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Friends Remember Odile Crick's Love of Adventure and Art

Odile Crick may be remembered as an artist and the wife of the late Salk Nobel Laureate Francis Crick, but her closest friends and family recall an attribute that was less apparent: Odile's love of adventure.

On a whim, she once went hiking in the Pyrenees with a friend after reading about the European mountain range in a book. With little preparation, she set off to retrace the steps outlined in that story, family members say.

Odile later became widely known for the iconic drawing of the double-helical structure of DNA, which her husband co-discovered with James Watson in 1953. Her sketch became a reference for other scientists and is still considered a symbol of biochemical discovery.

Odile's typical art subjects, however, were not biochemical structures, but rather portraits and curvaceous nudes in the style of Matisse. And though she enjoyed discussing science with her husband and their friends, she seemed most interested in the culture of science, its people and relationships, say some who knew her well.

"She was a counterpoint to Francis," says Terry Sejnowski, a friend of the couple and professor and head of the Computational Neurobiology Laboratory at the Salk Institute. "Without her, he would have had a drier life."

Born in England to Alfred and Marie-Therese Speed, Odile attended art school in Vienna until the Nazi occupation of 1938. After this, she returned to England and joined the Women's Royal Naval Service as a code breaker and German translator. She married Crick in 1949 and had two daughters in addition to his son from a previous marriage.

Odile enjoyed fine food and entertaining as well as art, opera, and music. She was naturally athletic, walking and swimming regularly even into her later years. She died on July 5 at age 86, but her daughters, who spoke at Odile's memorial service at Salk, say she lived a life of someone much younger than her true age.

Beatrice Golomb, a University of California, San Diego (UCSD), physician who is married to Sejnowski, can attest to Odile's youthful spirit. Golomb first met Odile as a graduate student at UCSD and remembers being impressed by her bravery, a characteristic she didn't expect from Odile's petite frame and soft-spoken demeanor.

A former competitor in vaulting, a gymnastic sport performed on horseback, Golomb invited Odile for a lesson and was surprised by how quickly she took to the sport.

"This was in the 1980s, so Odile would have been in her 60s at the time," Golomb says. "But she had no trouble at all. She kneeled at the canter and had perfect form. She was always willing to try something new."