The first bursts of serious painting
But as life went on, tragedies struck. At those times of suffering, Schimke found himself turning to his boyhood passion of painting. His wife Mary died suddenly of cerebral hemorrhage in 1976. After her death, "I decided I didn't want to do science," he said.
One day, while in England, where he had gone to do a sabbatical, Schimke walked down to a Camden Town flea market. There he discovered a set of pastels priced at 50 pence, “undoubtedly stolen from somewhere.” With these pastels in his hands, he felt he ought to do something with them. So he bought some good-quality paper and began to ease back into art.
When it came time for him to return to the U.S., Schimke realized the pastels were powdery and would brush off during the course of the journey. At this point, he decided to switch to oil paints because they lasted better and also because he had always loved to use them. He worked with oil paints for a while back in the U.S., but his laboratory got involved in work that would lead to the discovery of gene amplification. “That was something that brought me back into science in a big way,” he says. He returned to the laboratory in 1977.
In the mid-1980s, he experienced another artistic burst and left the laboratory. This time, he focused on placing natural products, such as eucalyptus and bamboo, on canvas so that their three dimensional shapes played with light and shadow.
But then his research group got involved in studying how mistakes in regulating the cell cycle caused gene amplification or cell death. Schimke returned to the laboratory to devote his time to the research.
In February 1995, on a Saturday afternoon, Schimke mounted his bike to cycle back home from the lab. Palo Alto, where Stanford University is, has mountains on its borders that reach up at least 3,000 feet, and Schimke often biked them. That day, he decided to go up halfway and take the long way home.
Around 2 p.m., Schimke was in a bike lane on Sand Hill Road in Woodside, a small town filled with redwood, oak and eucalyptus trees. The road had a T-intersection. “I was going to go straight in the T, but some bicyclists in front of me were going very slowly and were turning right,” says Schimke. “There was a car behind me whose driver thought I was part of that group and was going to turn as well. She started to make a turn, and her tire hit me.”
Schimke has a few hazy memories of the next few moments. “I remember vaguely, very vaguely, somebody talking to me and putting me on a stretcher. The next thing I remember was the doors to the emergency ward at Stanford University opening up,” he says. “The next thing I remember somebody saying, ‘Do you know somebody to call?’” Schimke was aware enough to tell them to call his current wife, Patricia Jones, Stanford’s vice provost for faculty development and diversity.