WHOI Waypoints: A Woods Hole Love Affair


He was a confident young New Yorker looking to carve a niche in the WHOI Geology and Geophysics Department (G&G). She was a young German chemist coming to Woods Hole for a “break” before medical school. Thirty-seven years later, they wouldn’t dream of leaving.

In 1965, David Ross was fresh from graduate school at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and blessed with a dozen offers for work. “WHOI seemed like the best opportunity for a young oceanographer,” he notes. “There were lots of other young scientists and a great chance to jump right into exciting research.”

Edith Reppmann had finished her bachelor’s degree in chemistry at the Metallfachschule Düsseldorf, worked for a few years in a hospital and an industrial lab, and found herself in need of “a year off.” In 1966, she met Egon Degens, Senior Scientist in the WHOI Chemistry Department, while he was visiting Germany. He asked if she wanted a change of pace by working in his lab. “I never had any intention of staying in this country for more than a year,” she recalls.

Edith and Dave met during a morning break at BJ’s, an old coffee shop in the village of Woods Hole. They started spending their lunch hours fishing together on his Boston Whaler. Edith’s one year in Woods Hole turned into two. By July 1968, they were married to each other, and in a way, to WHOI.
“Cape Cod is a great place to live, and working at WHOI has always been a pleasure,” says Edith, who worked in the chemistry lab of Werner Deuser from 1966 to 1993, finishing her career as a Senior Research Assistant. Her specialty was working with sediment traps and with mass spectrometers, participating in the growth of paleoceanography before the field even had a name. “There is a great work climate, and there is a tremendous relationship between the scientists and technical staff,” she says.

“We have incredible talent at WHOI, from scientists to support people to staff assistants,” adds Dave, a Scientist Emeritus since 1995. He was a self-proclaimed “jack of all trades” during a career that included stints as Sea Grant Coordinator, Director of the Marine Policy Center, and G&G Department Chair. He authored more than 130 refereed papers and wrote or edited twelve books, including the widely used
textbook Introduction to Oceanography and The Fisherman’s Ocean, a popular science book that combines his scientific vocation with his lifelong avocation. “At WHOI, I was fortunate to be able to change my career without giving up my career,” he says. “Every Institution scientist is an entrepreneur, and we are only limited by our own imagination.”

Blessed by good investments over the years, Dave and Edith Ross now intend to leave part of their estate to WHOI. “Woods Hole has been very good to us, and we believe in this Institution, so why not give something back,” says Dave. “We’ve seen what can be done with even a little bit of money. We’ve got to keep investing in the future. Small seeds can reap big harvests.”