N. Louise Glass on A Woman of Science

A young woman sat down next to me at a local Berkeley coffee shop and asked, “Are you really reading about Love, Sex and Mushrooms? Awesome!!!” The book of the same title by Cardy Raper is truly awesome, with an equal measure of enthusiasm for all three topics. The travel adventure with Cardy is a candid, sometimes sorrowful and often humorous, walk through the many byways of her life. Cardy grew up in a pack full of brothers “Little Cardy, her head is so hardy,” with an interest in science from a very early age. She lived during a time when women in scientific positions of power were very few in number, but pursued her interests in biology with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, and with a short stint as a technician, working on such mycological treasures as the enigmatic sex hormones of Achyla. Her career in science and fungi in particular was shaped by her relationship with the famed mycologist John (Red) Raper; Cardy was Red’s first graduate student at the University of Chicago. Their work relationship blossomed into a love relationship that continued through marriage, children and relocation to Harvard.

After raising two children, Cardy’s personal and scientific career was shaped by loss: Red’s untimely death. Many people would have shut the door on that episode of their lives and gone onto other things, but not Cardy. She pursued a path that many take at a much earlier age: a Ph.D. degree (at 52), a post-doc, a tenure-track position, a new position as a research professor, grant denials and awards, and collegiality highs and lows. Her journey has not been an easy one, with disappointments, bereavement, denial of tenure, and near-death trauma. Through it all, Cardy’s enthusiasm, joie de vivre, love of science and ability to take on new challenges (including learning molecular biology in her 60’s) rises triumphantly.

Cardy retired in 2004, after running her own laboratory for 30 years. Her work on deciphering the many sexes of Schizophyllum commune, the fungal love of her life, is landmark. Cardy followed her heart and her instincts (a trait apparently passed onto Cardy from Red) in science, love, music and social justice; her book is interspersed with recollections of her life and family and wonderful tidbits of science and fungal lore.

Having finished Cardy’s book, one is left with the feeling that if her life played out again, she and Red would somehow find each other again and together they would work on sex in fungi. It was meant to be. As Alvin Levin wrote of Red and Cardy “The two of you brought us so much joy. That must have been because you know the secret of getting the very sap out of life and savoring it fully…”. Apt words for the life and work of Cardy Raper as reflected in her book “Love, Sex and Mushrooms: Adventures of a Woman in Science.

-N. Louise Glass
Professor of Plant and Microbial Biology
University of California, Berkeley
Review in Inoculum 62(4), Mycological Society of America newsletter