Medical Arts' Winterrowd Retires After 37 Years
By Rich McManus
Inside his conference room, where many of the ideas for the brilliant posters that promote medical meetings around NIH are hatched, there is a massive computer-generated poster bearing the visage of Ron Winterrowd, chief, since 1981, of NCRR's Medical Arts and Photography Branch. It looks like a huge planet -- Planet Ron -- and features his bemused grin shining benevolently over the proceedings below.
It's a nice piece of art -- like most of what's come out of his shop since he joined in 1960 -- because it's at once eyecatching and truthtelling. As many of the clients from NIH information offices and laboratories on campus can attest, reaching Planet Ron can take a bit of effort; he can be as silent as the stars as he sizes up a client's wishes through a sort of Zen-like osmosis. But once you arrive on the surface, Planet Ron is a jovial, friendly place. A place of sudden laughter and wry remarks. A veritable Bemusement Park. Six Flags Over Winterrowd.
But the show ended Mar. 31 when he retired at age 66, much to the dismay of colleagues who had learned to breathe easy on Planet Ron's atmosphere.
He comes from a place of quiet geography. Born in Miami, Okla., ("The twin city of Commerce, where Mickey Mantle was born," he observes with a tone too boyish to be actually dry) he grew up in Chanute, Kan., and by grade school was drawing characters from Dick Tracy cartoon strips. Another favorite strip he mimicked was Smiling Jack, whose first panel always included a vintage airplane.
"Kansas is just one big airstrip," he'll say by way of explaining why so many aircraft companies established headquarters in Kansas. Like many Ronisms, this is both funny and true.
He kept improving as a draftsman and by high school was winning poster contests sponsored by the Red Cross and Christmas Seal campaigns. Call them his first medical arts clients.
Intent on studying art, he enrolled at Pepperdine University on the California coast because its art department was well-regarded, but he only lasted a year. "It's a religious school. Holy roller. They had chapel every day at 10, and you had to take religion. There were no dances. They said dancing 'stimulates one's animal instincts.'"
For a youngster reared among Midwestern Lutherans, this was all too invasive. His next academic destination, however, was as ill-charted as the first; the breakup of his parents' marriage found him opting to be near his father -- recently returned from the war -- in Washington, D.C. Winterrowd enrolled at the University of Maryland to study fine art.
While he only stayed a year in College Park, he did meet his eventual wife, Barbara, a Bethesda girl who had graduated from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High.
"We would drive by NIH on dates," remembers Ron. "There was this high privet hedge around it. I asked Barbara what it was and she said, 'I don't know, some sort of government agency.' Later, she and I ended up working here. But we never found out what they did."
As a teenager, Winterrowd had taken field trips to Kansas University on Career Days, and remembered that it had been a stimulating place. Because its art department was so prestigious, he transferred to KU, where he earned a bachelor of fine arts degree and felt more at home; his classmates included Dean Smith, who would become a fabled basketball coach at North Carolina, and future X-15 test pilot Joe Engel.
Winterrowd paid his way through college by joining ROTC, so he owed the Air Force 4 years upon graduation. A broken hip suffered in a car wreck kept him from being a pilot, so he did Cold War air defense radar work in Wisconsin and Labrador. When he emerged from the service in 1960, the U.S. was in the midst of recession and jobs were hard to find.
"I interviewed all over the place -- in the Midwest, the Northeast, and this area, and no one was hiring," he remembers. His wife had worked at NIH while Ron was in the Air Force and had connections on campus, so she informed him of an opening in the art department here.
"I was only going to take this job for a year until something else opened up," he continued. "But when the year was up, I was so immersed in projects, and in the spirit of NIH, that I turned down the offers that had come in in the meantime. You get so involved in what you're doing. And NIH was such a wonderful place. It was not like working for the government at all. You felt like you were contributing something really special. NIH research was the best in the world, so why shouldn't it have the best graphics and photography?
"But it's changed," he notes ruefully. "It's become more like the government."
Hired initially as an illustrator, Winterrowd rose to section chief in charge of general illustration and copy preparation (for brochures and books) within a few years. In 1981, he was promoted to branch chief, where he remained until retiring.
He managed to combine his own art with administrative duties until the late 1960's, but then "it just became impossible to manage and art direct and do board work. I missed it." Now and then he creates his own art, mainly mixed media -- paper and ink, pencil and pastel, and some photography.
"He was such a handsome young man -- we couldn't imagine what he was doing here," notes Howard Bartner, chief of the medical illustration section, MAPB, and resident raconteur since he arrived in 1958. "Ron's leaving strikes me a little like a death. When you've seen someone every day of your life, and suddenly that person is away, it's an incredible loss. It's a very stressful kind of a thing."
Patricia Lewis, head of the visual arts section and colleague for 30 years, says, "He has been a mentor to me. I have learned a great deal from him over the years. He is a very talented individual who has done many great things for the branch. We have butted heads on many things, but I felt I could go to Ron with just about anything and he would help me solve it. I am going to miss him and his sometimes dry sense of humor."
Winterrowd insists the branch will survive his exit. "What we do here?" he argues rhetorically, "I don't do it. These people pull it off, and pull it together. MAPB will still stress quality and service."
He is deservedly proud of the branch's fine reputation, both inside NIH and without, despite occasional carping about costs. "MAPB is competitive with the outside, we continue to win awards. Our attitude is still 'Why not the best?'"
The branch has won a slew of awards from art directors in New York and Washington, and the American Institute of Graphic Artists. Winterrowd is particularly proud of an honor 2 years ago when the Washington Art Director's Club cited the quality of MAPB's work over the years. "Seldom does a government organization get such praise or recognition," he notes.
As his planet sets on NIH's horizon, Ron has yet to chart a firm orbit for retirement. "I'm going to step back and look at things," he says, without a trace of irony. "I'm sure I'll be involved in the arts somewhere, somehow."
NIDDK's Pollard Retires
Dr. Harvey B. Pollard
Dr. Harvey B. Pollard, chief of NIDDK's Laboratory of Cell Biology and Genetics and chief of the section on cell biology and biochemistry, retired recently after 24 years at NIH. He has accepted a position as professor and chair of the department of anatomy and cell biology at the Uniformed Services University School of Medicine in Bethesda.
Pollard joined NIH in 1972 as a senior investigator in NICHD's Reproduction Research Branch. In 1977, he entered NIDDK's Clinical Hematology Branch where he conducted research on a new class of drugs that inhibits platelet release and aggregation. Additional research used adrenal chromaffin cells as a model to support a chemiosmotic hypothesis for exocytosis. In 1980, he was appointed chief of the Laboratory of Experimental Pathology, where he coordinated the NIDDK-Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Joint Fellowship Program.
In 1982, Pollard became chief of the Laboratory of Cell Biology and Genetics, where his research focused on the treatment of cystic fibrosis, as well as the characterization of the annexin proteins. He was recently named a fellow of the Molecular Medicine Society and won the Washington Academy of Sciences Award for outstanding contributions to the biological sciences.
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