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NIAID Mourns Loss of La Montagne
By Ann London
NIAID deputy director Dr. John R. La Montagne, 61, died unexpectedly on Nov. 2. He collapsed while waiting in a passport line after arriving in the Mexico City International Airport and died of pulmonary infarction edema. He had been on his way to a meeting of the Pan American Health Organization.
As the news spread through NIAID offices, staff were shocked and stunned that their much-admired and respected deputy director was gone. The feelings of disbelief were palpable.
"All of us are profoundly saddened by the loss of John La Montagne," said NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci. "Personally, he was a dear friend and one of the finest people I have ever known. Professionally, in an NIH career spanning nearly 30 years, his leadership and commitment to improving global health were remarkable. His generosity, wit, even-handedness and kindness made him a friend to all who knew him. He will be sorely missed."
A native of Mexico City, Mexico, La Montagne became a world-renowned scientist and an influential leader in the field of infectious diseases. He made significant contributions to the national and international effort against emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, including biodefense-related activities, and has been recognized internationally for his leadership in this area.
La Montagne played a central role in the organization of the Multilateral Initiative on Malaria, an international effort involving research, control and development agencies from the United States, Europe and Africa. In addition, he served as a member of the scientific advisory groups of experts on vaccines and biologicals as well as for vaccines and immunization for the World Health Organization. He chaired the WHO task force on strategic planning for the children's vaccine initiative, advised PAHO on its programs in vaccine research implementation and served as a member of the board of the Global Alliance for Tuberculosis Drug Development.
La Montagne was also a member of the biomedical research confederation executive steering committee at Ft. Detrick, and co-chair of the research and development gaps working group, a component of the weapons of mass destruction subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council. He was also a member of the NIH community advisory board for security and the recently formed NIH ethics advisory committee.
La Montagne delivered numerous major lectures all over the world. He received many awards for his scientific accomplishments, including the Public Health Service Special Recognition Award for leadership in childhood vaccine research programs; the Surgeon General's Certificate of Appreciation; the Presidential Meritorious Executive Rank Award; the Distinguished Executive Award for his work in the areas of infectious diseases research of global health relevance; the Secretary's Award for Distinguished Service for leadership of acellular pertussis vaccine trials; and most recently, the Secretary's Award for Distinguished Service for design and implementation of critically important biodefense strategies.
La Montagne received his early and high school education in Mexico and Texas. He received B.A. and M.A. degrees in microbiology from the University of Texas at Austin and a Ph.D. in microbiology from Tulane University. After leaving Tulane, he did postgraduate work at the University of Pittsburgh.
In 1976, he came to NIH as influenza program officer at NIAID. He later became program officer for the institute's Viral Vaccines Program, and then the Influenza and Viral Respiratory Diseases Program officer. In 1986, La Montagne assumed the role of director of the AIDS Program, and a year later was appointed director of the Microbiology and Infectious Diseases Program, which became a division. La Montagne became deputy director of NIAID in February 1998.
Kendall La Montagne remembers her uncle as the least pretentious and most unassuming person she knew. She said that no matter how busy he was with national and international health research matters, he always took time to talk with and guide her.
La Montagne was the keeper of the family history and spent much time researching the family background in Mexico and Texas. His interest in history extended to his old farmhouse in Virginia. He and his wife were renovating it, making sure the additions and changes were done according to the local custom for the time period. Raising Airedale dogs was possibly La Montagne's favorite hobby.La Montagne lived in Alexandria, Va., with his wife of 36 years, Mary Elaine Elliot. He also leaves his brothers Edward (Ted) of Evergreen, Colo., and Gregg of Austin, Tex., and his sister Molly of Bellaire, Tex. NIAID has set up a memorial fund in his honor. Gifts may be made to the John R. La Montagne Fellowship in International Medicine. The purpose is to fund scientific research in the areas to which La Montagne dedicated his career. Contributions should be mailed to NIAID, 31 Center Drive MSC 2520, Bldg. 31, Rm. 7A03, Bethesda, MD 20892.
Bldg. 1 Mainstay McCleaf Dies
Linda McCleaf, an NIH staff member for more than 15 years and longtime mainstay in the NIH director's immediate office, died Nov. 17, 2004. She had retired in July after a federal career of more than 35 years.
NIH Mourns Elaine Johnson Twillman
Elaine Johnson Twillman, 74, a former management analyst in the Office of Management Assessment (formerly the Division of Management Policy), Office of the Director, died of a heart attack Nov. 18 at her home in Silver Spring. She received numerous special service awards during her tenure at NIH and she retired in 1994. Her specialty was organizational change.
After surviving a battle with breast cancer in 1994, she became active in the American Red Cross Reach to Recovery Program, helping other women cope with the disease. She provided support and loving care to many companions with breast cancer, and worked hard in many areas, including the Relay for Life, to help raise funds for breast cancer research. She was an active member of the Lunch Bunch, a weekly gathering of breast cancer patients and survivors, who meet to share lunch, listen to speakers and provide support to each other.
Survivors include her husband of 54 years, Donald J. Twillman of Silver Spring; four sons, a sister and eight grandchildren.
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