Ramey Past Lives – Kelley Williams
This is the first in a little series we’re doing on Ramey “past lives” – about the strange and wonderful places we’ve worked, the forces that brought us here to Ramey and the experiences that help make us who we are.
Kelley Williams, Ramey Life Coordinator
Do you have a previous job that would surprise most folks?
Give us your coolest/craziest gig.
I do indeed. I had a part-time summer job, in the evenings, at Harvard back in 1988 (19 years old). I lived with my aunt and uncle in Weston, MA, while she was getting her doctorate in Entomology at Harvard. She studied under E.O. Wilson, and her thesis was on the trapdoor spider.
E.O. was getting ready to sit down and concentrate on writing/finishing a book and needed his secretary’s help. They were in need of someone to feed his ants and cockroaches for his secretary – and I was the lucky girl who got the job. For five dollars an hour, I was the primary caregiver to a room full of ants and roaches (floor to ceiling).
Tell us a little bit about your position.
I worked in a room full of clear plastic boxes, some filled with ants and others with roaches. My job was to feed, water and do my best to contain them. The roaches ate “roach chow,” which I now believe to be “dog chow,” and their water was in a test tube plugged with cotton. The ants would eat something I made from various powders lined up on the counter, mixed with water. The result looked like a lemon Jell-O. I also fed them their neighbors, the roaches…with the exception of the Hissing Cockroaches from Madagascar (Roaches-In-Residence). With tweezers and a beaker, I wrangled 35 to 40 roaches to cut up a few over each box of ants for the main course. Before I would leave each evening, I’d powder the sides of the containers to prevent escape. Fire ants, I learned, needed extra powder.
What would surprise us the most about your job?
I imagine the biggest surprise about my job is the fact that Kelley Williams was the employee.
What’s your favorite memory?
My favorite memory was when I met E. O. Wilson. I’m not sure what I expected, but he was very warm and had a sparkle in his eyes. He’s from the South, and he asked me right away if I would say “Y’all.” It made him smile. I believe he misses the South a little bit.
Did you learn anything there that you’ve taken with you in life?
Perhaps that I would rather feed ants and roaches in a controlled environment in a voluntary capacity – rather than having surprise guests for dinner.
E.O. Wilson is University Research Professor Emeritus at Harvard. In his long career, he has transformed his field of research — the behavior of ants — and applied his scientific perspective and experience to illuminate the human circumstance, including human origins, human nature, and human interactions. Wilson has also been a pioneer in spearheading efforts to preserve and protect the biodiversity of this planet, and is the guiding force that shapes the mission of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation.