It's the end of an era whenever an EMBL legend departs. At the beginning of this year, Cell Biology and Biophysics Unit group leader Gareth Griffiths left EMBL for the sunny climes of Oslo after an amazing 31 years. As well as being remembered for his group's work on how mycobacteria interact with macrophages, Gareth himself is just as likely to be recalled in a pose not unlike this one.
"Parties are the social glue that keep people together," maintains Gareth, and since his earliest days at EMBL he has set about making sure that glue never dries. Few of us will remember the ten years of Christmas parties, instigated by Gareth in 1978, at which staff across EMBL united with their compatriots to provide colourful spreads of their national dishes. "I was delighted that the Staff Association held a Christmas party again in 2008," Gareth says. "I hope it'll become an annual event."
Even more elaborate were the CBB leaving parties, which he started around 1984 in honour of the departures of group leaders such as Thomas Kreis, David Meyer, Keith Stanley, Keith Howell, Carlos Dotti, Wieland Huttner, Temo Kurzchalia, Bernard Hoflack and the 'Dresden Gang' – Kai Simons, Tony Hyman, Marino Zerial and Suzanne Eaton. Preparation for these lavish themed parties always began at a fancy dress shop near Bruchsal, discovered by Kai and Gareth.
His vision for a "really big party" was finally realised when he joined the Staff Association in 1999. "The thinking behind it was to have an event where current and former staff could get together with their families, and that's why the first focus of the party is always the children," he says. "The party is as successful now as it was then, thanks to the same handful of people who organise it: Doros Panayi, Thomas Heinzman, Mustafa Uyguner, Tom Cord and Claus Himburg." Gareth has already booked his return flight to attend this year's party on 11 July.
It hasn't all been about parties, though. Among Gareth's achievements was the identification of the trans-Golgi network and the mapping of endocytic compartments in cells; he also developed, applied and taught electron microscopy antibody labelling methods to identify proteins. Additionally, he dedicated time to promoting EMBL abroad with the EMBL summer school, an initiative he set up in 1996. This three-day event was held in Italy, Denmark, Spain and Belgium, and was attended by group leaders and postdocs native to the country to spread the word about EMBL to potential students. Gareth plans to continue promoting EMBL at his new institute, the University of Oslo.
In honour of Gareth's party spirit, speakers at his leaving do on 13 December – from current staff Eric Karsenti, Damian Brunner and Darren Gilmour to alumni Kevin Leonard, Robin Buckland, Graham Warren, Jacques Dubochet, Marino Zerial and Kai Simons – presented role plays and numerous photo slides of EMBL parties inspired by the legend himself.
There's something else he'll miss, too, a much more day-to-day luxury than the parties: "I spent many hours in the cafeteria with my group, figuring things out and finding solutions. It's a great asset."