Dail Weir Mullins, Jr., took his first breath at the St. Louis Maternity Hospital on Feb. 9, 1944, and breathed his last on St. George Island, Sept. 28, 2016. In-between, as he liked to say, “What a long strange trip it’s been!”
Dail attended Webster Groves High School in St. Louis, Missouri along with his brother, Denny, and his sister, Linda. He then earned his bachelor of arts from Rhodes College, masters of science from the University of Memphis, and doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
In 1967, he married his wife of 16 years, Lucy Bartges Mullins, with whom in 1975 he had son Christopher, who became his lifelong pride and pal. Meanwhile, in 1969 he reported for duty in Vietnam, assigned to Americal Division and stationed at LZ Baldy and then Hawk Hill. He subsequently became active in the anti-war movement, a cause to which he remained committed throughout his life. He wrote numerous newspaper articles, columns, and editorials as well as poetry, essays, and fiction. One of his short stories about Vietnam won first place in the Hackney Literary Awards of 1987.
As a biology instructor and bench scientist in biochemistry at UAB, Dail worked on Origin of Life science. He published over 35 scientific papers between 1967 and 1984, when he became associate director of the UAB Honors Program, a university-wide, interdisciplinary curriculum and community serving a diverse range of students. He and Ada Long, the program’s director, came together as colleagues and team teachers in the honors program and, as of 1990, also as life partners. They carried their personal and professional partnership through and beyond their retirement to St. George Island in 2004, serving as founding co-editors of the two national honors journals and as co-organizers of the St. George Island Trash Patrol and yearly Franklin County Coastal Cleanup. Adding to his distinguished career as a professional scientist and amateur coastal ecologist, Dail got to collect and haul tons of dirty trash in his old Ford pickup.
As part of the annual, semester-long teaching team in honors for 20 years, Dail lectured on scientific topics such as “The Fate of the Earth,” “Dead Bees and Homosexual Flies,” and “Human Rights and the Crunch to Come,” earning the title “Dr. Doom.” Colleagues compared him to Carl Sagan with a wickedly funny twist. As a teacher, Dail changed hundreds of lives, and this collage of his students’ words about him characterize his legacy:
“A legend is gone; the world is a darker place… Dail Mullins, aka Dr. Doom, was irreverent, fun, open-minded, and blindingly intelligent… Dail had a child-like curiosity paired with a fierce intellect He was hilarious, gentle but tough as old boots, loving, sharp as a tack, fun, intelligent, irreplaceable… For all his Dr. Doom bluster, Dail Mullins was a sweet soul who liked to take care of others. He noticed the details not just of the universe, but of the individual… He was a great guy who would make you have to think even if you didn't want to… I am grateful for my time with him. My condolences to Ada Long and the universe… I'll see you in the cosmos, dear teacher, dear friend.”
He left an equally important legacy in his son. Christopher and his wife, Ashley, who had been one of Dail’s students in the honors program, recently gave Dail the gift of a granddaughter, Cleo Grey Mullins, now 14 months old.
Anyone who knew Dail knew that he was a devoted fan of the Allman Brothers, with whom he played a mean air guitar. These words of Duane Allman catch some of Dail’s spirit: “I will take love wherever I find it and offer it to everyone who will take it… seek knowledge from those wiser… and teach those who are willing to learn from me.”
Contributions to Apalachicola Riverkeeper would be a fine way to honor Dail.