Professor Lindon John Eaves was an eminent professor in behavior genetics and genetic epidemiology, with an international reputation as an exceptional scientist. His achievements spanned over forty years of distinguished scholarship, teaching and service to the scientific community.
At the internationally-recognized Center of Excellence in Genetics at the University of Birmingham England, Professor Eaves obtained both B.Sc. (1966) and Ph.D. (1970) degrees in Genetics. Subsequently, he was awarded a GOE in Theology (1968) from Cuddesdon College in Oxford, a M.A. in Psychology (1979) from the University of Oxford, and a D.Sc. in Genetics (1980) from the University of Birmingham, England. He started his academic career as an MRC Research Fellow in Behavioral Genetics at the University of Birmingham, England. In 1978, he was an A.D. Williams Distinguished Scholar and Visiting Professor in the Department of Human Genetics at the Medical College of Virginia at Virginia Commonwealth University. He returned to England as University Lecturer and Fellow of Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford University, after becoming a SRC Advanced Fellow in Genetics (Personal Fellowship for distinction in research). In 1981 he officially joined the Department as a Distinguished Professor in Human Genetics. At that time, he also received a joint appointment in the Department of Psychiatry, and in 1988 he became a Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry.
From its inception in 1996, Professor Eaves was the Co-Director of the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics (VIPBG), which he co-led until his retirement in 2016. There he oversaw the development of the Mid-Atlantic Twin Registry, which is the largest registry of its kind in the United States. In 2000, Professor Eaves received a Doctores Honoris Causa from the Free University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. After assuming emeritus status in 2011, he was the Benjamin Meaker Visiting Professor in Social Medicine, Bristol University UK.
Professor Eaves served as President of both the Behavior Genetics Association and the International Society for Twin Studies. He was the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including First class honors in Genetics at the University of Birmingham, the James Shields Award for contributions to Twin Research, the Paul Hoch Award of American Psychopathological Association, the Lifetime Achievement Dobzhansky Award of the Behavior Genetics Association, the VCU School of Medicine Outstanding Research Achievement and Departmental Teacher awards, the VCU Distinguished Scholarship award, and the Fulker Award for the best paper published in Behavior Genetics in 2014. Professor Eaves has been an invited lecturer at many renowned universities, including Oberlin College (Mead-Swing Lecturer), the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (McNair Lecturer), Washington & Lee University (Root Lecturer), and the Harvard Divinity School, and Gustavus Adolphus College (Nobel Lecturer).
Research prowess and influence is often measured in terms of publications, citations and grants. All three indicators demonstrate Professor Eaves’ productivity and extensive influence. He published over 500 papers since 1969 on the application of statistical-genetic methods to data on twins and their families in highly prestigious journals such as Heredity, Nature, American Journal of Human Genetics, Archives of General Psychiatry, Journal of the American Medical Association, Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Some of his most influential papers were published in Behavior Genetics and Twin Research and Human Genetics, journals of the scientific societies he cared most about. Professor Eaves also authored a widely-cited book titled Genes, Culture and Personality: An Empirical Approach. According to the citation databases from the Web of Science, Professor Eaves’ publications have been cited over 28,000 times. In 1999, he was ranked 15th in the world in citations of high impact papers in psychiatry. The contributions by Professor Eaves comprise major advances in statistical genetic methods as well as substantive contributions to child and adult psychiatry.
During his tenure at VCU, Professor Eaves held an unbroken record of substantial grant support from federal and private sources. Federal grants were obtained from the National Institute on General Medical Sciences, the National Institute of Child, Health and Development, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the National Institute of Aging, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In addition, he had a strong track record of private sources of funding including the Robert Wood Johnson, John Templeton and Keck Foundations.
Professor Eaves was the principal or co-investigator on many projects, including the VCU component on the NIDA “Genes, Environment, Development Initiative” project, the Puerto Rican Infant Twin Study and the Virginia Children of Twins study. He developed some of the first programs for model-fitting to twin and family data and conducted some of the first computer-aided design explorations of the power and design of behavior-genetic studies. His research embraced the genetics of cognitive function, personality, social attitudes, political behavior and juvenile and adult psychopathology. His particular focus was on the structural modeling of the effects of genes and the home environment on behavior and its development. He built upon some of his earlier pioneering research on modeling developmental change in the effects of genes and environment, which was instrumental in the funding of the 10-year longitudinal Virginia Twin Study of Adolescent Behavioral Development. His work on the modeling of biological and cultural inheritance with extended kinships of twins provided the conceptual and analytical framework for many research proposals. He played a key role in the application of Markov Chain Monte Carlo methods to extend the repertoire and flexibility of genetic models for growth and gene-by-environment interaction for twin data. With colleagues in Britain, he explored the use of genomic data in the resolution of causality in human kinship data.
Professor Eaves was an exceptional teacher with a stellar training record. He taught courses across four decades on topics such as biometrical, behavioral, psychiatric, mathematical, statistical and population genetics. In the international arena, Professor Eaves played a leading role in the teaching of undergraduate, graduate, and medical students, as well as post-doctoral fellows, junior and even senior faculty. He was a founding faculty member and served as the Academic Director of the annual International Workshops on Methodology for Genetic Studies of Twins and Families, which originated in Leuven, Belgium in 1987 and that evolved into the current Boulder series of workshops with NIMH support. He participated in many of these workshops, which have produced thousands of graduates, many of whom have since become senior and respected researchers. Professor Eaves was also highly influential in his supervision of graduate and post-doctoral students at VCU. Many of them now have very distinguished careers of their own. He played a key role in promoting the careers of young investigators and possessed the unparalleled combination of qualities of expertise, enthusiasm and exceptional clarity of explanation.
Besides these ‘objective’ measures of scholarship, Professor Eaves was extraordinary in his role as scholar and mentor. He was forever on the forefront of the field of statistical genetics and frequently advanced it by developing new methods necessary to answer the questions posed in this rapidly evolving scientific area. All this was accomplished with seemingly with no ego. He was the most generous supervisor, always making time to discuss new ideas, analyses, papers and encouraging collaborators to take his ideas, make them their own, and develop them further within everyone’s individual research interests. In that capacity, he was responsible for developing the careers of many outstanding independent research scientists.
In 2012, a festschrift was held in his honor in Edinburgh, Scotland at the annual meeting of the Behavior Genetics association, showcasing his many contributions to the field. It is no surprise that this was the best attended annual meeting, bringing together so many of his colleagues/friends to celebrate his illustrious career. The presentations were published in a special issue of Behavior Genetics, and will live on forever.
Professor Eaves was a distinguished professor, scholar, mentor and friend, but foremost a genuine human being. He was caring and supportive to all he met. His words and ideas will live on as will the memory of his spirit, intellect and kindness.