. I found this an interesting read. Particularly the reference to his cooking. He cold dinner for us on new years eve for a number of years - and the sweetish meat balls you mention carry a specific childhood memory for me.<br /><br />Regards Hugh Gleeson.<br /><br />
    8 years ago

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