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Nontraditional Careers

The mystery of the letter to the editor

by Sam Lemonick
May 2, 2020 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 98, ISSUE 17

 

09817-newscripts-letter.jpg
Dear C&EN: Did this letter land one chemist his job?

A unique chemist

Sometimes it takes more than a well-placed résumé to find a job. Twitter user @andrechemist recently posted an image of an old C&EN letter to the editor that raises the question: Can a magazine’s front matter be as useful as a cover letter?

That letter to the editor, published on Jan. 18, 1971, under the title “A Unique Chemist,” was written by Andrew Husovsky. In the letter, Husovsky explains he is about to finish his PhD in analytical chemistry and is looking for a job. Nothing unusual in that, he acknowledges. But then he reveals that an accident over 2 years prior has left him in a wheelchair, with limited use of his hands. Thinking that lab work would be out of the question for him, Husovsky asks C&EN’s readers for advice on a job that will keep him close to chemistry.

That letter turned out not to be the last time Husovsky’s name appeared in an American Chemical Society publication. By November 1971, he was listed on the masthead of Analytical Chemistry: “Editorial Assistant: Andrew A. Husovsky.” He remained at the journal through the decade, rising to associate editor before becoming a contributing editor. Did that C&EN letter get Husovsky the job at Analytical Chemistry? He died in 2012, but this Newscripts sleuth tracked down his family and colleagues to find out.

Husovsky hadn’t envisioned a career as a journal editor. He had always been interested in chemistry, says his sister, Betsy Perone. He studied electrodes and aqueous solutions as a PhD student at Georgetown University. Husovsky’s brother, Dan, says he wanted to be a research chemist and recalls that he had a job offer from a company in Ohio while he was still a graduate student.

His family says that door closed on Aug. 19, 1968. Husovsky was driving to the university through Washington, DC’s Rock Creek Park—“on a perfectly sunny day,” as Perone remembers—when a massive poplar tree trunk fell onto his Volkswagen, flipping the car and breaking his back. Perone describes an intense first year after her brother’s accident. He moved back home to Swoyersville, Pennsylvania. A neurosurgeon said Husovsky might live only a few more years. But through 1969 and 1970 he worked to finish his thesis and prepare for his PhD defense.

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Credit: American Chemical Society
Analytical minds: Andrew Husovsky (second from left) with Josephine Petruzzi (third from left) and other Analytical Chemistry staff in 1978

Perone says it was a time of uncertainty for Husovsky. He felt he wouldn’t be able to work in a lab. “I remember talk about ‘Where’s my life going to lead me?’ ” she says.

Working at a journal may not have been his first choice, but Perone says Analytical Chemistry “fit him perfectly.” He had always been a good writer, she says, which is evident in the editors’ columns he penned over the years. Reflecting on a well-attended session on the last day of a 1974 clinical chemistry meeting in Las Vegas, Husovsky writes, “Perhaps by that time, no one had any money left to do anything else.”

He moved to Southern California at the end of the 1970s, not far from his brother, Dan, who remembers winters in DC being especially hard for someone in a wheelchair: “More than once, he got stuck in a snowbank for hours.”

In California, Husovsky followed his longtime passion for painting. He took in movies and Broadway shows and traveled with his family. He loved spending time with his nieces and nephews. “He carved out a life for himself out of a disastrous accident,” Perone says.

So what role did that letter to the editor play in the life Husovsky rebuilt? Newscripts can’t say for sure if that’s how he landed the job at Analytical Chemistry. Neither of his siblings remembers him writing it. Michael Bowen, who worked with Husovsky as head of ACS’s journals, doesn’t remember the letter either. Stuart Borman, a former C&EN and Analytical Chemistry reporter, recalls that Josephine Petruzzi, the journal’s managing editor, found out about Husovsky’s situation and offered him a position. It’s possible she saw the letter, he says.

For now, that small mystery will remain unsolved. The rest of Husovsky’s unique story will suffice.

Sam Lemonick wrote this week’s column. Please send comments and suggestions to newscripts@acs.org.

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