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4 minute read
Elizabeth Gleick

THERE ARE TWO JEFFREY WIGANDS. ONE IS the grave, embattled, righteous man millions of viewers watched on 60 Minutes last month as he offered up potentially devastating inside information about the machinations of his former employer, tobacco giant Brown & Williamson. Then there is the somewhat antic teacher his high school students know and love. One day recently he was darting about the dingy science classroom at DuPont Manual High School in Louisville, Kentucky, like a gnome on triple espresso, questioning and wisecracking in his rapid-fire Bronx rasp as 30 ninth-grade advanced physical-science students went over results of field research. DuPont principal Beverly Keepers remembers walking in one time on Wigand, who holds a Ph.D. in endocrinology and biochemistry, to find him standing on a table juggling golf balls and keeping up a running patter on the properties of matter in motion. Says student Irina Rasputnis: “He’s, like, the best teacher I’ve had this year.”

Though much has been made of the fact that Wigand once earned $300,000 a year as vice president for research and development at B&W and is now reduced to a $30,000 teaching salary, in many ways Wigand’s new profession suits him better. After a long career in the biomedical field working for such companies as Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, he was unprepared, he says, for the rough-and-tumble culture he encountered at B&W when he started work there in 1989–a corporate environment dominated not by the scientists but by advertising and marketing men, and lawyers.

In the dossier B&W compiled about Wigand to help discredit his testimony, the whistle blower comes across as a chronic troublemaker, quick to complain if his consumer goods were lost or damaged. He also left a previous job under something of a cloud. Several weeks ago, Jack Paller, CEO of Biosonics, Inc., a New Jersey medical-device company, told TIME that in 1987 he had demanded the resignation of Wigand, who was chief operating officer, because he was abusive to the staff. Wigand’s attorney contends his client was concerned that Paller was misrepresenting the efficacy of a product to the FDA and blew the whistle. The FDA did, in fact, investigate the device but found nothing improper. To many who have worked with him, Wigand possesses great integrity and refuses to engage in corporate gamesmanship. “If someone hands him a line of crap, he says, ‘That’s a line of crap,'” says Richard O’Leary, a psychologist and colleague of Wigand’s in the 1980s at E. Merck Diagnostic Systems. Although O’Leary says his colleague was sometimes impatient, “I have never known him to cross the line into abusive behavior.”

The B&W gumshoes also unearthed a domestic-violence complaint in his past, but Wigand takes issue with the dossier’s claim that he “beat his wife.” He does admit that he and his wife Lucretia had a serious fight in 1993, that 911 was called and that he volunteered to attend anger-control classes for about a week. “I don’t think anybody is as pure as the driven snow,” he says. “They’ve distorted the truth. It’s not different from what they’ve done traditionally.” Though he and his wife reconciled, in late January Wigand returned home from the airport after receiving an award in New York City to find that Lucretia had filed for divorce. “I saw this letter from an attorney and said, ‘Hell, I don’t want this,'” Wigand recalls. “But my little girl Rachel, she likes to open mail. She said, ‘Open this.’ So I opened it. I almost dropped.” Lucretia Wigand says through her lawyer that “the notoriety of the claims and counterclaims between Dr. Wigand and the tobacco industry have caused tremendous stress to the family.” Wigand now lives in a bare bachelor apartment, while his two daughters, Rachel, 9, who has spina bifida and requires expensive daily medical treatments, and Nicole, 7, remain with their mother. Lucretia’s job at a Louisville department store offers adequate medical coverage for Rachel, whose condition is improving.

When asked if whistle blowing has been worth the price, Wigand responds, “I don’t know yet.” About all he can be sure of these days, he says, is that unlike at his last job, “I make a difference. I feel good at the end of the day.”

–By Elizabeth Gleick. Reported by Elaine Shannon/Louisville

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