Memoir of Dr. Ken Harewood
By Tony Best
Socrates, the famous Greek philosopher had an interesting view about life.
It was: life, no matter how outstanding wasn’t worth much, if it went unexamined.
Although Dr. Ken Harewood, a scientist, academic and retired university administrator in the United States who grew up in tiny village in the Caribbean in the 1940s and 1950s didn’t make a name for himself in politics, law, the media, philosophy or literature, he has enjoyed a highly successful life that was examined in the halls of academe, corporate and university science labs and in scholarly and scientific papers.
Now, he has added another dimension to that examination by chronicling his accomplishments in a highly readable style, and he did it in a 335-page “memoir” entitled “Beyond my Wildest Dreams.”
In the book, Dr. Harewood, who lives in North Carolina with his wife of more than 40 years, Eudine, and not far away from their two children, one a physician and the other a banker, traced the origins of his “dream,” from a chattel house in Barbados tells the story of his days as a soccer player on his birthplace’s national team before emigrating to the United States where he ended up as a distinguished professor of biochemistry and Director of the North Carolina Central University. Before that he was a professor at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. A vital part of his story is his work as a major research scientist at Pfizer, the global pharmaceutical company.
“It has been an incredible journey,” he said the other day. “I decided to write the book to fulfill a promise I made to my father, Glenville Harewood. Actually, he suggested to me that I should write it and I told him yes I would do it.”
The book contains countless compelling stories about life in the Caribbea, coming to America in 1960; settling in Brooklyn; and working to put himself through school during the first year at New York University in Manhattan –“It was tough but fascinating” but an academic scholarship based on classroom performance helped him to secure a bachelor’s degree in biology and a minor in chemistry.
Then there were the early tough years as a foreign student at NYU where he played on the University’s football team, while beating the books and after his graduation with a Master’s of science degree at City College of the City University of New York; doing research at the New York Blood Center and at the prestigious Rockefeller University, he capped of that early portion of life with a doctorate in biochemistry.
The rest, as the memoir indicates, is history.
But it was his move to corporate America that opened the door which led to some of his greatest scientific accomplishments, including the contribution to global research efforts that led to the discovery of the first human leukemia virus and the virus that caused HIV/AIDS. Next was his pioneering work that culminated with the cloning of a gene for bovine calf rennin needed for the manufacturing of cheese. It received approval from the Food and Drug Administration as a food ingredient.
“I had succeeded beyond my wildest dreams,” he said about the success of his work on rennin and the fact that it was the first time the FDA had approved recombinant DNA process for a food ingredient.
Another important thing. The book offers an interesting perspective on the life a Black scientist in the corporate world at a time of rampant racism across the country, whether at work; the places where people of color lived and raised their families; and in and out of the classroom and how one’s talent and achievements weren’t nearly enough to end racism. In a vivid passage in the memoir, he wrote about the reaction within the pharmaceutical giant to what he had done in its lab and for the company to increase its profits.
“There were no celebrations” and he didn’t recall receiving “any congratulatory notes from the leadership” of Pfizer’s Central Research Division. Amazingly, he wasn’t even invited to the opening of a new state of the art plant in Terre Haute, Indiana that was built to manufacture the rennin worldwide his research had made possible.
On retiring from Pfizer, he sought other scientific pastures on which to demonstrate his enormous knowledge and the chances came when he was invited to join the faculty as a professor at Florida A&M and later that at North Carolina Central where he became Director of the Biomedical/Biotechnology Institute.
The book is compelling reading when its contents are seen as the insights of one of a handful of Black biochemists in the U.S. doing high level research in the pharmaceutical industry during the last quarter of a century of the 20th century.
But apart from the pledge to his father, there is another reason why Dr. Hardwood decided to write his memoir.
“I also wrote the book to share my experiences with young people so they too can pursue their dream with vigor, knowing that hard work, persistence and taking advantage of every opportunity pay off in the end,” he said. “I trust that teenagers can find something useful in what I have been able to do so it can inspire them as well. If that happens then, they too would reach beyond their wildest dreams.”