NIDR's John Townsley Retires
Dr. John Townsley, associate director for policy and coordination in NIDR's Division of Extramural Research (DER), recently retired after more than 25 years at NIH. As chief advisor to the division director, he coordinated the development and administration of research grants and training programs. He was also executive secretary of NIDR's dental research programs advisory committee, which provided recommendations to the institute on program priorities.
A native of Great Britain, Townsley earned his bachelor's degree and doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Leeds. In 1962, he arrived in the U.S. after accepting a fellowship in steroid biochemistry at Clark University and the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology in Massachusetts.
"I was here for a year, and one year became two and then three and, before I knew it, six," he said. "I liked the research environment and found the sunny skies of Massachusetts preferable to those I'd left behind in Britain!" After completing his fellowship, he became a staff scientist at the Worcester Foundation and then served at Ohio State University as an assistant professor. He joined NIH in 1971 as chief of the perinatal biochemistry section at NICHD.
In 1977, he switched from intramural to extramural when he was recruited by NIDR's National Caries Program as chief of the Caries Research Grants and Contracts Branch. "When I was in the intramural community I enjoyed the collegiality and the freedom to pursue my own research interests," said Townsley. "The extramural program was satisfying in other ways -- talking to investigators from many different fields, helping young scientists develop into first-rate investigators, encouraging outstanding-but-unfunded scientists to 'hang in there,' and watching the direction of research change through programs I helped start."
Prior to becoming DER associate director in 1991, Townsley headed the extramural program's Craniofacial Anomalies, Pain Control and Behavioral Research Branch. He initiated the development of three craniofacial research centers whose studies focus on the molecular mechanisms of orofacial birth defects. He also broadened the research portfolio to include clinical trials of orthodontic procedures and surgical treatments for jaw abnormalities and cleft lip and cleft palate.
Within the last few years, Townsley developed NIDR's Regional Research Centers in Minority Oral Health program. The program supports research on oral diseases and conditions prevalent among minority populations and provides career development opportunities for minority investigators. Recently he chaired the NIDR minority recruitment and retention coordinating committee.
Upon retiring, Townsley ventured to southern Greece and Crete, traveling with a group of archaeology students from Montgomery College. "It was interesting to see the sites of the Greek myths, which thrilled me when I was a boy," he said. "There's so much history and literature that I've never had time to study. Now I'll be able to make up for lost time."
Other retirement activities include spending time with his three grown children and their families. He already has three grandsons and there are two grandchildren on the way. He also is continuing to tutor a Korean student in conversational English and he'd like to tutor another immigrant who needs help in becoming more accustomed to America. Keeping in touch with his friends at NIH is one more priority. "I have a feeling that the problem of deciding what to do will be just as difficult during retirement as it was when I was working full-time," he said. "I imagine I will be kept busy."
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