NIH Mourns Death of Gail Jacoby
By Vicki Cahan
Gail Jacoby, 50, chief of planning at the National Institute on Aging, died Nov. 26 as a result of injuries sustained in an airplane crash. She was killed along with her husband, Dr. Itzhak Jacoby of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and formerly of NIH, and their 13-year-old daughter, Atira. The family was returning home in a private aircraft after visiting their elder daughter Orit and son-in-law in the New York/New Jersey area.
Jacoby, director of the Office of Planning, Analysis, and Evaluation, headed NIA's ongoing efforts to prioritize and evaluate its research program. At the time of her death, she was directing preparation of a strategic plan for the institute and was working with researchers and interest groups to help forge a consensus of where the agency's research program should be directed.
Itzhak Jacoby was professor and director, Division of Health Services Administration at USUHS. An expert in health services management and policy, he was deputy director and director of the Office of Medical Applications of Research at NIH from 1981 through 1988.
News of the Jacobys' sudden deaths shocked and saddened their colleagues around NIA and NIH. NIA staffers gathered informally upon return from the Thanksgiving holidays Nov. 29 to remember Gail Jacoby, her professional accomplishments and her ever-positive outlook. Dr. Terrie Wetle, NIA deputy director, recounted Jacoby's efforts "to make more rational the NIA planning process and calendar," noting her talents as a "superb science writer" and analyst of NIA's wide-ranging research program. "Gail Jacoby," Wetle said, "was a good woman. She was generous, patient, tireless and sincerely devoted to NIA and her colleagues here."
Dr. Richard Hodes, NIA director, expressed his and all of NIA's "extreme sorrow" upon Jacoby's death. "Gail earned the deepest respect and affection from all of us who had the privilege of knowing her and working with her. She set the highest standards for herself and was without peer in her energy and her commitment to the mission of NIA and NIH. We will miss her greatly."
In memory of Jacoby, the Office of Science Policy in the NIH Office of the Director is establishing the Gail Jacoby Award, to be made annually in recognition of an outstanding contribution by an NIH staff person to some aspect of planning, policy or evaluation at NIH. Dr. Lana Skirboll, NIH associate director for science policy, in announcing the award, called Jacoby a "trusted colleague and a vital member" of the NIH planning community. "She was a critical thinker, perceptive and always saw the big picture. We could always count on Gail to provide thoughtful and practical advice on a variety of issues. Gail was also a friend both to me and to many of us in the policy and planning community."
Jacoby began her career at NIH in 1971 as a federal service management intern. She was appointed a year later to program analyst at NHLBI, and then joined NIA in 1975, in the institute's first year of operation. In 1979, she went to what was then NIAMD, where she eventually had primary responsibility for its program planning and development activities as a special assistant and deputy director of its planning operations. For a year, 1984-1985, she was detailed to the Office of the NIH Director to work on the DHHS task force on Black and minority health.
In December 1987, Jacoby returned to NIA, where she became chief of the institute's planning office and supervisor of an expanding staff to manage and define NIA policy and programs. In that role, she touched the working lives of just about everybody at NIA, pulling together information from their programs, making sure that it made sense and was consistent with the goals not only of NIA, but also of NIH, the department, the administration and Congress. All the while, Wetle said, Jacoby "always noted the contributions of her staff and deeply appreciated the unique contribution that each had to make."
The recipient of a number of awards, Jacoby was recently cited by NIA "for improvements and innovations" in the NIA research planning process, specifically for identifying longer range opportunities and analyzing these proposals for scientific merit. In 1992, Jacoby and her planning office team received the NIH Merit Award for their planning efforts within NIA and NIH.
She graduated from Cornell University and received her masters in public administration from George Washington University. She was born and raised in Newark, N.J.
Jacoby was known for her love of music and her involvement in choral activities around NIH and the Bethesda community, where she lived. Gifted with a strong singing voice, she was a leader in the NIH Chamber Singers, involved in regular performances on campus. NIA staffers recall often catching her in a melodious whistle or hum while she moved quickly about the C-wing's 5th floor.
Said Wetle, "Perhaps the thing that gave Gail the most joy was her own music; singing with the NIH chamber group was a gift she gave herself and others. I would like to think that if we could hear angels sing, Gail's voice would now make that harmony just a little bit sweeter."
A memorial service for Gail Jacoby will be held Monday, Jan. 10, 2000, from 1 to 3 p.m. in Wilson Hall, Bldg. 1.
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