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NEI's Gerald Robison Dies at 70

Dr. Gerry Robison was always careful to note what others may have missed. While golfing with his coworkers from the National Eye Institute, Robison would comb the course's roughs and fish its ponds for lost balls. At game's end, he could proudly go home with a surplus of balls, reward for the extra effort. As chief of NEI's Biological Imaging Core, it was this patient and observant inclination that made him a meticulous scientist.

Robison was also known for his empathy and compassion, and his death Mar. 18 of colon cancer leaves his colleagues and friends missing the warmth and kindness which enlivened his scientific career. Robison was 70.

NEI's Dr. Gerry Robison, whom colleagues said ate a pint of ice cream a day and never gained any weight, shows off his "flavorite" tie — the ice cream tie.

"Gerry was a wonderful scientist whose work was always of the highest quality," said Dr. Paul A. Sieving, NEI director. "His contributions to understanding aldose reductase and issues of diabetic retinopathy and of cataract formation ultimately will benefit many people with medical problems. On the personal side, Gerry was an excellent mentor to young researchers and a delightful person to be with.

"I enjoyed Gerry and his stories," Sieving continued. "His recollections of how things were, and his suggestions for how they should be, were very helpful. I have heard many stories over the past few weeks about Gerry from his laboratory colleagues and acquaintances. It is clear that the entire NEI family thought very highly of Gerry."

Dr. Peter Kador, professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Nebraska, was chief of NEI's Laboratory of Ocular Therapeutics until 2002 and worked closely with Robison. "Gerry's scientific contributions led to the development of animal models that could be used to study diabetic retinopathy," Kador said. "His studies were crucial in showing the role of aldose reductase in the development of diabetic retinopathy and how the rat can be used as a model for looking at how retinal changes develop in human retinopathy. He was the first to reproducibly isolate rat retinal vessels and carefully document their changes. His cataract findings also complemented work done by others at the NEI by demonstrating that galactose feeding resulted in the quick formation of vacuoles in lens epithelial cells. That was the first time it had been demonstrated by histology that pathology was directly occurring in epithelial cells.

"Gerry mentored many postdocs and students and worked well with them," Kador added. "He was a leader in his field and a gentleman. Everyone respected him. He was a representative of the type of good science that goes on at the NEI."

Dr. Sam Zigler, chief of NEI's lens and cataract biology section and Robison's supervisor for the past 13 years, said Robison was "a tremendous source of expertise regarding the anatomy and physiology of the eye in health and disease. He was such an optimistic and helpful person who was always ready and willing to consult, advise and give everyone a hand.

"Outside of the laboratory, Gerry was devoted to his family and to the Mormon church," Zigler added. "He was also an outstanding photographer. He enjoyed taking pictures. Gerry was the unofficial photographer at dozens of eye research meetings over the years, sending copies of his snapshots to attendees from all around the globe. He was very meticulous about the micrographs and images that he published in scientific papers, and that high standard was also evident in the photographs he took outside the laboratory."

Dr. Robert Fariss, an NEI staff scientist who worked with Robison in NEI's Biological Imaging Core, said that "through a long and productive scientific career, Gerry never lost his passion for research. He succeeded in striking the perfect balance of patience and intellectual rigor."

Robison received his doctorate in genetics from the University of California at Berkeley. He came to NEI in 1972 and authored or coauthored 117 scientific papers. He was a much sought-after speaker, lecturing at almost 50 scientific meetings, symposiums and seminars in the past 20 years.

"Gerry was a wonderful mentor, outstanding scientist, and caring person who taught me many things," said Dr. Nora Laver, director of the ocular pathology laboratory at Tufts-New England Medical Center who worked with Robison as a visiting associate, visiting scientist and special volunteer from 1988 to 1996. "Dr. Robison was an example of what a researcher should be. He had an incredibly inquisitive mind, and at the same time was such a wonderful person, someone who would help you as a human being. He supported me with family issues and assisted me with visa matters, something most people would hesitate to do because it's a lot of hard work. We had a long, wonderful working relationship. The field of biomedical research and medicine has lost an icon."

Robison is survived by his wife of 46 years, Lucia, four children and 19 grandchildren.

Former Lab Chief Simpson Dies at 65

Dr. Robert T. Simpson of Lemont, Pa., died Apr. 21 after a fall at home. He was an international leader for over 35 years in research on chromatin, a fundamental component of chromosomes, and its role in gene regulation. He spent 25 years directing a biomedical research laboratory at NIH before becoming the Verne M. Willaman professor of molecular biology at Penn State in 1995.

Dr. Robert T. Simpson
Simpson's research, published in over 120 papers, established numerous precedents in the discovery of important structure/function relationships in chromatin proteins. His early biochemical and biophysical studies of chromatin structure and composition were landmark papers that are now regularly cited in published articles, up to two decades later. His work established many of the crucial parameters for the structure of nucleosomes, chromosomal subunits, and the functions of certain proteins within these structures.

During the early 1990s, Simpson's laboratory used yeast genetics to further explore chromatin function, resulting in what has been called "the first and best evidence of the role of nucleosome-positioning in the regulation of gene transcription and DNA replication in vivo."

Simpson was recognized as an outstanding mentor and teacher. His numerous former graduate students and postdoctoral trainees have made significant contributions to chromatin research, an accomplishment of which he was particularly proud. During his time at Penn State, hundreds of undergraduate students benefitted from his teaching in molecular medicine.

Simpson was born in Chicago and received his B.A. with high honors as a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Swarthmore College in 1959. He was an Alpha Omega Alpha graduate of Harvard Medical School, from which he received an M.D. (cum laude) in 1963. He earned a Ph.D. in biological chemistry at Harvard University in 1969, after which he joined the Public Health Service.

Simpson was chief of NIDDK's Laboratory of Cellular and Developmental Biology for 15 years and a cochair of the department of biochemistry at the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences (FAES). In addition, he served as a member of the molecular cytology study section, was president of the Assembly of Scientists at NIDDK and was on the FAES board of directors. His efforts were recognized with a Commendation Award in 1982, the Meritorious Service Award in 1992 and the Distinguished Service Award in 1995 from the PHS. He retired as a captain in 1994.

Simpson served on the editorial board of both the Journal of Biological Chemistry and Nucleic Acids Research, and was a former executive editor of the latter.

His wife, four children and home were primary in his life. He enjoyed camping with children, baking bread and using his extensive cookbook collection to whip up meals for his family and friends, using Swedish themes.

He also enjoyed woodworking, was an avid wrestling fan, and enjoyed sailing and fishing. He owned and cared for an historic Chesapeake drake-tail boat, which he later donated to an area museum.

He is survived by his wife Katherine Rupkey Simpson of Lemont and four sons: Todd Andrew of Reston, Va.; William Robert and his wife, Maggie Hallam, of Fairbanks, Alaska; Michael Scott and his wife, Linda, of Silver Spring; and Brian David of Kensington. He is also survived by four grandchildren and a sister, Karen Kuehl of Somerset, Md.

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