Henry Louis Gates Sr. Leaves Lasting Legacy

Henry Louis Gates Sr. died Christmas Eve, but his legacy lives on in his sons.

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Henry Louis Gates Sr. died at the age of 97 this past Christmas Eve, but his legacy and long list of achievements will be remembered at a Maryland memorial service tomorrow. 

"Henry Louis Gates Sr. was and is the oldest person whose genome was sequenced and made publicly available in this project,’" said George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School who founded and directs the study. "In a way, part of his immortality is that people will be learning things from his genome for years to come." Along with participating in the genome project, Gates appeared in the PBS television series African American Lives and Faces of America.

Gates, father of The Root Editor-in-Chief Henry Louis Gates Jr., became a medical pioneer in his 90s when his genetic ancestry was examined by the Personal Genome Project. Gates is remembered by his son as a born storyteller. "Daddy was the storyteller, our homemade fabricator, prevaricator, exaggerator and hyperbolist par excellence," the younger Henry Louis Gates wrote in a eulogy. "When we were boys, Mama would shout at Daddy to 'stop telling those boys all those lies,' scarcely able to stifle her own laughter at one of Daddy's tall tales."

In his earlier days, Gates held two jobs: loading hulking crates onto trucks full time for a paper company and part time as a janitor for a telephone company. The humble career path in no way reflected his intelligence, says his son, calling him "one of the most smartest human beings I've ever met." His hard work helped get his two sons through college; one chairs the dentistry department at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center in New York City, and his namesake directs the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard.

As friends and family gather Saturday in Maryland to pay tribute to Gates, they will not mourn the loss of life,  but will celebrate the life and ongoing legacy of a man whose story will be told for years to come.

Read more at the Boston Globe.

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