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Former NIH Director Dr. Robert Q. Marston Dies

Dr. Robert Q. Marston, 76, former NIH director and seventh president of the University of Florida, died of cancer Mar. 14 at the Hospice of North Central Florida in Gainesville.

Marston was born in Toano, Va. He received his bachelor's degree from Virginia Military Institute in 1943 and his doctor of medicine degree from the Medical College of Virginia in 1947. Later, he attended Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar, earning a research degree and working with Nobel Prize winner Howard Florey as well as Dr. Norman Heatley and other key members of the team that developed penicillin.

Dr. Robert Q. Marston

Marston interned at Johns Hopkins Hospital and did a year-long residency at Vanderbilt University Hospital. He was stationed at NIH from 1951 to 1953 as a member of the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project, conducting research on the role of infection after whole-body irradiation. He completed his residency at the Medical College of Virginia the following year.

He served on the faculty of MCV for 3 years and as an assistant professor of bacteriology and immunology at the University of Minnesota for a year. He returned to MCV in 1959 as an associate professor of medicine and assistant dean for student affairs.

In 1961, he became director of the University of Mississippi Medical Center and dean of the School of Medicine in Jackson, Miss. He was appointed vice chancellor in 1965. Under his leadership, the first Blacks were admitted to Mississippi's medical college and new national standards were set for the peaceful integration of academic health centers.

In 1966, Marston came to NIH as director of the newly created division of regional medical programs. In April 1968, he was named administrator of the Health Services and Mental Health Administration under a departmental reorganization. He became director of NIH in September 1968.

His years at NIH were ones of conflict between scientific researchers and their political masters in Congress and the executive branch. News stories and editorials of the time reported that political authorities wanted to cut back medical research funding at NIH and to have greater say in how medical research was conducted. According to Washington Post reports, "NIH staff and researchers were demoralized." Post articles describe events when "six prominent NIH scientists (four of them Nobel Prize winners) announced that they were unwilling to accept more 'unwarranted and counterproductive political control' of medical research."

The Post reported that Marston, siding with his scientists, "came to clash with the Nixon administration and efforts to conduct a large, costly and futile 'war on cancer' that would include separating the National Cancer Institute from NIH. He fought these moves as detrimental to the nation's biomedical research program as a whole.

"As a former educator and researcher, Marston also helped to implement NIH legislation to work with universities to increase the nation's supply of health professionals. But, after 5 years as director, he was fired by the Nixon White House" in April 1973.

He then became a scholar in residence at the University of Virginia. He was also named the first distinguished fellow of the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences. The following year he was named president of the University of Florida.

After stepping down in 1984, he became an eminent scholar at VMI, where he later served on the school's governing board. A year later he returned to the University of Florida faculty and worked with graduate students, conducted research and presented papers for the departments of medicine and fisheries and aquaculture.

He wrote more than 50 scholarly publications and coedited the books Medical Effects of Nuclear War and Medical Education in Transition.

Marston was president of the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, a distinguished service member of the Association of American Medical Colleges and two-term member of the governing board of the Institute of Medicine.

Survivors include his children, Ann Wright Peace of Tappahannock, Va., Robert D. Marston of Newport News and W. Wesley Marston of Gainesville, and six grandchildren. His wife, Ann Marston, died in 1998.

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