NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

​OCPL’s George Retires

Jill George wearing sunglasses stands next to Shannon Bldg. plaque outside Bldg. 1.
Jill George helped with the design and installation of several plaques in Bldg. 1 over the years.

It’s said a picture is worth a thousand words. A great image can embody a story and, critical to NIH’s mission, help explain the science. To envision and create those vibrant images is a skill honed by Jill George, who retired in October and will be sorely missed, not only for her talent but also for her friendliness, kindness and patience.

For 15 years, George helped develop visuals and presentations for NIH leadership. As a visual information specialist in the Director’s Presentations Branch of OD’s Office of Communications and Public Liaison (OCPL), she produced materials for speeches, online and print publications and social media.

“I can’t count how many images you inserted into my slide decks to make them less boring,” said Dr. Lawrence Tabak, NIH principal deputy director, on a virtual retirement montage. “And you did this with great humor, expertise and speed. No matter what the deadline, somehow you were always able to meet it.”

George arrived at NIH to assist then-NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni and later worked closely with director Dr. Francis Collins, including developing countless images for his Director’s Blog.

“Little by little over these 12 years, Jill has gotten into my head and she knows, almost before I do, what kind of a visual approach would work,” said Collins. “We thank you for everything you’ve done for us—for your creativity, for your smile, for your sense of humor, for your ability to take ideas and turn them into pictures that have illuminated everything that NIH is trying to do.”

George said the presentations team figuratively goes to Oz. “We’d pretend we’re Dorothy in Kansas” to help relate to the curious non-scientist, she said. “My strong point is to understand the top-lying message and bring it home, so science is fun for everybody.”

Three graphics George helped design: 1 is a stack of books atop a beach chair underneath a colorful umbrella by the sea; 2 is double-stranded DNA running across a cancerous cell; 3 is a vaccine bottle with nanoparticles and colorful Ys representing antibody responses.
“I didn’t create anything from whole cloth,” said George, “but rather re-envisioned things to offer the optimal context” for the Director’s Blog. George illustrations include (from l) suggested summer reading for scientists, precision oncology gene changes predict immunotherapy response and nanoparticle tech holds promise against coronavirus strains.

It turns out, George may have been genetically predisposed to working in the field of visual arts. Her older sister enjoys painting, her younger sister, crafting. Her brother is a dental technician who flexes his artistic side creating and color-matching teeth. “We are all artists in our own right,” she said.

George graduated with a B.S. in biology from Roanoke College and then spent 6 years working as a marketing assistant and lab tech at Bethesda Research Laboratories (before it became Life Technologies and later Invitrogen). That first job is forever near and dear to her heart, as it’s where she met her husband, Jay, who was working on his doctorate and would come lecture at the lab.

Years later, after working various other jobs and raising two children—Jason and Sara—George came to work as an administrative assistant at Palladian Partners, a job that ultimately led her to NIH.  

“I always understood the importance of computers and databases, and I wanted to learn as much about computers as possible,” recounted George, who asked her husband to teach her how to use PowerPoint. Soon after, a supervisor at Palladian asked if anyone on staff knew PowerPoint; NIH was looking for someone to help with presentations.

At the time, “I knew the basics—not much—but I knew how to get to the Help button,” she quipped. “So I went to NIH and met John Burklow and the rest is history. They hired me!” It was a great fit, she said: better salary, easier commute from her home in Gaithersburg and an office with a view, not to mention many beloved colleagues, including Dr. Kim Pelis. They not only worked together creating speeches, but also shared an office and the same birthday.

Pelis recollected, “Jill, you’ve not only been our goodwill ambassador and logistics queen, you’ve also been our PowerPoint pro, our constant voice of reason and my speeches’ better half.”

A smiling Jill in a black t-shirt that reads "PawMa" sits at home in front of a Christmas tree snuggled with black and white dog.
Jill George with Izzy

“Talk about a lifesaver,” said Burklow of George’s technical and design assistance. More than that, though, “It’s who you are that we cherish so much—always easy to work with, always quick to laugh, always willing to jump in and help out even on short, or zero, notice,” said Burklow, Collins’s acting chief of staff. “You’re a kind, thoughtful, even-keeled person—such a delight to have as a co-worker.”

Always a people person, George especially enjoyed volunteering with the Combined Federal Campaign, a great cause that connected her with people across NIH. Working for OCPL and Collins also led her to meet and collaborate with many NIH’ers—as she researched images and sought talking points, data, historical tidbits and other information. “You get to appreciate the resources you have within OCPL,” she said. “Everyone is amazing in our group.”

Now, in retirement, George said her first order of business is cleaning out her closets. “It’s a goal to find out what my house has in it,” she said. She also looks forward to traveling more after Covid subsides. 

Perhaps her greatest joy in retirement is the chance to spend lots more time with her children and her grandkids—Brayden, 3, and Savannah, 1—who call her “Oma,” as well as play “PawMa” to her daughter’s dog, Izzy. 

“Jill was the always-smiling, ever-friendly face of the NIH Director’s speeches team,” said Rebecca Kolberg, chief, OCPL Presentations Branch. “She will be greatly missed not only by the NIH director and her co-workers, but by many people all across the NIH community.” 

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The NIH Record, founded in 1949, is the biweekly newsletter for employees of the National Institutes of Health.

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