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NIH Record Retirees

Bldg. 1's Cathy James Retires After Nearly 31 Years

By Celia Hooper

Catherine James, who retired from the Office of Intramural Research in January, is at once an anachronism and a timeless classic. She will openly admit that she likes to type. Not "keyboard." Not "enter data." Not "process information." Type. She also, quite voluntarily, made coffee for the board of scientific directors every 2 weeks for 24 years; came in early and left late; often referred to herself and her colleagues as "the girls"; and, though her duties went far beyond typing and filing, she is still listed in the NIH phone directory as a "secretary."

Cathy James

"I never thought of myself as being 'just a secretary,'" Cathy James says. "In this day and age they call it something else, but when I started out, I felt I was part of something important — a group that was really accomplishing something."

James' replacement will be a "program assistant," yet will be hard-pressed to fill her sensible shoes in Bldg. 1's Rm. 140.

James, 72, brought a timeless grace, gentleness and warmth to work every day and became the sweet-smiling, public face of the OIR.

She first came to NIH part-time in 1968, working for NIH director Dr. James Shannon for 1 month before he retired. When the late Dr. Robert Q. Marston began work as director in September 1968, she began working full time in the Office of the Director. After 5 years she was moved down the hall to what was then the Office of Intramural Affairs. There she worked for Dr. Philip Chen, and when he came on board, Dr. Richard Wyatt. James says two events that stand out vividly for her were the NIH visits of the Queen of Belgium and the Princess of Denmark. She played an active role in orchestrating the events and got to meet the royalty. She recalls that the Princess of Denmark "was a lovely, lovely lady — so interested in talking to people; so easy to talk to. She was always showing her enthusiasm."

This description of the princess sounds much like the accolades heaped on James at her retirement party in Wilson Hall, where scores of friends and colleagues came to tell the elegant white-haired lady how much they had appreciated her friendliness over the years and how much they would miss her efficient and knowledgeable assistance.

As practical and hard working as she was, James also possessed a cosmopolitan elan. This she attributes to her Greek parents — who insisted that all their children become fluent in the language — and her years spent abroad with her late husband, J. Frank James, who worked in the Foreign Service and USAID. Their travels took them throughout Europe and the Far East, from Morocco to Pakistan, where the Jameses — including their children Stephanie and Christopher — spent 10 years. It was when the children left for college that James first started her part-time work at NIH.

When her husband retired in 1984, James had planned to do likewise, but was persuaded to wait until December. Tragically, on Oct. 15 of that year, Frank James was diagnosed with acute leukemia. He died less than a month later. "It was so fortunate I had not retired," she recalls. "I could continue to work and keep my sanity. That was almost 15 years ago." What sustained her, she says, "was the great people [whom] I will always remember. I hope I've contributed to this institution and all it does for sickness and health. It's been a great experience."

Sending "many thanks for your best wishes and kind thoughts" to those who attended her retirement party, to the "Supramural Singers" and those who sent their regards from the far corners of the world, James says she plans to use a monetary retirement gift from her friends to take a cruise, perhaps to Greece. She also will spend more time with her five grandchildren, and —who knows? — maybe start a second career as a translator.

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