NIDDK's Collins Retires from an Unplanned Life
By Anna Maria Gillis
"There's nothing in my life I would have done differently," says Dr. Regina Collins. "If I had planned more, I might have made more mistakes or taken a wrong road."
Collins, a Franciscan nun who has also been a nurse, teacher and scientist, recently retired from NIDDK's Metabolic Diseases Branch. She calls her NIH stint "a marvelous experience. I came on sabbatical and stayed 15 years." In 1985, at age 60, Collins was head of the biology department at Briar Cliff College, in Sioux City, Iowa. Her department instructed nursing students in two local hospitals, but when the hospitals cut enrollments, Collins feared she might have to lay off teachers with families. Instead, she took temporary leave, applying for work in the lab of Dr. Allen Spiegel, now NIDDK director. "I never thought I'd hear from the great NIH," Collins remembers.
Spiegel's group works on G protein-mediated signal transduction, counting among its accomplishments the codiscovery of the gene for multiple endocrine neoplasia, type 1 (MEN1). Collins went to work on tissue and cell culture, where she "so excelled that we hired her full-time," says Spiegel. Much of Collins' work centered on growing fibroblasts from biopsy material, nurturing neuronal and other fastidious cells and doing transfections. As the cell provider, she played a critical role in the success of experiments, says former colleague Dr. Paul Goldsmith, who admires her deft touch with finicky lines. "Tissue culture is a zero-fault business. You contaminate a culture and it's gone."
Her colleagues found her easygoing, but she abhorred sloppiness in conducting experiments. "It's not a standard every scientist lives up to," says Dr. Theresa Jones.
Collins' exactitude, learned from years in nursing, meant that her colleagues had to wait if she didn't think cells were up to snuff. "Why won't she give me those cells?" Dr. Sunita Agarwal says she sometimes wondered. "But she would not part with her cells until she knew they were perfect." She had "a feeling for how to treat cells," adds Jones. "There's a lot of art to cell culture."
The lab benefited from Collins' dedication. When some cells arrived from a Texas collaborator just before Easter, she stayed at the bench to prepare them. "I spent most of Holy Week in the lab when I normally would have been in church," Collins laughs. "We were working on MEN1, and we were pushing to get an experiment started."
Collins learned her art at Jackson Labs in Maine and at the Crippled Children's Hospital in Phoenix, where she went after completing a master's at Notre Dame in Indiana. She had followed her Notre Dame mentor, Dr. Charles Wolf, to Arizona State University in Tempe, to do her Ph.D. in genetics. Working out of the hospital, Collins studied congenital disorders. "I traveled all over the Indian reservations, working with people with spina bifida, hip dysplasias and other problems," said Collins.
Collins loved the work, especially when she saw the successes doctors had when they got to children early. But then, she has liked all of her jobs, each of which she took to fill a need. "When I went into the (Franciscan) Order in 1946, I planned on teaching," she said. But when her order began building hospitals, "We needed nurses. I'm always game to try." From 1955 until 1963, Collins worked in pediatrics, surgery and the recovery room and directed nursing services at Xavier Hospital in Dubuque, Iowa.
She ended up at Briar Cliff because she could be both campus nurse and a teacher, said Collins, and then went for a doctorate when a credentialing body suggested that the college needed more Ph.D.s. on the faculty.
Summers took her farther afield as a nurse. "I've worked in Harlan County, the poorest area of Appalachia, where we had to climb into the hills to take care of people. I've also worked way down the Delmarva Peninsula with migrant workers. We'd run clinics until 2 or 3 in the morning so that everyone could be taken care of," says Collins, who can't recommend volunteering enough.
"Being a nun, I was able to do so much that I would not have been able to do if I'd had a family," she said. She did her work whether it was taking a migrant worker's blood pressure or helping in the analysis of the MEN1 gene because "nothing makes me happier than if I can help someone." In retirement, she expects to do the same at her order's Mother House in Dubuque. She says the sisters there would want her company on doctor's visits. "I can help them understand what the doctors are telling them. Plus, there's never a lack of opportunity for volunteering."
Shein Retires from NIGMS
By Danielle Wittenberg
Linda Shein recently retired from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences after more than 14 years of government service, all of which were spent at the institute. At the time of her retirement, she was lead secretary of the Division of Cell Biology and Biophysics.
"Linda combined outstanding organizational skills with a heart of gold to make her the core of the Division of Cell Biology and Biophysics. Her impact was felt by everyone, from members of the support staff to some of the world's most distinguished scientists," said Dr. James Cassatt, director of the division. "We will all miss her and wish her well in her new endeavors."
Shein joined NIGMS in 1985 as a clerk-typist in the Biophysics and Physiological Sciences (BPS) Program Branch (now the Division of Cell Biology and Biophysics) after having spent 15 years at home raising her children and then 12 years substitute teaching. "As my children flew the coop for college, I realized I needed steady work, including some of the benefits that a permanent job would give me," she said. "However, I couldn't type, so my hardest task was in front of me." She spent 7 weeks practicing her typing and finally passed the entrance typing test, which, at the time, was required to get a clerical job at NIH.
After spending more than a year as a clerk-typist, Shein became a grants assistant to Dr. Marvin Cassman, NIGMS' current director, who was then director of the BPS Program Branch. "The rest," Shein said, "is history. When Dr. Cassman was appointed deputy director of the institute, I was inherited by the new branch director, Jim Cassatt."
While at NIGMS, Shein served on numerous committees, including the Natcher Bldg. construction and renovation committees, the office procedures handbook committee, the training committee, the new employee orientation committee, and the holiday party and picnic planning committees. "You name it, I think I have done it," she said.
Shein says she will miss the interactions with the people she has come to care for greatly. "The people here are a rare breed truly wonderful to work with. It's fascinating to watch how their minds work," she said.
Shein, who says she's ready to enjoy her family, travel, and "read anything my heart desires," has decided to take what she considers to be the best part of her job with her meeting planning. She is going to help coordinate meetings as an independent contractor. "It will be a welcome challenge, and I won't feel like I've left completely."
NIAMS Grants Officer Nichols Retires
By Janet Howard
Elvis showed up. So did a singing institute deputy director and a chorus formed just for the occasion. In June, Sally Nichols, 55, chief of the NIAMS Grants Management Branch, retired to the strains of "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You," after more than 35 years of federal service.
Nichols began her federal career in 1962, 5 days after graduating from Wheaton High School, as a GS-3 clerk-stenographer at the Department of Labor. In 1964, she went to the Department of Commerce. She joined NIH in 1967, as a secretary in NIDR. By 1975, she was working in the former NIAMDD as secretary to institute director Dr. G. Donald Whedon.
The Bethesda chapter of the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) named Nichols "Secretary of the Year" in 1971. She chaired the NIH secretaries task force in the late 1970's, was a member of the NIH Toastmasters Club, and has maintained her affiliation with the IAAP to this day. In 1975, she earned the rating of certified professional secretary and began visiting other government agencies and area high schools as a spokesperson for IAAP.
The grants management community first welcomed Nichols when she became a grants management specialist in NIADDK in 1981; in 1987 she became one of the first grants managers at the newly formed NIAMS. She left NIH in 1988 to work at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, but after just 1 year returned to NIH as grants management officer of NINR. NIAMS named Nichols its chief GMO in 1995, and she held this position until her retirement. A point of pride for Nichols is that she progressed to the GS-15 level without a college degree.
At her retirement party, held at the Naval Officers Club in Bethesda, many of her former supervisors and colleagues, including former NIH deputy director Dr. Thomas Malone, joined current NIH staff in honoring her and wishing her well.
"She was the most competent person I have ever met, even in the private sector," said NIAMS director emeritus Dr. Lawrence E. Shulman. "Sally exemplified the opportunity for personal growth at NIH by the way she has escalated her career."
Whedon, who retired in 1982, traveled from Florida to attend the event. He said, "I hate to bow, but after meeting Sally, I was soon aware that I was dealing with a special, superior person."
NIAMS director Dr. Stephen Katz lauded "Nichols' deep professional commitment to NIAMS programs." NIAMS deputy director Dr. Steve Hausman, who has known and worked with Nichols for nearly 25 years, rewrote the words to arias and folk songs and entertained Nichols and the crowd by singing them.
"I will miss my wonderful staff," said Nichols. "My husband retired in 1982 and has been wanting me to retire, too, for a long time. My daughter, Betsy Linn, now lives in Massachusetts. We have just moved to a new home, so there are lots of changes right now. I hope to do more work with the Tidewater chapter of the IAAP in the Easton community." Others are certain she will begin her third career and won't stay retired for long."
Barke Retires from NIGMS
By Danielle Wittenberg
Ina Barke recently retired from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences after more than 10 years of government service, all of which was spent at NIGMS. At the time of her retirement, Barke was a secretary in the Division of Extramural Activities.
Dr. Norka Ruiz Bravo, NIGMS associate director for extramural activities, described Barke as a "very able individual. She has the ability to stay on top of the details, and her abilities to think through, organize and coordinate multiple activities are outstanding," she said. "Best of all," she added, "Ina combines these qualities with a sharp sense of humor."
Barke joined NIGMS in 1989 as a secretary in the Office of the Director after rearing three children and working in various positions including selling supervisor at a women's clothing store, customer relations manager at a small novelty manufacturer and regional director of a nonprofit women's volunteer organization. "I wanted a position with less stress, and I wanted the security and benefits of the government," Barke said.
While at NIGMS, she helped create an online office procedures handbook and an advisory council web site. She served on several NIH committees to promote equality in the workplace, including the equal employment opportunity advisory committee and the advisory committee for employees with disabilities; she was one of the employees responsible for the installation of the automatic doors on Bldg. 31. In addition, Barke was the recipient of more than 20 special act or service awards.
"Ina has tremendous patience and a wealth of knowledge on how to get things done that will be greatly missed," said Dr. Michael Martin, former NIGMS associate director for extramural activities who worked with Barke for 7 years before transferring to the Center for Scientific Review in 1999. "She was a pleasure to work with."
Barke, who described her "main career" as "raising three wonderful children," said she enjoyed working with different people and personalities at NIH. "I will miss the many acquaintances I have made over the years," she said. Her plans for the future include being a grandmother, attending college, and traveling, possibly becoming an independent travel consultant. "My biggest plan for the future," she added, "is my upcoming marriage the wedding date is to be announced!"
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