Nell Griffin

Nell Jane Griffin Backus

August 6, 1925 – September 13, 2016

Nell Jane Griffin Backus was born on August 6, 1925 to William Jacob Griffin and Wilma Blanche Hargett Griffin of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Her father was a rural mailman, railroad postal clerk, and U.S. Customs Inspector.

She grew up on a small family farm that her mother managed. A very sharp mind, Nell graduated from Salem College in 1946 with double honors in biology and chemistry, was Class Marshall, and a star field hockey center forward.

Among her college summer jobs, she worked in a Western Electric bomb factory and was a hotel hostess at Manteo, in the Outer Banks (NC). In 1947 Nell worked as an analytical chemist for the R.J. Reynolds Corporation.

In 1948 she entered graduate school in biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

It was there that she met Richard Haven Backus. They were married in 1949 and moved to Ithaca, NY, where Nell served as an Instructor in Chemistry at Cornell University.

In 1951, she and Dick moved to Woods Hole, MA, where they raised three children, Jane, Edward, and David. They were divorced in 1972.

Nell resumed her work in science, becoming a field and laboratory technician at the Marine Biological Laboratory.

She began to travel and explore other interests, spending almost a year in Perugia, Italy studying language and art history. In 1978, Nell re-entered graduate school in biology, earning a M.S. in entomology at the University of Florida, Gainesville, becoming a specialist in life history of insect crop pests and methods of biocontrol.

Nell then worked as research assistant in the USDA Gypsy Moth Control Laboratory on Cape Cod at Otis AFB.

She moved to Tucson, AZ and then Albuquerque, NM becoming a desert flora aficionado while exploring the West for many years.

In 2000 she moved to Sequim, WA, living for 16 years a few hundred yards from the Straits of Juan de Fuca at Mains Farm.

Nell passed away at 91, swiftly and peacefully, on September 13, 2016 as the result of an abdominal aorta aneurysm. Ever the scientist, Nell donated her body to the Forensic Anthropology Center (the ‘body farm’) at the University of Tennessee. She is survived by her three children, Jane Hamilton Backus Gelernter (David), Edward Holmes Backus (Jessica Miller), and David Hunt Backus (Wendy Raymond), and grandsons, Daniel and Joshua Gelernter, and Caleb Backus Raymond. Memorial interests can be expressed to the Dungeness River Audubon Center, Sequim, WA.

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