By Teresa Hagen
Leslie K. Wynston, professor emeritus of biochemistry, is something of a Renaissance man with his lifelong interests in travel and international cultures, wine and education.
A native of San Diego, Wynston received his undergraduate degree from San Diego State and his doctorate from the Biochemistry Department of UCLA’s medical school.
“I was a protein biochemist, which happened to be the right thing at the right time,” he said. “When I was graduating, I had multiple job offerings, even unsolicited ones, because it was a hot field. My first job after graduation from UCLA was at Northwestern Medical School in Chicago. The job in Chicago was very good, but living in Chicago was just horrible! Being a native Southern Californian, it was just too much–not just the weather but the crime. The mob ran everything.”
But Wynston realized something else during his years in Chicago.
“I discovered that teaching was a small part of what I did at Northwestern, and most of the time I was doing research,” Wynston commented. “But I found that I enjoyed working with students more than working by myself in a lab. This is why I applied to some of the Cal State schools because I knew teaching was the primary function.”
Prior to his professorship at CSULB, Wynston applied for a National Institutes of Health fellowship to conduct post doctorate work in Germany from 1963-65. It was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with travel and international cultures.
“I drove a Volkswagen Beetle and put 22,000 miles on the car,” he reminisced. “I got married at the beginning of ’63 and my first wife was from Hong Kong. We spent two months taking the long way around through Asia before we got to my fellowship position at the Max Planck Institute in Munich. I even went to Afghanistan.”
As his two-year fellowship drew to a close, Wynston decided to apply for jobs stateside, and CSULB hired him sight unseen.
“I had an advantage in that I was fluent in German, and one of the things that chemistry students have to do is pass a reading exam in German to get certification from the American Chemical Society,” he explained. “Graduate students also have to know two languages, which in those days were German and a choice between French or Russian.”
During his tenure at CSULB from 1965-00, Wynston, who was instrumental in developing the B.S. degree in biochemistry, served as chair of the Pre-Health Professions Advisory Committee, graduate council and several international student committees. He was president of the Western Association of Advisors for the Health Professions and later secretary of the national organization. He also served as a consultant for North American Aviation, now Rockwell International, conducting research, among many other projects, on osteoporosis resulting from the zero gravity of space travel.
Along with his second wife of 25 years, Anna, who shares his passion for traveling, Wynston spent a year as a visiting professor at the University of Zurich, teaching a biochemistry course in the veterinary school; a year in Taiwan as an exchange professor teaching biochemistry; and went on a lecture tour throughout East Asia before returning to his duties at CSULB. Wynston also became known for developing and teaching a CSULB extension course about wine and conducting European winery tours.
“I taught several different wine classes at CSULB for almost 25 years,” he said. “They were actually post-graduate level courses in what was then the Home Economics Department. Maybe 10 percent of the people in the classes were university students. I remember that one of the major liquor companies in L.A. sent all of their new hires through the class. It was a hands-on or, I should say, tongues-on course.”
Since retiring from CSULB, Wynston has joined the Legacy Society and serves as a CNSM fellow. Also, he established a scholarship in his name for junior biochemistry majors who plan on applying to health professional schools.
“We have a lot of great students,” Wynston said, when asked about his motivation to give back to CSULB. “Recently, one of my favorite grad students, Pat McKay, visited me. He went to UC San Francisco in the Pharmacology Department, and they flunked him out, telling him he would never amount to anything. We accepted him, and he did great research; he was highly motivated. Pat got a job at Genentech where he’s the only senior research scientist who doesn’t have a Ph.D. It really made me happy to see how well he is doing.”