Linda Chamberlain

Alcor Member Profile
From Cryonics July-August 2018
Learn about Alcor’s co-founder and cryonics pioneer, Linda Chamberlain.

By Nicole Weinstock

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“A couple young kids full of spit and hubris. We had no idea how hard it would be.... So we decided we’d just start Alcor.” It’s hard to fault Linda for that extra serving of chutzpah so many years ago, given that she and her husband, Fred, succeeded in creating a now 46-year-old organization responsible for the future cryopreservation of more than 1,000 people with 156 patients in storage—something that was purely theoretical in the days of Alcor’s founding. Indeed, a youthful degree of pomposity was quite the asset from where we stand now, although, one is hard-pressed to observe any trace of it from the gently self-deprecating laughter on the other end of the phone.


Linda takes a photo break on a weekend bike ride in 2018.

The Gypsy Life

There’s a certain get-up-and-go about Linda, a pioneering shade of determination mixed with classic Midwestern work ethic that seems to have colored her life from a young age. She was one of those kids who grew up everywhere and nowhere. “Well, I guess you’d have to say I was kind of a gypsy,” says Linda. “I was born in the state of Washington, and moved when I was three months old. Then I never stopped moving.” She eventually landed in the Los Angeles area for high school by way of Montana and Wyoming, where she spent the bulk portion of her elementary and middle school years.


Linda (bottom right) poses for a family photo.

Right around the time of their Southern California move, Linda’s parents divorced, and she and her older brother moved in with her mom, Arlene. Linda has fond memories of the three of them spending Friday and Saturday nights in with a glass of wine, chatting politics and philosophy. They were underaged, but her mom wanted to ensure that any experimentation occurred under her supervision.

Arlene was an independent thinker and a strong feminist who Linda credits for much of her individualism. “The main thing that I got from my mother was, ‘Be yourself, and always question authority.’ So I’m sure that was the roots of why I was independent as far as thinking about cryonics and wanting to become a philosophy professor. Things like that.”

Indeed, Linda might’ve rubbed elbows with Plato in the cave were it not for her discovery of cryonics. “Philosophy was extremely interesting to me. I couldn’t get enough. I couldn’t read enough about philosophy.” She became enamored with the writings and philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of best-sellers Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, among other successes. But though Rand promoted her objectivist philosophy rather heavily throughout college campuses during the 1960s and 70s, her work wasn’t represented in Linda’s classes. “I was very dismayed, because I thought, ‘She’s the most important modern thinker we have,’ but she was just totally dismissed.” And so, for a time, Linda was intent on becoming a philosophy professor in an effort to do justice to Rand’s literature in academia.

An Exciting Prospect

As she delved further into philosophy, Linda stumbled upon Robert Ettinger, and his groundbreaking book, The Prospect of Immortality. “Being an atheist, I just got on to it immediately,” Linda recalls. “I had given up on there being any afterlife or anything else, and so I just assumed that when I’m dead, I’m gone, that’s it. Then I read Ettinger’s book, and I thought ‘Hallelujah! Maybe not!’”

She didn’t waste any time investigating that possibility. Linda wrote a letter to Ettinger inquiring about any cryonics organizations or activities to speak of in California. He suggested that she get in touch with a small organization that was going to be working to sponsor the Third Annual Cryonics Conference to be held in Los Angeles that year. Linda joined the event committee, and one fateful committee lunch later, found herself face to face with her future partner in love and in work.

From Burger to Beloved

“[Fred] was sitting directly across from me. He was so excited. He was talking about this company—I think it was Altair—and how you could send away to get the plans and the parts to build your own personal computer.... Lightning was flashing out of his eyes.... His hamburger came, and he just kept talking. He didn’t skip a beat. He picked up the hamburger—it was huge, like, the kind of thing you couldn’t put your mouth around—and ate half of it at once. He was munching away, talking about personal computers, and I thought, ‘I really want to get to know this guy. He’s fascinating!’”

After their initial introduction, Linda and Fred came to know each other through regular carpooling to the committee meetings. She asked for a ride one week when her car was out of commission, but Fred offered to pick her up anytime moving forward.

Their budding friendship was strained by Linda’s decision to move to Idaho with her then boyfriend. The couple planned to escape urban life, and homestead in a cabin of their own construction in Idaho. But soon after her relocation, Linda realized that she couldn’t satisfy her passion for cryonics under the circumstances, so they separated, and she returned to Los Angeles. Unbeknownst to each other, Fred had reached the same conclusion at home in Pasadena. Both newly single in LA, their commitment to cryonics and shared enthusiasm for an objectivist framework helped bring them together. They became legally married in 1971.

“I always tell people Fred was the romantic,” Linda says. After a brief and disappointing marriage of her own, her parents’ divorce, and that of other friends around her, she was quite skeptical about the prospect of marriage. “I was really worried that it would ruin our love affair.” But Fred was committed to making it official, so Linda suggested a compromise: as long as they could skip the “standard trappings”—the white dress, the church, etc—then she would acquiesce to a civil marriage at city hall. But at the last minute, a cryonics research colleague with a minister’s license, offered to marry them at home. They agreed, and exchanged rings one fine Sunday afternoon.


The Grand Canyon frames Fred and Linda on a southwestern adventure.

Founding Alcor

Linda and Fred didn’t waste any time after the altar to found Alcor, which became official the very next year. Their swift pacing was fueled, in large part, by the ailing health of Fred’s father, Fred Chamberlain Jr. He had lived through a couple of strokes already, and suffered from poor kidneys and diabetes. “We knew he didn’t have very much time left,” says Linda. “But there was no capability in California, and we didn’t want to move to Detroit. We had to create the capability.”


The Chamberlains study their prototype perfusion machine.

Now we’ve come full circle to the “spit and hubris” moment, as Linda put it before. One of the reasons why a certain amount of courage in conviction was so vital at that time, was due to the largely theoretical nature of cryonics:

“In those days everybody looked at us as a couple of idiots. We were just lunatics. I remember the first time we were interviewed on TV—wow! We get down there and find out that it was an afternoon talk show. They were going to have multiple guests, and we were scheduled between a retired bullfighter and a prostitute.”

Apart from the media challenges, they also faced a lack of inertia from those people who were interested in cryonics. As Linda puts it, “They just wanted to get together on Sunday afternoon and talk about it.” But she and Fred needed to actually do something about it; Fred’s father depended on it.

Though socio-cultural circumstances may not have been in their favor, professional circumstances were. At the time, Fred was working as an engineer for the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), making enough money to support the two of them. They decided to take advantage of that, so Linda could put her full force towards building Alcor. Fred continued to work Monday through Friday at JPL, while Linda spent her workweek drumming up support and securing contracts. But there’s no rest for the weary, as they say, so they also spent weekends out of the city together in their camper to develop the very first manual detailing standby and transport procedures for volunteer technicians to-be.


Fred and Linda hard at work on the very first Alcor cryonics manual.

It’s a rare couple that can last in business and in love, but the Chamberlains made it with flying colors. “Well, we were enormously lucky in that we were so complementary that we never had an argument. We worked hand in hand.” Their shared passion for objective reality also cleared a path of mutual understanding. “If we have a difference of opinion,” says Linda, “neither one of us is attempting to convert the other one to our way of thinking. We’re both trying to figure out, ‘What is the objective reality here?’ Not what one of us wants it to be.”

Part of paving the way for a stable Alcor, was the creation of a sister company. Alcor had to be a nonprofit, in order to use the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA) so it could accept member patients. The nonprofit framework also allows for the prioritization of members and patients, as opposed to shareholders. But since Linda and Fred were libertarian leaning, and asking for donations wasn’t on their Christmas list, they created Manrise Corporation to support the infrastructure necessary to fulfilling Alcor’s mission.

Their dedication to each other, and to Alcor, paid off in the summer of 1976 when Fred’s father was successfully cryopreserved. It was the first neuropreservation in history.

Taking a Step Back

Despite this and other successes at Alcor over the years that followed, the Chamberlains’ ultimate goal was always to create a thriving organization with others at the helm. “Fred and I never really saw ourselves as being the heads of Alcor forever. We wanted to build it to be sufficiently strong, to attract the MDs and the PhDs and the MBAs that it would need to become a robust, longlasting, ethical organization.”

Slowly but surely, they released day-today operational responsibilities to other talent, and eventually became members of the Board of Directors. Shortly after the neuropreservation of Fred’s father in 1976, they moved to Lake Tahoe to start a property management company, feeling confident leaving the organization in the hands of Mike Darwin and Jerry Leaf. “They were doing an awesome job of building it up,” says Linda. From their new mountain home, meanwhile, Fred and Linda ran the annual Lake Tahoe Life Extension Festival, a great platform for presentations and other membership-boosting activities.

Unfortunately, the mountain cheer was interrupted by a lawsuit related to the Chatsworth disaster. Family members from the nine people who were stored by and thawed through a series of poor decisionmaking on the part of another cryonics organization, separate from Alcor, were looking for retribution. “They were trying to find any deep pockets that they could find,” recalls Linda. “They didn’t know that Fred and I didn’t have deep pockets.” This prompted the Chamberlain’s departure from the Alcor Board of Directors, hoping their total separation would protect Alcor and Manrise.

Fred and Linda were eventually released from the lawsuit, after paying several thousand dollars in legal fees. Nevertheless, the experience precipitated two innovative ideas to help safeguard Alcor, its members, and its patients from a similar fate going forward. The first was to have members arrange funding in advance through life insurance; no monthly payments by surviving family relations who could lose interest over time and cease making payments. The second was to begin what, with the efforts and hard work of others within Alcor, has grown into what is now known as the Patient Care Trust, to keep patients safe, to provide for revival and even rehabilitation into a future world should that be necessary.

Convincing Arlene

One of the greatest challenges of cryonics for many members, is bringing loved ones into the future with you. Linda was no exception to the rule. While she knew that Fred’s father and Fred would eventually be cryopreserved, she wanted her mother to be an indefinite part of her future. For years, Arlene dismissed cryonics. Linda says, “I would try to talk to her about cryonics, and she would tell her friends, ‘This is just another one of those crazy ideas that my daughter is into these days. It’s like when she was growing up and wanted to be a fireman, a lion tamer’.... She never took it seriously no matter how much I tried to talk to her.” But eventually, after a very emotional appeal from her daughter, Arlene agreed to be cryopreserved. “I don’t know if it was the alcohol or the argument, but she decided to do it,” laughs Linda. However, she adds, “She continued to tell her friends, ‘I’m only doing it for my daughter.’”

At 68 Arlene was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Doctors expected her to live six months at most. After suffering a rapid decline in health, she made the courageous decision to speed her passing via voluntary dehydration in her own home. Volunteers began showing up there, thanks to Linda and Fred’s careful standby planning, an effort that impacted more than the quality of Arlene’s cryopreservation. Linda describes the scene:

“At that point, with all these people there sleeping on the floor and setting up the equipment, [my mom] told me that she was very impressed. She said, ‘You know, my own friends have stopped coming to visit me, and you have all these people here who don’t even know me, who have taken off work to help me. There’s a tremendous amount of commitment, and all this commitment makes me rethink. I guess I am really interested in doing this for myself after all.’”

Linda was so moved by her mom’s shift in attitude, that she made her a promise inspired by Carl Sagan’s TV series, Cosmos: to one day toast their collective return to life in the most expensive resort on Titan, overlooking the rings of Saturn.

Moving Closer to Titan

“I guess, because I always loved philosophy, I tend to be one of those people that thinks that the future is going to be a really great place,” says Linda. She is a big proponent of Ray Kurzweil and the singularity. Linda takes heart in the fact that the future can bring many solutions to problems that impact us now. She anticipates the value of nanotechnology in solving some of our greatest environmental concerns, and excitedly anticipates the colonization of other planets, not to mention merging with AI.

“I think it will be a continual march upwards as we go into the future. I don’t think we’ll ever be bored due to the fact that we’ll have unlimited life spans. There will still be challenges. There will be things to work on.”

A significant factor in closing in on the proverbial Titan, is how members approach cryonics now. After all, if you’re not alive, it’ll be hard to join Linda and her family in their celebratory inspired cocktail. To that end, Linda urges members to be transparent about their cryonics arrangements:

“It used to be difficult due to fear that people would reject you. My husband, Fred, and I have lost friends over the decades. But those cases were mostly in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. I have always been very open about my involvement in Alcor. In the last decade or so I find that no one has decided to unfriend me. On the contrary, people usually find it fascinating. When I was retired in Florida, I became the local celebrity in our mobile home community. When introducing me to someone, people would almost always point out very enthusiastically that I was involved in cryonics.”

Talent is another vital area in the fruition of a future through cryonics. “Medical skills and research skills are both very important to continue to create better and better protocols.” Linda believes that being fully accepted into the medical community hinges, in large part, on the ability to recruit allied doctors and nurses. Not only do they lend credibility to the cause, but they can also staff the many cryonicsfriendly facilities that Linda dreams of seeing around the country.


Linda and Fred celebrate their anniversary over dinner in Paris in 1998.

Love Renewed

In 2002, the Chamberlains decided to renew their marriage vows on the Mexican island of Cozumel. After a surprise second session of scuba diving, they hiked back up to their hotel, sopping wet, to change into their traditional Mayan wedding garb. To mark their 31 years of marriage, they had decided to celebrate with a Mayan ceremony. Remembering her initial reservations about marriage, Linda was sure to include this note in her renewal vows: “Thirty-one years after we’ve been married, I think I can say that our marriage never came close to having a negative effect on our love affair.”


Linda and Fred pose at their vow renewal in 2002.


The couple shows off off their traditional Mayan wedding garb as they walk the sands of Cozumel for their vow renewal.

The affair continues as the two wait to be reunited after Fred’s cryopreservation at Alcor in 2012. In the meantime, Linda has since returned to work at Alcor as their Special Projects Manager, a daily reminder of the fruits of strength and perseverance. As her mother once put it, “You and I are both tough broads.”

To reach Linda, you can email her at linda@alcor.org, or learn more about her visions of the future by reading one of her two books, available on Amazon: Star Pebble, and LifeQuest: Dozens of Stories about Cryonics, Uploading, and other Transhuman Adventures (co-authored with Fred).


Did you know Chamberlains used to spelunk? Here’s Linda in one of nature’s greatest hugs.

 

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