Paul G. Rogers Honored|
Bldg. 1 Plaza Dedicated to 'Mr. Health'
By Rich McManus
Photos by Bill and Ernie Branson
On the Front Page...
At the direction of Congress, NIH on June 12 dedicated a newly decorated plaza in front of Bldg. 1 in honor of former Rep. Paul G. Rogers, who represented Florida in the House of Representatives for 24 years before retiring in 1979 as chair of the House subcommittee on health and the environment. The only outdoor honor for a lawmaker on a campus studded with buildings named for politicians, the plaza was embraced by the honoree himself as conjoining longtime interests in health and the environment; Rogers is as well remembered for legislation mandating clean air and safe drinking water as he is for backing the National Cancer Act, Heart, Lung and Blood Act, the Health Manpower Training Act, and a host of other keynote laws promoting health.
Remembrance was the order of the day as a host of congressional colleagues, former employees, current associates and via letter five Presidents, including George W. Bush, extended congratulations and salutations that ranged from the heartfelt to the humorous.
Held beneath a tent erected over the plaza itself, which sheltered guests on a warm morning, the event was emceed by NIH acting director Dr. Ruth Kirschstein, who described Rogers as a "tireless and generous advocate of NIH." She recalled two landmark laws that bore Rogers' signature: the National Cancer Act of 1971 and the Research on Aging Act of 1974. Of the former, she said "no other act has had such a profound impact on the health of all Americans...The war is not yet won, but we've made great strides against this group of diseases we call cancer, and you, Paul, helped make this happen."
The Research on Aging Act helped apply research muscle to such ills as osteoporosis, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and arthritis, Kirschstein noted. Yet Rogers' influence in Congress was only part of his legacy, she said. "He has continued to be a major player in setting the research agenda of this nation. With his boundless energy and incredible passion, he knows how to get things done."
Recently retired Rep. John Porter (R-Ill.), who led the effort in Congress to double NIH's appropriation in the period 1998-2003, and who is now Rogers' colleague in the law firm Hogan & Hartson, said, "Paul is my mentor and my model. We are all soldiers in his army of admirers. He made the war on disease among the highest priorities of our nation...Paul was right for our country. He provided by example, by persuasion and by leadership that health issues deserved greater attention, and his advocacy earned him the title 'Mr. Health.' If anyone has influence in this town of influence, it's Paul Rogers. He's the whole package."
Former Rep. James Symington of Missouri joked that "the microbes of America always trembled at the approach of the deceptively dapper congressman from Florida...There was rejoicing in the bacteria camp when their relentless adversary Paul Rogers retired (from Congress)." He said the 20 members of Rogers' House subcommittee "were really all working for Paul," and that the committee "was almost biblical in nature and scope 'Ask and it shall be given.' Had Paul chaired the committee overseeing the Department of Defense, there would have been two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers on Lake Okeechobee. Were he in charge of public works, we would have filled Death Valley and built a bridge over the Gulf of Mexico. If he were in charge of agriculture, we'd all be up to our necks in soybeans. But he chose to battle the fourth horseman of the Apocalypse.
"Unfortunately," Symington continued, "illness is less responsive to law than to science." He said the Rogers' committee wore as a badge of honor the epithet "Disease-of-the-Month Club," and concluded, "Americans do a disservice to Paul's memory by getting sick...Paul is living proof that public service does not end with public office. He has been a titanic civic leader and will always deserve the title Mr. Chairman."
Former Rep. James Symington
Another colleague, Steve Lawton, who had been counsel to Rogers' subcommittee and now represents the Biotechnology Industry Organization, noted, "Once you work for Paul Rogers, you always work for Paul Rogers." An awards ceremony in Rogers' honor, he pointed out, "is hardly an unusual event. He has received many honors, and I strongly suspect that to Paul, this is the granddaddy of them all."
Predicting that Rogers' impact will reach far into the new millennium, Lawton concluded, "Thank you for being a mentor, at times even a father, to so many of us. You taught us how to think, to serve, and how to live. God bless you, Paul."
Rogers, 80, has been chairman of Research! America, a health advocacy group, for 5 years, and its president, Mary Woolley, called him "one of the most persuasive people on the planet, and also one of the most kind and thoughtful to me, he's the epitome of a statesman." She read notes in Rogers' honor from former Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George Bush Sr., Bill Clinton, and from George W. Bush.
"I think you've all heard enough about Paul Rogers," joked the honoree, "but this honor, from the Congress of the United States and from the NIH, designating this plaza for me, is quite overwhelming. If I could just take them around with me everywhere I go," he said, gesturing at the dais, "we could put on a great show."
He thanked his family and guests (see sidebar), and asked all those who used to work for him to stand and be recognized. "I want this crowd to see the ones who did the work...I want to publicly express my thanks to Congress for its actions and to NIH, especially Ruth Kirschstein and her remarkable staff. Ruth's outstanding leadership she has taken over here a number of times is remarkable. She deserves this nation's gratitude, and I salute Ruth."
Rogers recalled that he knew Dr. James Shannon, the NIH director after whom Bldg. 1 is named, and shared his commitment to basic research. "Thousands of people have crossed this lawn into Bldg. 1, from the young, with their desire for more education and knowledge, and their new ideas from them right on to nationally acclaimed Nobel and Lasker laureates, whose wisdom has been tested and proved. All have shared their knowledge to fight disease, not just here but all over the world. NIH is rightly called the crown jewel of the federal government."
Like a newly energized lobbyist, Rogers declared that "delaying the onset of heart disease by just 5 years could save $69 billion per year," and that "if we could delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease by only 5 years, we could save $50 billion every year. There really is new hope, and NIH is in the process of having its budget doubled, so more progress is expected in the future. Every man, every woman and every child benefits from research. Nothing is more bipartisan than the funding of NIH, and nothing has given me more pride than participating in the success of research. I hope each one of you here will remember and spread this message: Without research, there is no hope. No hope for diagnosis, for treatment, or to cure diseases. Research brings hope and research brings better health to our nation. Thank you, I am grateful to all of you."
A reception followed in the atrium of the Natcher Bldg.
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