Deric Bownds



This biography was written in the summer of 2012,  in response to requests of some friends who attended a May 2012 reunion of my laboratory and a social/musical afternoon, as well as some MindBlog followers who asked to know more about my personal history.  I have tried to follow roughly the format I used  in doing a biography of my parents and grandparents on this website, relating enough, but hopefully not more, of what I think these friends would be curious to know.  The narrative is a very condensed extract of a personal journal of over 10,000 pages that I have kept since 1974.  I have vacillated between using the third person voice of my narrative on my parents and grandparents, and first person.  I finally settled on third person voice, because it conforms to how I start the beginning of every day, by asking myself: “OK,  what woke up this morning - which actor from my Pandora's Box of adult and infantile selves seems to be resident? ” So, here it is:

Helen Bownds gave birth to Deric Bownds (Marlin Deric Bownds, III) on May 16, 1942 in San Antonio, Texas.  Marlin worked from 1941-45 as a civil service airplane inspector at Kelly field in San Antonio and smaller airfields in Victoria and Cuero, Texas.  Helen and Marlin Bownds were at that time staying at the house of Helen's mother, Ollie Machemehl (Mrs. Mach).  Around the time of Deric's birth, Marlin had a severe case of the Mumps and was hospitalized for a period. (Helen and Marlin much later realized that sterility caused by the disease was probably the reason they never were able to have much desired further children.)  Even though the family moved to Austin soon after the war's end, Deric came to know the San Antonio house on Barrett Place well during his pre-school years as he spent long periods, especially in the summer, with his grandmother.

Early scenes from San Antonio

He retained nurturing images of Mrs. Mach's bountiful cooking, especially the pecan pies that came from the enormous backyard pecan tree. (It was probably not an accident that Deric's second life partner, Len Walker, bore many personality traits in common with Mrs. Mach, and was a gourmet cook, sometimes on holidays making cookies and fruitcakes from Mrs. Mach's three ring notebook of hand written recipes.) 

Before choosing Austin as a permanent place to live,  Deric, Helen, and Marlin moved several times to Marlin's civilian aircraft inspector job locations in south Texas and along the gulf coast in the 1943-45 period.  Deric's first memories were from the rental houses or apartments the family stayed in in Victoria Texas,  and Gulfport Mississippi, where Marlin graduated from the Naval Training School in Nov. 1945.  (The history of Marlin and Helen Bownds, at,  has some family photographs showing Deric from the 1942-50 period that supplement this account). 

1944, Deric in the tree in front of the house in Victoria.

  When Marlin learned that he was about to be drafted, he instead enlisted in the Navy,  went through basic training while Helen and Deric returned to live with Mrs. Mach.  Frequent correspondence between Helen and Marlin while he was in the military describe accounts of Deric being stubborn about eating food he didn't like VERY slowly, and Helen worrying about how often to spank him.  Marlin was about to be shipped out from San Diego when the war ended and he was discharged in March of 1946. 

After being discharged Marlin obtained a position with the Texas State Auditor's Office which he held until 1958.  In 1946 he constructed the family's first house (a prefab) on the corner of Kerby Lane and West 35th St. (1516 W. 35th St.) in Austin.  (Pictures from this period, the Kirby Lane house and then  Mohle Drive houses can been seen at

Deric ran barefoot with the pack of neighborhood kids, and attributed his robust immune system to early exposure to pill bugs and dog poop (not to mention possible genetic influences: Ms. Mach claimed to have never had a cold in her life).   In the vacant play lots on Kirby lane, where groups of boys formed dominance hierarchies and teams for games,  Deric was frequently the odd man out, and stayed on the periphery, watching and getting along with groups but keeping his distance - a pattern that persisted throughout his life.   His temperament (using Jerome Kagan's classification) was more reserved, introverted, and introspective than it was outgoing, extroverted, and comfortable in social situations. 

In 1949, when Deric was in the second grade, the family moved to a larger house on Mohle Dr. that was the base for his passage through Brykerwood grade school, O’Henry Junior High School, and Stephen F. Austin High School.  (In the early 2000’s  Deric’s son Jonathan and his wife Shana moved into the house, now owned by a family trust, to start their family.) 

Deric napping with Patsy in the Kerby Lane house under one of Mrs. Mach's knitted Afgan blankets.  



Marlin was frequently on the road auditing colleges around the state during Deric’s elementary through beginning high school years.  Deric missed his father and became a little adult,  relating more strongly to his mother and his parent's social friends than to other children - on camping trips, fishing expeditions.  (A high school girlfriend once told him: "Deric, you were never a child.") He was an intelligent ‘good boy,’ eager, excited, seemingly secure and confident, but rebellious on the inside, his significant adult behaviors formed very early. 

A fishing expedition, and the cooking tent the family constructed in 1953 on one of its summer vacations to the Sig Creek campground in Colorado.

Deric was an intelligent boy, and very persistent.  When he decided at the age of 8 that he wanted to learn to play the piano and asked his parents to buy a piano, they declined...until Deric drew a complete keyboard on pieces of paper,  lay them on the floor every evening while his parents were reading, and practiced playing the notes of simple piano pieces.   They then purchased a Steinway upright, by taking a loan with considerable sacrifice. (The upright was shipped to Deric when he was a Harvard graduate student.  It traveled on to the early years of his University of Wisconsin professorship, until it was replaced with a medium grand Steinway Model L, and that piano yielded in Deric's 60th year to a magnificent Steinway B that was used in many performances and are viewable online ( and   Deric felt that his ability to effortlessly sightread complex musical scores, noted by his first piano teacher when he was 8 years old,  must have been a genetic gift. 

Photo album pictures from elementary and junior high school years.


During elementary and junior high school years Deric was a cub scout, then boy scout. (He was dubious enough about the whole ‘scouting ethic’ to stop short of becoming an eagle scout.)  The sex play among cub and boy scouts made him clear on his desire for intimacy with men, a desire that was largely suppressed between the ages of 12 and 34. and finally led him, after marriage and children, to later assume his full gay identity. Deric passed through a series of crazes and hobbies:  science fiction, ham radio (the morse code license was KN5DDM),  Heathkit shortwave receiver and other construction kits, theater in junior high and high school (playing the lead in the thrilling drama “Radio Rescue”!). 

Activities during high school years, 1957-59: practicing on the Steinway upright at Mohle Drive, working on high school science fair booth, doing ham radio while studying, and on local television show “TV Class Room - Modern Topics in Mathematics”

Starting in the elementary school years and continuing through high school the 'performance persona' that Deric used in his academic and musical life was established. In the third grade (Mrs. Woodruff’s class, when he was 8 years old) he took his grandfather’s dress U.S. Calvary sword to show-and-tell,  where he started to act out a sword fight in front of the class before being disciplined.  In junior high and high school Deric was organist for several local churches, and played child prodigy at several performances at the University of Texas. During these years he was an academic nerd, hanging out with close friends Jay Davis and Chris Carlson  as the school ‘intellectuals.‘  Deric had also been learning to play the flute since elementary school,  and so joined junior high and high school bands, becoming student director of the high school marching band. (He was relieved that this exempted him from physical education classes.) His dating in junior high and into high school consisted mainly of acting as an escort to dances and country club socials for various members of a clique of girls around the governor's daughter.  (He did have two serious girlfriends, one of whom, Jane Morton, he reconnected with when she later became a Harvard graduate student.)

Deric in 1959, at the time of High School Graduation, and at prom with girlfriend Jane Morton

Deric’s parents realized that Deric could graduate from high school in two instead of the usual three years by taking a summer typing course, and so virtually compelled this to happen,  over the opposition of school administrators as well as a reluctant Deric. They were ambitious for their son, actually stayed up one night to finish a high school science fair project (called “Aural Acuity”) for him after he had gone to bed. Thus Deric graduated second in the class of 1959, a year ahead of most of his friends. (It was  Deric’s ill-feelings over this driving parental ambition that was part of the reason for his later rejecting a faculty position offered at the University of Texas at a higher salary than that offered by his final choice,  The University of Wisconsin.)  This resentment later continued as his parents later attempted to extend their control to the early education and discipline of their grandchildren, but was relieved as everyone mellowed and the grandchildren entered their late teenage and young adult years.  

In his senior year of high school Deric had obtained early admission to the University of Texas as an electrical engineer major, and was promised student directorship of the Longhorn Band.  Fate intervened when Brad Butler, a fellow intellectual in his high school homeroom who was applying to Harvard, bet Deric $10 that if he applied to Harvard he would get in.  Deric bet he wouldn’t, and lost.  He found later that he was part of Harvard’s new quota system that sought to avoid admitting only east coast preppies with family pedigree. He was a student from the south or southwest whose grade point average was predicted to be average.  Deric and Brad took off for Harvard in the fall of 1959, and roomed together for their first year in a four person fourth floor dormer suite in freshman dorm Strauss Hall on the edge of Harvard Yard, overlooking the Harvard Square MTA subway kiosk.  The other two suite mates were east coast aristocrats who joined the Hasty Pudding Club to begin  the ritual of being vetted by the various final private clubs.  This ritual, just like the requirement for coats and ties at all meals that Deric followed through four years and into graduate school, is no longer maintained. Needless to say,  provincials like Brad and Deric were not on the radar of Harvard’s social circles.    

Apart from the bet with Brad that took Deric to Harvard, a second random event decisively determined his future.  His high school biology teacher Edna Boone one day read to the class a note from a new University of Texas professor asking if any of her students would like to work in his lab washing dishes.  Deric volunteered, and so began work under Austen Riggs that continued during the summers of his college years.  When Deric told Riggs that he was going to Harvard, Riggs responded: “I got my Ph.D. from George Wald at Harvard.  You should look him up when you get there.” 

On arriving at Harvard, Deric started a work-scholarship job fetching books from the stacks of Harvard’s Widener Library.  The stacks were a fascinating catacomb, with the sub-basements containing several fascinating collections of 18th century country gentlemen as well as restricted pornography collections.  Finally summoning up the courage, Deric visited George Wald in the middle of the first term,  found him in an expansive mood, and was invited to do a freshman project in the lab. This was supported by money from a recent undergraduate enrichment program funded by Edwin Land, inventor of the Polaroid camera.  The brief clumsy project of extracting and identifying carotenoids from frog livers was fascinating enough to motivate Deric to switch from his intended physical sciences major to a biochemistry major.  His undergraduate thesis was a study of lamprey hemoglobin, done in Austen Riggs’ University of Texas laboratory during the summer breaks.  Each spring, just before flying back to Texas, Deric traveled up to the Exeter river in New Hampshire, caught and bled a number of migrating lampreys, and brought their blood back to the Riggs lab in an ice bucket to begin that summer’s work. 

Deric at time of Harvard graduation in 1963

Deric was fascinated by his organic, physical, and biochemistry courses, and they provided a strong foundation for his graduate and postdoctoral work.  He returned to Wald’s laboratory during his senior year, proposing to use a reaction he had learned about in Konrad Bloch’s biochemistry course to study the visual pigment rhodopsin. This senior year work was published in Nature in 1965, as he continued to do graduate studies in Wald’s laboratory.  Wald was indifferent to the protein chemistry work Deric was doing,  and surprised when Deric was invited to present his work on the site of attachment of vitamin A aldehyde, retinal, in rhodopsin - the first modern protein biochemistry done on the visual pigments -  at the international biochemical congress in 1967, the same year that George Wald received the Nobel Prize for discovering the role of Vitamin A in vision during the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.  

Deric and Brad moved to Quincy House for sophomore through senior years, and enjoyed the Harvard environment of intellectual luminaries.  They had breakfasts with guests Ursula and Reinhold Niebuhr at Quincy House,  took a religion course from protestant theologian Paul Tillich, and Deric took a Chinese history course from Benjamin Schwartz.  Deric’s social life was very limited, apart from a few lasting friendships formed with undergraduate roommates and fellow graduate students in the Biological Laboratories at Harvard.  He did date a few women in undergraduate and graduate years, but his only real affair was during his senior year, with a muscular attractive roommate named Tom.  After this he determined to suppress his gay nature, and was successful in doing so from 1959 until 1974. He worked as rehearsal pianist for the Harvard Gilbert and Sullivan Society, and also accompanied the graduate chorus.  The flute playing that had supported his high school band experience dropped by the wayside.   In Deric’s senior year, George Wald, a messianic figure, launched his new Harvard General Education Course “The Nature of Living Things” and Deric taught laboratory sections of this course through his college senior and graduate school years.

 During the first year of graduate school, home was an apartment  (“The Upland Downs”) shared with four other men on Upland Rd., north of Harvard Square, just off Massachusetts Ave.  The boozy and chaotic environment drove Deric to become a resident tutor at Winthrop House under the new Master, Bruce Chalmers, for his second and third graduate student years. Deric organized chamber music concerts and sherry hours for undergraduates in the house, one guest being B.F. Skinner (who talked about pornography as an antidote to aging!). During this period Deric frequently went to Woods Hole on Cape Cod, where he was guest at the summer homes of George and Ruth Wald, and also the Chalmers. During this period he took the well known Marine Biological Laboratory’s Physiology course in Woods Hole, and there met instructor Harlyn Halvorsen, director of a new Molecular Biology Laboratory being built at Wisconsin.

Deric in 1996, during graduate student days (1963-67).  Holding the Ph.D. thesis. 

 In 1964 Deric’s high school girlfriend Jane Morton, having graduated from the University of Texas, came to do graduate work in medieval English at Harvard.  They resumed their romance, became engaged, and Deric moved from Winthrop House to the Harvard Botanic Garden faculty apartments so they would have a place to live together.   Sadly, in 1967 Jane began to experience seizures, was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, and died within two months.  By this time Deric had moved to his postdoctoral position in the Neurobiology Department at Harvard Medical School, and was grateful for the supportive environment  they provided.  Six month’s after Jane’s death, during daily afternoon tea times in the Hubel and Wiesel lab,  Deric met Marilyn Vanderhoof, an intelligent and pleasant technician who worked with Hubel and Wiesel’s cat colony.  Deric and Marilyn dated, became engaged, and were married in Livingston New Jersey in June of 1968, then proceeding together to Madison Wisconsin late that fall as Deric assumed his new faculty position at The University of Wisconsin, having been recruited to join the new Laboratory of Molecular Biology by Harlyn Halvorsen, who had been his instructor in the Woods Hole physiology course in 1963.  

During the Harvard Medical School Neurobiology postdoctoral period, 1967-68,  at the Harvard Botanic Gardens apartments, with the Steinway upright shipped from Texas.

Deric Bownds and Marilyn Vanderhoof, 1968, the wedding.

1968 Christmas dinner at Ms. Mach’s home on Mohle Dr, with new wife Marilyn.


Deric and Marilyn moved into university faculty apartments in Dec. 1968, and Deric began to set up his laboratory in an empty half of the third floor of the new Molecular Biology Laboratory.  His pedigree from having been in the Wald laboratory and the Harvard Medical Neurobiology department facilitated his arriving with one of the early grants (EY-00463) awarded by the recently formed National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health. This grant was continuously renewed to support the next 28 years of his vision research, until he started a second academic career studying the biology of mind.  With training in biochemistry and neurophysiology, Deric was proposing to integrate studies of the chemistry and physiology of the rod photoreceptors used in our dim light vision,  to understand how light is changed into a nerve signal in the eye. 

He arrived at Wisconsin with a tinge of arrogance from thinking himself Harvard’s gift to the benighted midwest and was initially fairly harsh to students and colleagues -  dismissing one new graduate student who proved to be unable to name the acidic or basic amino acids.  Three wives of postdoctoral fellows in other laboratories applied to take positions in the laboratory, two having Ph.D.s in biochemistry, so research was underway with record speed.  Deric also collaborated with colleague Julius Adler to start the first Neurobiology Course taught at the university.  After attending a Gordon Conference on the new field of protein phosphorylation, Deric returned to the laboratory and looked at whether this reaction occurred with rhodopsin.  His discovery of the light activated phosphorylation of rhodopsin established his independent research career.  (This discovery required that Deric realize that seeing effects of light on chemistry must start in complete darkness. This was made possible by the recent availability of infrared image converters developed for the Vietnam war.  Other laboratories used the dim red lights that were considered to bleach ‘insignificant‘ amounts of rhodopsin for experimental manipulations, amounts which in fact turned on all the interesting chemistry.)    

During the early Wisconsin years the rich social life created by Deric’s wife Marilyn finally broke through his previous solitude and he began to form friendships within her ever enlarging circle of friends, the most significant being with a large handsome Naval ROTC instructor recently returned from Vietnam named Bill, met through one of Marilyn’s tennis friends.  Deric still remained monomaniacally focused on his work, leaving social arrangements with other couples to Marilyn, but now did slowly start to make a social circle of his own.  Through Bill, he met disciples of a local guru named Alexander Leath, who taught a course on creative and artistic development.  Starting in  1973 and over the next few years, Deric was taking this course and also going with fellow students to other group training contexts: Transactional Analysis and Gestalt Therapy workshops,  modern and improvisational dance classes.  The boy who ‘never had a childhood’ was now discovering one.   A fascination with psychology began to grow during this period, and also energetic reading  on how the mind works that 20 years later led to a course, a book (“The Biology of Mind”), and a second career.  These were turbulent times - In September of 1973 Deric read a statement to his Neurobiology class and joined (for a few days) a strike of teachers and students protesting the Vietnam war.

In 1974 Deric told Marilyn that Bill was more than just a friend, also saying that this had no influence on his desire to be married and have children.  Marilyn agreed to accept this, and so they were able to be a typical suburban family for the next 14 years, with Deric’s male friends, some also married, being friendly with Marilyn and the kids.  During this period Marilyn also knew all of the groupies with whom Deric was doing training in meditation, dancing, massage, rolfing, and various pop therapies.  Deric and Marilyn took Disco Dancing lessons at the Back Door, the local gay bar, and also went together to Tai Chi classes.   At a men’s support group in Madison Deric met chemistry post-doc Michael Biernbaum, who became his laboratory manager for almost twenty years.    By 1974-75 Deric was bringing all his newfound ‘new age’ energy into his professional life, viewing his mission as being to nurture the humans working under him (not to mention that this improved and motivated the work that was the basis of Deric’s growing prestige in the vision field). 

1976 - The lab group dancing on Observatory Hill

The period of 1975-78 was the mellow ‘golden age’ of the laboratory.  The group experimented with whatever new age social model was du jour, generally with the subtext of trying to be kind and gentle people.  Whenever Deric travelled out into the lean and mean real world to present the lab’s work, he returned to lecture everyone on what a deal they had, and wondered if he was making them mean enough.  (A visual history of the laboratory’s history, prepared for the occasion of Deric’s 70th birthday for a reunion of those who worked in the laboratory over a 28 year period can be found at  CV and scientific publications can be found at    Pictures from the reunion are at or

At the same time Deric was participating in Dance Department recitals at Lathop Hall, the laboratory was doing ground breaking work, its next discovery being to find that a chemical reaction (a cyclic GMP decrease observed after illumination) was rapid enough to be a step in visual excitation.  Thus by the end of 1976 two of the most important contributions of Deric’s scientific career had been made.  Invitations to international meetings were becoming more common.  Deric and Marilyn stayed at the Trianon Palace Hotel in Versailles in June 1975, where a meeting was being sponsored by a rich French businessman, then spent time in Paris and with friends in Provence. In 1979 the couple went to a symposium in Kyoto Japan together sponsored by a foundation established by a Japanese industrialist.  By this time (~1975-1980) Deric was annually presenting the lab’s work at one or another international biochemical or neuroscience congress and also traveling to Washington, D.C. at least three times a year to serve as a reviewer on the NIH panel evaluating vision research grant applications.   

Jonathan and Sarah were born in 1974 and 1976,  and Deric’s parents began to visit regularly.  Their visits would frequently coincide with Sunday Musical/Socials at the house on Colgate Road on the edge of university campus that the young couple had bought with their assistance.  By this time Deric had purchased a rebuilt Steinway model L grand piano, more appropriate for performances, and a tradition of house concerts was begun, Deric performing either alone or with string players recruited for  piano trios and quartets.   During this period Marilyn continued her artistic work (see the painting of a Big Mac above the piano in the picture below), moving from painting to print making with classes in the Art Department, and also started, and continued for many years, to give lectures as a docent at the University’s Art Museum.

Jonathan,  Dec. 1974     Sarah and Jonathan, Dec. 1977

The new Steinway L grand piano -  Dec. 1978

In 1976 Deric went to Esalen,  the new age outpost on the Big Sur California coast to take workshops in  gestalt therapy and Feldenkrais technique. A subsequent trip to Esalen together with other workshops and reading on movement, massage, and meditation led him to develop a course - a new age screed with the cover title of “Topics in Human and Animal Movement” - taught three times in 1977-79.  It was an evening course meeting in one of the dance department’s gym rooms, a mixture of lecture, demonstration, applied kinesiology, relaxation, meditation,  Feldenkrais and Alexander techniques, massage and floor work done singly and in pairs.   At the annual ritual meeting of vision researchers in Sarasota, FL.,  colleagues noted the new and laid back lecture style resulting from this movement work, and George Wald invited Deric to present some of his movement instruction in Woods Hole during the summer.   In the laboratory, Mike Biernbaum, together with a new post-doc Rick Cote,  were part of a local mens movement, counterpart to the women’s movement of that time, that established a men’s center. They started and became editors of a new men’s magazine titled “M Magazine - gentle men for gender justice.”  For a period, the main laboratory’s phone became the local office number for the men’s movement. 

1980 - Deric with Marilyn, Jon, Sarah and two versions of the lab group.

Family pictures from the 1980s

Jan 1984 Jonathan’s early computer career.

Nov 1984

1985 Grandparents take the family to Disney World


1988 Looking at photos from Deric’s trip to Japan.

A heady mix of personal and professional life continued throughout the 1980s.  Deric engaged Sufi dancing, a men’s spirituality group, and intimate friendships with several men.  He took Marilyn to a vision meeting in Erice, Sicily,  and gave talks at other international meetings in Toronto, Mexico City, Cambridge England, Hawaii, and Japan.  A lecture at Stanford provided the occasion to learn a new electrode recording technique which he then set up in the Madison laboratory. This, together with the development of a technique for purifying suspensions of the living light transducing elements (rod outer segments) of rod photoreceptor cells allowed a new generation of experiments through the 1980s integrating the physiology and biochemistry of visual transduction and adaptation.  Early in this period Deric realized that the prevailing model for visual transduction,  that had required calcium to decrease on illumination, was completely backwards. He was credited with then suggesting, in the face of universal opposition, that it in fact increased. The lab showed further that light transduction into a nerve signal occurred even when calcium changes were entirely abolished.  It was a discovery by a largely unknown Russian that ion channels in the plasma membrane were held open by cyclic GMP, thus would be closed by the rapid light induced cyclic GMP decrease the Bownds laboratory had demonstrated, that finally provided the last step in the transduction pathway, explaining how light is changed into a nerve signal in the eye.  

In 1982 Deric met a pharmacy graduate student named Mark Weber, and the intense relationship they enjoyed until Mark left for postdoctoral work at Harvard set Deric on a course to admit that his attempt to construe himself as a ‘bisexual’ was a failure.

1982 Deric and friend Mark.

In 1986 he finally began a gentle transition from his straight suburban husband life to the full time gay life that was natural for him, first first moving part-time into an apartment, then purchasing a condominium near the family house so that Jon and Sarah could easily move back and forth between their mother’s and father’s houses.   Deric and Mark remained close friends through this period, as Mark moved on to Chicago and became partnered at about the same time (1989) that Deric partnered with Len Walker (the two couples became lifelong friends), and Marilyn remarried.

In 1991 Deric and Len bought, and still occupy,  an 1860 stone schoolhouse on Twin Valley Road just west of Madison that had been converted to a residence by a Frank Lloyd Wright lieutenant named Herb Fritz.  Deric’s parents, who through the 1980s had been frequently visiting Madison and staying in an apartment to see their grandchildren, bought the condominium for their use, and it remained in a family trust after their death.

 The Twin Valley Schoolhouse - front pond built in 2003

 1991, Len, Deric, and Clifford at Twin Valley


By 1988, with the problem of visual transduction largely solved, Deric was having thoughts of retiring from the laboratory research sausage factory, thinking that 20 years of grinding it out, as with military duty, might be enough.  He also was getting impatient with the basic Neurobiology course he had been teaching for 20 years with colleague Tony Stretton. (Tony had been a postdoctoral fellow alongside Deric at Harvard Medical School, and Deric had recruited him to come to Wisconsin in the early 1970s.)  Instead of teaching and thinking about single nerve cells, Deric’s long interest in movement and psychological therapies led him to want to spend more of his time studying minds and brains.  At the same time he began to spend more time in this new area, a new generations of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows was arriving in the laboratory.  This group, notably Vadim Arshavsky, a Russian post doctoral fellow Deric brought to the laboratory after they met at a conference held on Lake Baikal in Siberia, found an array of new controls of the visual pathway, taking apart, purifying, and putting back together components that turn it on and then off again.  This solid and respected work could have continued for many years, but Deric felt that the cream had been skimmed, and so systematically made plans to dial down the laboratory, help find positions for his Phd and post doctoral students, and devote increasing time to studying the Biology of Mind,  the topic of a course and eventual book (for work and publications in that area, as well as in vision, as well as more family biography, see and

1993 Taniguchi Foundation symposium in Japan at which Deric (white shirt, center) announced to colleagues his intention to retire from vision research.

He never regretted retiring from laboratory research at the peak of his career.  His colleagues were uniformly supportive of this late career transition,  yet there was one not so minor issue.  Full time scholarship - writing and teaching on the evolution, structures, and function of mind and brain - wasn’t bringing in the big money associated with research grants, and so Deric realized that more service to the university would now be appropriate.  Through the 1990s his administrative role in the Zoology expanded as he headed the cell and molecular wing of the department and by 1997 he had agreed to become department chair to repair a faculty and staff meltdown.  He reorganized the department’s support structure and recruited new staff and faculty members.  Deric, perhaps due to his increased understanding of how the emotional brain works and his background in LBJ’s  wheeler-dealer Texas, was able to deal with power, money, and egomaniacal colleagues.  He was respected and effective,  yet did not enjoy the required administrative trivia, committee work, and campus politics.  He realized that a simple way to do just what he wanted to do at the university was to retire and become a professor emeritus, to then spend full time writing and teaching. He did this at age 59, in 2001.  Due to a generous retirement system his salary decreased only slightly,  and he was able to spend more time with his fading parents in Texas. His mother Helen was diagnosed with colon cancer and died in 2002,  and Marlin, unable to adjust after over 60 years of marriage, followed her in 2003.      

1999, The Biology of Mind Book

Deric as Zoology Department Chair


Through the 1990s and 2000s domestic life centered on the Marshall Ct. condominium - used by grandparents during their visits in the 90s and also by Deric as an office retreat - and the schoolhouse on Twin Valley road in Middleton where Deric and his partner Len lived.  During last two years of his parents’ lives Deric was spending large blocks of time in Austin Texas and gave a number of recitals at the Westminster Manor Retirement complex where the parents lived, using a very good Steinway B grand in their meeting hall.  He determined to obtain one of these pianos, larger and with richer sound than the model L used over the previous thirty years, and was fortunate to find in the local Steinway showroom a remarkable instrument they had set aside for several years for the use of the chair of the Music Department at the University of Texas.  Deric purchased this piano as a 60th birthday present to himself, using in performance for the first time at a 60th birthday social/musical at the Twin Valley schoolhouse.  From 2002 until the present, this piano has supported solo or chamber music performances at an annual social/musical.  A number of the performances are posted on YouTube at   In 2001 Deric established the website  to post his lectures and writings on the Biology of Mind, and  in 2006 started to pass on some of his thinking and reading in blog posts on “Deric Bownds’ MindBlog - new ideas and work on mind, brain, and behavior - as well as random curious stuff”,   

In 2005 Len and Deric decided to spend the Christmas holiday at a resort in the gay mecca of Fort Lauderdale.  The appeal of escaping the winters in Madison Wisconsin was obvious, and so Deric purchased a condominium with a tranquil view on a tree lined inland riverbank, and began to spend every November through March there.  In 2006 and 2007 both Jon and Sarah married partners they had been living with for several years. 

October 2006 - Marriage of Sarah and JT Smith in a ceremony at Twin Valley.

 May 2007 - Marriage of Jonathan and Shana Merlin in Isla Mujeres, Mexico.


Jon and his business partner head a successful internet company,, dealing with mobile commerce, social integration and web services.  Shana Merlin heads the Merlin Works Institute for Improvisation ( ) A son, Sebastian, was born to Jon and Shana in March 2012 (  Sarah is events coordinator for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (, and her husband JT Smith is an successful internet entrepreneur (, ).

 Deric’s 70th birthday in 2012 was marked by the annual social/musical at Twin Valley  and also a reunion of the researchers who had worked in his vision laboratory over the 26 year period from 1968 until 1996. Most of the graduate students and postdoctoral fellows trained in the laboratory attended.  The social/musical included several university friends whom Deric had known since his graduate student and postdoctoral period at Harvard in the 1960s. (The links to photographs of these events and a brief web history of the laboratory already noted above are collected together at

The Bownds’ Laboratory Reunion

Len and Deric at the Twin Valley Musical/Social


 Another event in 2012 was Len's decision to end his 11 years of being a Director of Marketing and Public relation at area technical colleges - first at McHenry County College in northern IL. and then at Blackhawk Technical College in Janesville Wisconsin - so that he could join Deric for the annual snowbird period in Fort Lauderdale, FL. 


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