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NICHD Lauds Scientists With 'Hall of Honor'

By Robert Bock

Photos by Ernie Branson

On the Front Page...

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony during its recent council meeting, NICHD opened a new permanent exhibit commemorating the accomplishments of its grantees and intramural scientists.


"We wanted to recognize the most noteworthy achievements that our extramural and intramural scientists have made with the support they received from the NICHD," said Dr. Duane Alexander, NICHD director. "Their remarkable contributions to our knowledge of health and disease has greatly improved our ability to prevent and treat a number of disorders of mothers and children, markedly improving their health."

The NICHD Hall of Honor, located in the hallway of the institute's Bldg. 31 offices, features commemorative plaques describing the contributions of scientists that NICHD has supported during its 40-year history. The exhibit also includes a touch-screen video display of talks the scientists gave when they were inducted into the Hall of Honor in October 2003, during the 40th anniversary celebration.

Hall of Honor member Dr. Robert E. Cooke, a member of the institute's first National Advisory Child Health and Human Development Council, called for an additional award and special acknowledgement. In 1960, he was asked by President John F. Kennedy to serve on a task force to develop health programs for the new administration. Cooke, then chair of the pediatrics department at Johns Hopkins Hospital, proposed the establishment of a new National Institute for Child Health at NIH.

Dr. Robert E. Cooke, member of the presidential task force that helped to establish NICHD

Cooke noted that one of the people most instrumental in creating NICHD was Eunice Kennedy Shriver, President Kennedy's sister. Cooke proposed that she also be included in the Hall of Honor. It was Shriver, he said, who asked the President to appoint Cooke to the health task force. Shriver also persuaded the President to support legislation needed to found the new institute, and secured the support among congressional leaders needed to pass the legislation.

"She really has done a great deal and there simply wouldn't be an institute without her," Cooke said.

Dr. Donald Harting, NICHD's second director, told of the institute's early days. Now a retired physician, he is currently executive officer of the Delmarva Education Foundation in Salisbury, Md. He explained that the institute's first director, Dr. Robert Aldrich, developed the plans for the new institute. Aldrich stayed at NICHD for only a year, however, leaving Harting to implement those plans. Before he became director, Harting was also involved in the early phases of planning for the new institute, which would encompass not only child health, but also human development and aging.

First employee Aggie Schroeder, second director Dr. Donald Harting and current director Dr. Duane Alexander gather at the ceremony opening NICHD's Hall of Honor.

Harting told how the institute's acronym came to have only one H, instead of two, as would be expected from its name. One afternoon in 1961, he was called to the office of then NIH director Dr. James Shannon. Without the benefit of studies that would later show children differ physiologically from adults in significant ways, Shannon hadn't believed it was necessary to create an institute to study children's health. At that time, also, there had been some debate about whether the new institute would encompass either child health or human development and aging, until it was eventually decided to include both research areas.

"He led off by saying, 'Harting, if I have to have a kiddie institute, it's got to be N-I-C-H-D,'" Harting said. Shannon continued, "None of this N-I-C-H squared D or N-I-C-double H-D. If anyone asks you which one we left out, find out which side they're on, child health or human development and aging. Just tell them that it was the other H that we left out."

Aggie Schroeder, the institute's first employee, recounted the humorous circumstances of her hiring; she first worked as the secretary in the NICHD director's office. During her 30 years with the institute, she worked in many other offices as well.

The ribbon-cutting for NICHD's new Hall of Honor included (from l) NICHD's first employee, Aggie Schroeder; deputy director Dr. Yvonne Maddox; second director, Dr. Donald Harting; Hall of Honor inductees Dr. Maria New and Dr. Robert Cooke, and current director Dr. Duane Alexander.

Council member Dr. Maria New told of how NICHD support helped her conduct research. A scientist at Cornell University, she was inducted into the Hall of Honor for research on congenital adrenal hyperplasia, a disorder of the adrenal glands. New's first grant from NICHD was awarded during the institute's first council session in November 1963, and has been renewed each year since then.

NICHD support helped her when she made the discoveries that resulted in her election to the National Academy of Sciences, she said. But NICHD grant support also played a role in her personal life. New and her late husband were initially against their children having careers in medicine. Her children felt the same way too.

"They used to say, 'You know mommy, I don't like how much you work — we don't want to do that, we want to do something different,'" New said.

One Christmas, however, her children returned home from college and all three announced they would pursue careers in medicine. New credits the times she came home in the evening and talked enthusiastically with her family about her research with influencing their decision.

She concluded by asking the council members to sustain the institute's focus on the young.

"If we don't have the support to keep children as the most important members of our society, we have no future."

NICHD's Susan Streufert chats with council member David Gray near the Hall of Honor plaque honoring grantee Delbert Fisher.

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