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Vol. LXV, No. 9

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April 26, 2013

 

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Milestones

Mentor to Many
NIGMS’s McNairy Retires After 37 Years of Federal Service
By Jilliene Drayton

Over 200 colleagues, family members and friends from as far away as Hawaii attended Dr. Sidney McNairy’s retirement reception

Dr. Sidney McNairy

Over 200 colleagues, family members and friends from as far away as Hawaii attended Dr. Sidney McNairy’s retirement reception. During the event, Dr. Karam Soliman (r) of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University presented McNairy with the university’s President’s Award.

Headshot Photo: Melinda Urbina

“My mother once told me that no excuse was good enough for failure,” said Dr. Sidney A. McNairy, Jr. “She did not achieve more than an eighth-grade education, but she made sure that her children succeeded.”

McNairy’s mother encouraged him to reach goals that at the time seemed unattainable for an African American in the segregated south. McNairy not only accomplished his own career dreams, but also went on to ensure that others like him achieved theirs. After nearly four decades of federal service, all at NIH, McNairy recently retired as chief of the Capacity Building Branch in the NIGMS Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity.

Born in the projects of Memphis, Tenn., McNairy developed an interest in science at a young age. “I occasionally stayed on my grandmother’s farm, where I was fascinated by everything from how chickens hatched from eggs to how milk made butter,” he said. “I decided to pursue science because I had a curiosity and an aptitude for it and math.”

The first of his family to graduate from college, McNairy earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis. He then pursued a master’s degree in biochemistry at Purdue University, where he was 1 of 12 African-American graduate students. At the urging of his senior thesis committee, McNairy went on to earn a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Purdue.

McNairy began his professional career at Southern University in Baton Rouge, where he served as a professor of biochemistry and director of the Health Research Center. He also held many visiting scientist appointments at both companies and federal agencies, including Pfizer, Eli Lilly, General Electric, Standard Oil of California and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A mentor to many, McNairy said he worked to motivate and inspire students: “I tasked my students with writing their own original research papers. Many of my mentees went on to successful careers in research and medicine.”

After 10 years in academia, McNairy joined NIH as a program director at what was then the Division of Research Resources (later the National Center for Research Resources). “I originally visited NIH to learn how to compete for research support,” he recalled. “I was then offered a permanent job, and I decided to stay for a year—but that 1 year turned into 37.”

In 1995, McNairy was appointed associate director for research infrastructure and director of the Division of Research Infrastructure at NCRR. In this position, he developed and oversaw the Research Centers in Minority Institutions (RCMI), Institutional Development Award (IDeA) and Research Infrastructure in Minority Institutions programs. He also directed the Animal and Research Facilities Improvement programs and the Science Education Partnership Awards.

In early 2012, after NCRR was dissolved, McNairy joined NIGMS, where he continued to manage the IDeA program as well as two other NIGMS-supported capacity-building programs.

“Sidney made a tremendous impact on the IDeA and the RCMI programs,” said Dr. Fred Taylor, new chief of the Capacity Building Branch. “His unwavering commitment and passion to address the health issues that affect many of the communities that these programs serve are what helped make IDeA and RCMI successful today.”

During his career, McNairy received many honors and awards, including nine honorary doctorate degrees, election to the board of trustees at his alma mater and several NIH Director’s Awards. He also led an NIH delegation to the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, which he described as one of the highlights of his career.

In retirement, McNairy said he first wants to wind down—but only for a short period. “I plan to serve as a mentor for developing investigators, perhaps return to teaching, pursue my culinary interests and one day write a book.”

Taylor Named NIGMS Capacity-Building Chief

Picture of Dr. W. Fred Taylor

Dr. W. Fred Taylor is the new chief of the Capacity Build­ing Branch in the NIGMS Division of Training, Work­force Development, and Diversity. The branch manages the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program, which fosters basic, translational and clinical biomedical research at institutions in states where NIH funding has historically been low. The branch also supports a number of pro­grams aimed at increasing the research capabili­ties of institutions with substantial enrollments of students from groups underrepresented in the biomedical and behavioral sciences as well as enhancing the research competitiveness of faculty at those institutions.

Taylor joined NIGMS in 2011 from the former National Center for Research Resources, where he was a health scientist administrator for 11 years, during which he helped guide the growth of the IDeA program. Before coming to NIH, he was deputy director of the thermal stress pro­gram and director of the hyperbaric environ­mental adaptation program at the Naval Medi­cal Research Institute.

Taylor earned a B.S. in biology from Saint Mary’s College of California and a Ph.D. in phys­iology from the University of Texas Health Sci­ence Center at San Antonio, where he also con­ducted postdoctoral research.

His honors include a 2012 NIH Director’s Award.

CSR Scientific Review Officer Sinnett Retires

CSR’s Dr. Everett Sinnett recently retired.

CSR’s Dr. Everett Sinnett recently retired.

Retirement will allow Dr. Everett Sinnett to take a deep breath. Good, deep breaths have been his field of interest throughout his career, including 32 years at NIH. He retired in December as a scientific review officer for the respiratory integrative biology and translational research study section at the Center for Scientific Review.

Growing up near the ocean in Maine, Sinnett became intrigued by comparative mammalian lung mechanics, especially the adaptation of marine mammals to their environments. After a B.S. in biology from MIT, he earned his Ph.D. in marine biology from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. One notable research expedition took him to Antarctica, where he spent two months studying Weddell seals.

Sinnett came to NHLBI in 1980 after postdoctoral work at Harvard School of Public Health. As a program officer, Sinnett said a highlight was serving as contract officer for the HIFI (High Frequency Intervention) trial. This trial found that a new form of ventilation for premature infants, about to be widely used, could have serious side effects.

“This was a critical study that required an excruciating level of detail,” said James Kiley, director of NHLBI’s Division of Lung Diseases. “With this study and the rest of his portfolio, Ev did everything at the highest level.” When Kiley joined NIH, he noted, “Ev served in a mentoring role, helping me understand my new position as a health scientist administrator.”

In 1990, Sinnett moved to CSR, where he took over the first respiratory-focused study section. (Previously, cardiovascular review groups considered this research.)

At CSR, as at NHLBI, Sinnett’s thoroughness was valued. “Ev became an institution over his many years of service,” said Lawrence Boerboom, chief of the cardiovascular and respiratory services integrated review group. “He was a meticulous organizer of his review meetings. He prided himself in carefully assessing the needs of each application in his study section and recruiting reviewers to meet those needs.”

When Sinnett came to NIH, paper and pen were the norm. He served on many committees to improve electronic processes, including being the CSR IMPAC II liaison for more than a decade. “Ev was the go-to person for us,” said Eugenia Chester, customer services manager in the Office of Extramural Research. “He was instrumental in helping us design and test systems that benefitted peer review and the whole NIH.”

A tennis, biking and all-around exercise enthusiast, Sinnett served on the NIH worksite health promotion action committee, leading to healthier offerings in vending machines and cafeterias, among other improvements. He mapped walking routes around Rockledge and advocated for no-cost access to showers at NIH for employees after they exercise on their own.

Sinnett donated 128 units of blood at the Clinical Center during his career, which he calculated as equivalent to his body weight.

Immediate plans include more time in Maine at a family home on Casco Bay and more tennis and bridge. He and wife Rachel will visit one of their two sons (they also have a daughter) in Beijing this year. Not surprisingly, he has been thinking about Beijing’s notorious air quality and its effect on respiration.

Former FOIA Chief Belk Mourned

Joanne Hebb Belk

Joanne Hebb Belk, 89, who directed NIH’s compliance with the Freedom of Information Act for many years, died Mar. 4 at her home in Hanover, N.H.

Belk was born in Detroit. She graduated from Framingham Academy and High School (Mass.) and spent summers and free time writing and editing for Boston area newspapers: the Framingham News and the Bostonian. She attended Simmons College, from which she received her B.S. in June 1944 and immediately entered the Women’s Army Corp.

In 1946, under the auspices of the GI Bill, she studied in Germany, Sweden and Switzerland for 1 year in the American Students Abroad Program. She returned to the United States to write on the staff of the Boston Herald.

In 1967, she joined the staff of Science magazine as an editor, received her paralegal certification from George Washington University in 1975, and, in 1977, began a 22-year career at NIH as acting director of the FOIA Office, part of the Office of Communications and Public Liaison, OD. She received an NIH Merit Award in 1989.

Belk retired in 1998, at age 75. In retirement, she travelled to Africa, Europe and Asia, often with her best friend Marilie “Mouse” Rockefeller of Washington.

She is survived by her son Samuel (“Q”) and two grandchildren.

OER’s Morton Retires from eRA After 44 Years at NIH
By Manju Subramanya

Oliver “Pete” Morton recently retired after 44 years at NIH. He was in charge of more than 30 electronic systems that process extramural grants.

Oliver “Pete” Morton recently retired after 44 years at NIH. He was in charge of more than 30 electronic systems that process extramural grants.

Tom Mason, a longtime colleague and friend of Oliver “Pete” Morton, program manager at OER’s Electronic Research Administration (eRA), competed with him one year on who could take the best photograph. On a trip to capture the cherry blossoms in D.C., Mason, the eRA operations chief, was disappointed—the crowds, tour buses and drizzle had ruined his chance of getting the right picture. Then Morton showed up with flawless renditions of the pink blossoms. Turns out he had simply used Photoshop to remove the extraneous stuff. Photography is a metaphor for Morton’s life, Mason said. “He focuses on what truly matters.”

That knack of separating the wheat from the chaff has stood Morton in good stead in his 44-year career at NIH. It started at the Clinical Center in 1969, when Morton was hired as a health physicist, wound through the Center for Information Technology and ended at eRA, which he joined in 2004. He retired at the end of March.

At eRA, where he oversaw the 30-plus electronic systems that process extramural grants, Morton quickly changed the organization from a pure IT shop to one that understood the extramural grants business and worked with the grants community to identify their needs and priorities. He introduced the concept of customer relationship managers, who worked with the 4,600 NIH staffers and the global community of over 165,000 researchers using the eRA systems.

“Pete introduced a real sense of customer service and made eRA systems as flexible and responsive as possible,” said Dr. Sally Rockey, NIH deputy director for extramural research and OER director. “With eRA policies and process, he has established a strong partnership with institutes and the extramural research community.”

Dr. Brent Stanfield, director of NIDDK’s Division of Extramural Activities, recalled that NIH was largely a paper environment before eRA’s IMPAC modules came into being. “The vast majority of NIH’s business is extramural funding,” he said. “If you took the systems away, there would be riots. We are all so dependent on it.

“Pete has achieved a lot. He has been very responsive to the needs of the NIH community,” Stanfield added.

“When we accomplished milestones of our systems, Pete has led the way,” Rockey said, citing Morton’s involvement in moving grant applications from paper to now almost 100 percent electronic. “He has been instrumental in changing the availability of eRA systems to 24/7, which is fantastic.”

Recently, Morton has facilitated collaboration with federal agencies such as NSF and DoD on areas of mutual benefit; eRA systems are already used by AHRQ, CDC, FDA, SAMHSA and VA. “eRA is seen as a trusted partner,” he said.

Senior eRA managers lauded Morton for his can-do attitude, his humility, his ability to make everyone feel valued, his calming force, his openness, his motivation of staff and his penchant for not taking life too seriously.

In retirement, Morton looks forward to spending more time with his wife, Cindy, his daughter Jennifer and playing with his 10-year-old grandson Chris. He also plans to tend to his 350-acre pine tree farms near Macon, Ga., and take photo expeditions.

Parting advice? “Listen very, very carefully to customers and staff and bring that input to bear on developing a vision of what our future should be,” Morton said. “It is the hardest thing to do, but the most important.”

NIH Mourns Sheldon Cohen
By Claudia Wair

Dr. Sheldon Cohen, circa 1984

Dr. Sheldon Cohen, circa 1984

Dr. Sheldon G. Cohen, 94, a noted research scientist, physician and medical historian, died Mar. 26 in his Chevy Chase home.

Cohen graduated from Ohio State University in 1940 and received his M.D. from New York University School of Medicine in 1943. After an internship at New York’s Bellevue Hospital, he served as a flight surgeon, rising to the rank of captain, with the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. Subsequently, he completed residencies in internal medicine and allergy at the Fort Howard Veterans Administration Hospital in affiliation with Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the University of Maryland, and then finished a research fellowship in applied physiology and immunology at the University of Pittsburgh.

From 1952 to 1972, he pursued a career in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., combining clinical practice in allergy and internal medicine and academic and research endeavors at Wilkes College. While a professor of experimental biology, he developed a biomedical teaching and research program for advanced undergraduate students.

He joined NIH in 1972 as a training consultant to NIAID. The following year, he became chief of the Allergy and Immunology Branch, and in 1977, was selected for the newly created position of director of the institute’s Immunology, Allergic and Immunologic Disease Program (now DAIT).

“Sheldon Cohen was a dedicated physician and scientist who made numerous contributions to the understanding of allergic diseases,” said NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci. “His long career at NIAID was marked by his enthusiasm for and commitment to the field, and his work as a medical historian leaves an enduring legacy.”

Cohen served in several professional societies, including as executive vice president of the Lupus Foundation of America and as director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Allergic Diseases. He also was a member of the WHO expert panel on immuno-logy and the National Research Council committee on aerobiology.

“Although busy as a science administrator, he always had time for consultations, often at great length, on difficult medical cases,” said FIC’s Richard Krause. “He was a gentleman of the old school: always kind, considerate and with the patience of Job when assisting others.”

Cohen joined the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) in 1950, and he became a fellow of the organization in 1953 and an emeritus fellow in 1989. He served as AAAAI historian from 1963 to 1969 and wrote historical retrospectives for the organization’s 25th and 50th anniversaries. He was awarded the AAAAI Distinguished Service Award in 1971.

After completing his tenure as director of the Immunology, Allergic and Immunologic Disease Program in 1988, he continued to work at NIH as a scientific advisor at NIAID and as visiting scholar at the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine. He worked closely with NLM staff to develop the Breath of Life exhibition. In 2001, he commissioned bronze busts of Edward Jenner, Louis Pasteur and Moses Maimonides for permanent display in NLM’s History of Medicine Division reading room.

Dr. Stephen Greenberg of NLM’s History of Medicine Division remembers that “Dr. Cohen was very fond of cheesecake, particularly with strawberries, but as he grew older, he was advised to limit his intake. To circumvent that, he would occasionally arrive in the History of Medicine Division with a cheesecake for the staff. I suspect he made deliveries to other offices as well.”

Cohen lived to see the third edition of his Excerpts from Classics in Allergy published in the weeks before his death. He was working on a new e-book on well-known public figures with asthma.

“Many will remember his inquisitive spirit, dedication and diligence,” said NIAID’s Dr. David Morens, “as well as the very high bar he set for other scholars in our institute.”

Cohen enjoyed fishing and freshwater sailing during his years in Pennsylvania. His curiosity led him to explore other cultures through international travel with friends and colleagues. More recently, he enjoyed watching college sports on television, and when his Ohio State teams took to the field or the court, he would kindly rib his University of Michigan great-nephew about the ongoing rivalry.

Dr. Bernard Janicki, Cohen’s onetime deputy, was “impressed by his extensive clinical and basic science knowledge and by his compassion, personal warmth and agile wit. We shared official travel experiences as well as many off-duty activities; my children welcomed him as an unofficial family member. He dedicated his life to serving others and will be missed very much.”

His sister, Bernyce Cohen Epstein, preceded him in death in 2004.

Cohen is survived by his nephew, Lee Epstein; niece, Jayne Epstein; and three great-nephews.

A memorial service will take place at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 19 at Temple Emanuel, 10101 Connecticut Ave., Kensington, MD 20895. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to NLM’s Historical and Rare Book Collection or to a charity of the donor’s choice.

Medical Arts’ Dreyfuss Dies at 58

Ricardo “Rick” Dreyfuss

Ricardo “Rick” Dreyfuss, who worked as a photomicroscoper for the Division of Medical Arts, Office of Research Services, died Mar. 14 at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring. He was 58 years old.

Dreyfuss had 33 years of experience in creating images that illustrated the most complex biomedical research results, processes and procedures. His photomicrographs graced the covers of countless scientific journals. He received the NIH Director’s Award in 1994.

In addition to his work as a photographer, Dreyfuss was a gifted artist and woodworker, and a musician. He was born in San Bernardino, Calif., and served in the Army in the 1970s in Germany.

Dreyfuss is survived by his wife of 30 years, Lana, four children, a brother and two sisters.


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