Lab Partners Discover Shared Family Legacy

When Sophie Woods '18 and Mary Catharine McKeithen '18 first met at a campus dance troupe audition, they had no idea that there was a historical precedent of sorts for their imminent friendship. The first-year hallmates soon learned that their family histories connect back two generations.

Upon graduating from medical school in Sweden, McKeithen's grandfather, Gunnar Blomquist, accepted a position at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. The man who hired him was Davidson graduate and Rhodes Scholar Carlton Chapman '36.

"It was sort of a gamble for Chapman to hire my grandfather from Sweden," McKeithen said, "so he joked, 'If I hire you, your first-born child has to go to Davidson.'"

That first-born child happened to be McKeithen's mother, Polly Blomquist '87, who met McKeithen's father, Dan McKeithen '85, at Davidson.

At UTSW Medical Center, Blomquist became friends with his colleague, Jerry Mitchell, who is Woods' grandfather.

Connecting the Davidson Dots

"Sophie told me her mom grew up in Dallas, but Dallas is a big city and I didn't think anything of it," said McKeithen, who also grew up in Dallas.

But Woods' mother encouraged her to find out more about McKeithen's family.

"My mom insisted I find out Mary Catharine's mom's maiden name," Woods said. "When I told her it was Blomquist, she asked, 'Is there any chance her grandfather was a physician?'"

With that confirmation, the girls discovered that their grandfathers, Gunnar Blomquist and Jerry Mitchell, had worked together for 40 years and had been good friends.

And the medical center wasn't the only tie that brought the families together. 

"Our moms had met when they were younger," Woods said.

"And I'm pretty sure Sophie's granddad was at my parent's wedding," McKeithen added. "Now we're friends at Davidson, and our moms are in touch, it has brought our families back together."

While at Davidson, Woods and McKeithen are furthering their grandfathers' legacies in more ways than one. Both girls plan to major in biology, and have been lab partners for two semesters.

"We've been asking our professors to keep assigning us as partners, saying 'You can't break up the multi-generational partnership!'" McKeithen said.

Unique Community

Could it be that the unique, close-knit Davidson community played an important role in the girls' eventual meeting? Woods and McKeithen think so.

"My family has many Davidson connections, and I think the small community has helped shape them," said McKeithen. "And I think the fact that Sophie and I became friends completely outside of this says something about the type of person Davidson attracts. The fact that you have three generations of people who get along really well and all of them have connections to Davidson says something about the sense of community here."

McKeithen insists that she did not select Davidson just because her parents did.

"I looked at other schools and applied other places, but for some reason Davidson always called to me," she said.

Woods, a San Diego native, ended up at Davidson almost by accident, she said.

"My college counselor recommended Davidson, so I came to visit," she explained. "I told my mom that there was no way I was interested in this small town, but I took the tour and ended up loving the school. I even ended up applying early decision!"

While she and McKeithen continue to move forward in their biology majors, they plan to pursue different courses after graduation. McKeithen aims to work in the public health sector, and Woods wants to attend law school.

But with such strong family ties and friendship, surely it will be only a matter of time before their paths cross again.


  • May 20, 2016