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CSR's Eugene Vigil Retires

By Don Luckett

Encouraging words can make a world of difference. They certainly had an impact on Dr. Eugene Vigil, who recently retired from the Center for Scientific Review. He was a scientific review administrator in the cell development and function integrated review group.

"My mother saw America as the land of opportunity," he said. Vigil explained how she came from the Ukraine and encouraged all her children to set high goals. His father was a Native/Chicano American who saw opportunity in hard work, and he encouraged his children to do just that.

Dr. Eugene Vigil

Vigil was thus enabled to make the best of his opportunities, particularly the ones NIH provided. After earning an M.S. degree in botany from the University of Iowa, he received an NIH predoctoral fellowship to continue his studies there. He earned his Ph.D. in 1967, studying plant growth hormones in the germination of grass seeds. He developed bioassays for studying the regulation of growth in the coleoptile shoot, which brings the first leaf out of the seed. Vigil then received a 2-year NIH postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Wisconsin followed by a 2-year Public Health Service traineeship at the University of Chicago. His postdoctoral research characterized peroxisomes, crystal-bearing cell bodies found in coleoptile cells. He discovered that these structures were common in mammalian tissues. Researchers who have continued this research have since associated peroxisome abnormalities with various human diseases. Vigil sees this development as a testament to the value of basic research.

He went to Marquette University in 1971 to be an assistant professor in its department of biology. He continued his studies of peroxisomes and developed techniques for studying related enzymes as well as photosynthetic reactions. In 1979, Vigil moved to the University of Maryland. He was an assistant professor in its department of botany until 1981, when he became a research associate in the department of horticulture.

He joined the Agricultural Research Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1988, working as a plant physiologist in the Climate Stress Laboratory in Beltsville, Md. He helped address a major problem for the cotton industry: white speck in dyed fabric. He showed how drought stress at a certain time created immature fibers resistant to dyes. In other research, he showed that plasma membranes of seed cells were intact and not porous, as was commonly believed.

Throughout his career, Vigil was guided by something else his mother urged him to do: "Try to give something back and help others." He worked to bring underrepresented minorities to the USDA, for which he received the director's award, and he served on the minority affairs committees of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, the American Society for Cell Biologists, and the American Society of Plant Physiologists.

Vigil seized an opportunity to do more to help others in 1995, when he became a program director in the Minority Biomedical Research Support Program at NIGMS.

In 1998, Vigil returned to his scientific field by becoming a scientific review administrator for the CSR study section that reviews grant applications dealing with light and electron microscopy, flow cytometry, bioinformatics and related areas in cell biology. He continued to help underrepresented minority scientists by recruiting them to serve on his scientific review group and by participating in outreach efforts.

Many are thus fortunate that Vigil took to heart the encouraging words his parents gave him. Though he has retired from NIH, he will continue to work hard and encourage others. He intends to pursue independent business interests with the hope of developing a foundation to help even more people.

NIEHS's Sandy Lange Retires

By Colleen Chandler

Sandy Lange said she was always too busy to go back to school, despite the fact that countless times during her 33-year career at NIEHS she heard the words: If only you had a college education.

But the lack of a college degree did not stop her career progression. Lange started at NIEHS in 1967, as a GS-3, the secretary to the director's secretary. She progressed steadily to an administrative assistant, then an administrative officer, a staff assistant to the NIEHS director, director of NIEHS Office of Communications, and finally to director of the National Toxicology Program Liaison Office and assistant to the Environmental Toxicology Program director.

Sandy Lange

When she retired in early September, she was a GS-15. As director of the NTP Liaison Office, Lange said it was her job to "communicate the best science to the broadest group of people in a way they can be empowered with it and understand it."

And it was a job she took seriously.

Over the years, Lange honed her skills as she went, using NIH resources such as the Executive Potential Program, which she participated in during 1990. In 1991, she added government public affairs and dealing with the media to her training portfolio.

In her office shortly before her retirement, she sat back in her chair and calmly reflected on her career at NIEHS.

There were lots of firsts in the institute's early years. Like the big polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCB, conference when she was pregnant with one of her sons. (Both sons are now grown.) Or when the international programs were first established, how she worked with her counterpart in the Russian delegation, negotiating not science but language for the first environmental health agreement between the two countries. The next 3 days included repeated trips between the institute, the director's house and the hotel where the Russian dignitaries stayed. Two years later, she recalls, she traveled to Russia with an NIEHS delegation to renew that agreement.

Then there was the institute's 10th anniversary. It was held in a warehouse. She worked tirelessly on pulling it together. And then the 20th and 30th anniversaries came and went as well.

It's obvious the events spring to life in her memory as she softly recites the names of people and places that are landmarks in her career.

But make no mistake. She has long-range plans for her free time in retirement: Duke University's Institute of Learning in Retirement, her church's outreach project, a 2-year academy focusing on spiritual formation and personal growth. Projects that undoubtedly will keep her interacting with people.

"That's what I will miss most," she said.


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