When Morris Mixson started working as a stockroom clerk in the University of Florida’s chemistry department in 1948, he did so under chemistry curator Burton Otte.
Glad to have work after his time in the war and a few odds and ends after, Mixson became a protégé to Otte. He learned all the intricacies of the job, a behind-the-scenes role that keeps the chemistry department afloat.
Managing the purchases and shipments of hundreds of different chemicals. Storing them. Dispensing them to faculty and students. Keeping up with increasing regulations on them. Also managing beakers, flasks and all the other equipment.
But a noticeable difference emerged between the styles of mentor and protégé, who became the curator himself in the mid-‘60s upon Otte’s retirement.
Otte ran the stockroom “like a tyrant,” said William Dolbier, who’s been with the department since 1966 and today serves as its chair. Otte kept chemicals — especially the regularly used solvent ethyl alcohol during the Prohibition era — under lock and key, with multiple signatures needed and only professors allowed to check them out, never students.
“He ran that stockroom with an iron fist,” Dolbier said, “and then Morris was brought up and taught by Otte how to run the stockroom. But when Morris took it over, he had a much lighter hand.”