Does Leap Day Spark Romance?

February 29th Kindles Long Lasting Love (at least for one couple)

Posted Feb 28, 2016

Howard & Georgeanna, used witih permission from Jones Family
Source: Howard & Georgeanna, used witih permission from Jones Family

The last time it was February 29th was, of course, four years ago, and I received this email from my 101-year-old friend.

“Apropos of absolutely nothing,” wrote Dr. Howard W. Jones, Jr., “Leap Year today, 2012 happens to be the 80th anniversary of the Leap Day presentation of Harvey Cushing in Hurd Hall at Hopkins when I re-met Georgeanna prior to her entry to medical school.” 

Dr. Jones died this summer. He was 104 years old. For years, he told that Leap Day story to anyone who would listen. It

The Joneses circa 1990, used with permission from Jones Family
Source: The Joneses circa 1990, used with permission from Jones Family

combined his favorite topics: sex hormones and Georgeanna King Seegar, his late-wife and colleague. The two of them worked side by side for more than half a century. Literally side-by-side, they shared one desk, which is nearly as remarkable as their career triumphs. The two of them were leaders in reproductive endocrinology and among other things, helped create America’s first test tube baby and promote all the newfangled fertility treatments.

In any event, Jones loved to talk about Leap Day because it was on that evening, February 29th, 1932, that he said he fell in love with Georgeanna; Georgeanna fell in love with sex hormones; and eventually she learned to love him and he learned to love sex hormones and the two of them lived and worked happily-ever after. It’s a lovely story, but it bypasses some of the other exciting things going on that fateful day.

Besides the girl-meets-boy subtext, the real story was the speaker, Harvey Cushing, a pioneering brain surgeon. He showed images of so-called circus freaks (the fat lady, the bearded lady and so on) and insisted that these people should no longer be ogled but cared for in a hospital. Then he said he discovered the hormone underpinnings that explained their abnormalities.

A tiny hormone-spewing brain tumor wreaked havoc on the body—physically and psychologically. This talk, later written up in the esteemed Johns Hopkins Bulletin, fueled excitement for the field of hormone research that was really just getting underway.

 And yes, it was, as Jones, liked to say the spark that flamed his til-death-do-us-part romance.

Every time Jones told the Leap Year story, he topped it off with the same punch line:

“Years later she (meaning Georgeanna) would say this meeting changed her life. And I thought she meant it changed her life because she met me. But the truth is that she meant it changed her life because she was so fascinated with Harvey Cushing.”

That was supposed to be funny: As in he fell in love with her, but she really fell in love with endocrinology.

Did Howard exaggerate this yarn of besotted youth? Perhaps. But in hindsight, we all sew the fabric of our lives so the loose threads come together in way that makes sense to ourselves. And for the late Howard and Georgeanna Jones, I know every four years—on February 29th—I’ll be thinking about that “apropos-of-nothing” email which will make me think about Jones’s long-lasting marriage and his long-lasting career—and well, sex hormones. 

For Further reading: 

Howard & Georgeanna: Sixty Year of Marriage and Medicine, By Howard W. Jones, Jr. 

Howard Jones published his final book at the age of 102, It’s a memoir of his marriage and career. He glosses over the more controversial work (his surgery on intersex and founding one of the first sex-change clinics, but delves into the early years of IVF, and the controversies that ensued. 

Cheating Time: Science, Sex, and Aging, by Roger Gosden

 Gosden, a reproductive endocrinologist, provides an entertaining read of all the things we’ve done to try to turn back our biological clock

Heightened Expectations: The Rise of the Human Growth Hormone Industry in America, By Aimee Medeiros (a smart take on a complicated history)