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NHGRI Deputy Director Jordan Retires

After 30 years of service to NIH, Dr. Elke Jordan, deputy director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, retired on July 1. She secured her place in NIH history as an integral leader of the Human Genome Project.

Her contributions to the HGP began in 1988, when Jordan became director of the Office of Human Genome Research, responsible for laying the foundation for the infrastructure of the HGP at NIH. In 1989, she became deputy director of the National Center for Human Genome Research, which launched the HGP in 1990. She managed early sequencing pilot projects on organisms such as yeast and the roundworm, and administered the grants that funded the groundwork for technology that would eventually tackle the mapping and sequencing of the human genome.

Dr. Elke Jordan
"Elke set up the office literally and figuratively. She did all the initial hiring and gave direction to the project," said Jane Peterson, associate director of the Division of Extramural Research at NHGRI. "James Watson [first director of the HGP] came to D.C. only a few days a month and she directed the entire enterprise when he wasn't there. It's hard to convey how important she was to this project," Peterson said.

Born in Gottingen, Germany, Jordan earned her bachelor of arts degree in 1957 from Goucher College and her Ph.D. in 1962 from Johns Hopkins University. She was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University from 1962 to1964 and again at the University of Cologne, Germany, from 1964 to 1968. Her research was in molecular biology of the bacteriophage lambda and in regulation of galactose metabolism in E. coli.

In 1968, Jordan accepted a position as research associate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and from 1969 to 1972 was a research associate at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1972, she began her NIH career as a grants associate. From 1973 to 1976, she was coordinator for collaborative research in the virus cancer program at the National Cancer Institute.

From 1976 to 1978, Jordan was a program administrator in the Genetics Program Branch at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and was deputy director of the branch from 1978 until 1981. During this time she was instrumental in starting Genbank, initially a contract managed by NIGMS. The early controversies surrounding Genbank proved to be good training for her later work on the HGP.

In 1981, she became acting associate director for program activities at NIGMS and in 1982 shed the "acting" role. In this post, Jordan coordinated all extramural activities of NIGMS, supervised grants management and review, allocated the budget, managed the advisory council and chaired numerous trans-NIH committees dealing with extramural management and staff training.

Jordan stayed at NIGMS until 1988 when she received a call from then NIH director Dr. James Wyngaarden, asking her to become director of the Office of Human Genome Research; scientists in the community had recommended her. Not knowing what to expect, or whether anything would ever come of the highly controversial genome project, she decided to take the plunge.

Within a year, the office became an NIH center with the authority to award its own grants, requiring a major expansion of staff and new administrative systems to manage the task. The budding institute was constantly on the move — physically and intellectually — trying to keep up with the changing circumstances and emerging opportunities in genomics.

"It's been exciting," said Jordan of her genome efforts. "I have worked with wonderfully talented and dedicated people, both NIH staff and scientists around the world. We broke a lot of new ground and were initially met with a great deal of skepticism. There were many rough spots along the way, but everyone was determined to make it work and so we were successful in the end."

At Jordan's retirement reception, Dr. Francis Collins, director of NHGRI, said, "When history is written about the Human Genome Project, Elke's contribution will be interwoven in its pages. It must be wonderful to see a project as important as this one from its inception to seeing the initial goal of having the human genome sequence virtually completed. In April 2003, we will have completed the final version of the sequence, and Elke will be one of the people we have to thank for it."

Being part of the HGP, Jordan said, has been the highlight of her career. "I started college the same year the structure of DNA was solved and learned about it in my biology classes. From then on it has just been one revolution after another: identifying the triplet code that translates DNA sequence into protein, recombinant DNA, PCR, DNA sequencing, microarrays. And now we are in the genomics age and will see biology from a completely new perspective. It is truly awe-inspiring."

Jordan's contributions to NIH will not end with her retirement. She recently started working at the Foundation for the NIH to create partnerships with outside organizations to support various projects.

Fewell Retires from NCI, Served Top Leadership There for Years

Martha Fewell recently retired from her position as administrative assistant to NCI director Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach after 29 years with NCI. In the course of her career, Fewell was administrative assistant to four NCI directors — Drs. Vincent DeVita, Samuel Broder and Richard Klausner, in addition to von Eschenbach — and to two interim directors, Drs. Edward Sondik and Alan Rabson.

During her retirement party, Fewell said, "I discovered something about myself. Once I meet someone, I never let them go." In her years at NCI, Fewell met many people, and several hundred of them gathered to wish her well on her retirement.

Martha Fewell
Dr. Barnett Kramer, director of NIH's Office of Disease Prevention, emceed the event and helped pull the party together. He remarked on the draw. "When I was calling some of the people, former and acting directors, in a couple of cases they said they'd drop a meeting or reschedule to make sure they'd be there. She is so well respected by everyone with whom she's worked. Some traveled from the west coast," Kramer said.

When Fewell began working at NCI, she had already set her sights high. Early on, she was an assistant to Dr. Bill McGuire in the Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program. Later, she worked for Dr. Eli Glatstein, head of the Radiation Oncology Branch.

"Working in the Clinical Center was the most rewarding part of my career," said Fewell. "I just really enjoyed the patients."

When she started working for DeVita in 1987, Fewell told him that her goal had been to work for him. "That was my goal, and I made it. I worked hard and worked for such great people. Word of mouth helped to move me along."

At the party, many friends and every director Fewell had worked for spoke in her honor. She shared her own memories in the form of a poem. "It was just pure class," said Kramer. "She's really adored by so many generations of people here." Of the party, Fewell said, "It was more like a reunion than a retirement. It was fabulous. It was one of the best retirement parties that I've been to, and I've been to plenty."

Fewell plans to relax after the busy pace of her life at work. She and her husband Joe Fewell have bought "an adorable little retirement home with a swimming pool" in Florida, where they will live near their daughter, Dee Fewell, Fewell's sister, and her sister's grandchildren.

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