A Curious Life: From Rebel Orphan to Innovative Scientist

By Thomas H. Haines, PhD, Mindy Lewis

The funny, moving, and surprising story of how Thomas Haines—who grew up in the famed Graham School orphanage—became a prominent scientist, social activist, New York City landlord, educator, and founder of the City University of New York Medical School.

A Curious Life chronicles the remarkable life of preeminent biochemist Thomas Haines. Born in 1933, Haines was barely four when he was sent by court order to The Graham School, an orphanage in Hastings-on-Hudson NY founded in 1806 by Isabella Graham and Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton. His trajectory is a series of radical reversals: from penniless orphan to innovative scientist and educator; from right-wing McCarthyite to left-wing activist; founder of the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education of The City University of New York, a medical school designed to bring in low-income and minority students; New York City landlord; husband of a successful artist whom he nursed through a long illness; father of a brilliant and prominent daughter. Now eighty-six, Haines is Professor Emeritus at the Rockefeller Institute and the only alumnus of the Graham School to serve on its board. A diminutive dynamo in a bow tie, Dr. Haines recently participated on a panel at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, and jogs every morning at four a.m. in Central Park. Above all a formidable storyteller, Haines provides an intimate look at his relationships and conveys the excitement of a life in science.

“Who could have possibly imagined that the four-year-old boy looking out at the sunset across the Hudson River from the grounds of the Graham School would have been able to live such an incredible and productive life? From abandoned toddler, to homeless vagabond, to research chemist, to husband and father, to university professor, to innovative educator, to New York building landlord, Tom has always placed a premium on personal connections and interactions. He has benefitted from the kindness of strangers and mentorship, and in turn he has mentored and helped countless others along the way on his amazing life’s journey. What a lucky life he has lived.”

—Thomas P. Sakmar, “Foreword”

“Tom combines a charming, generous and curious demeanor with a fierce inner determination to understand the world and how it works. Perhaps because of his unconventional childhood, Tom has spent his life challenging conventional wisdom.  As you will experience in Mindy Lewis’s fabulous telling of Tom’s life, the world is a more enchanting place with Dr. Haines in it.”

—Jess Dannhauser, “Introduction”