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Vol. LVIII, No. 25
December 15, 2006

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Long-Time CC Building Authority Harrison Mourned

“Mike” Harrison, a long-time authority on the complicated details of the original Clinical Center building, died Oct. 3.
“Mike” Harrison, a long-time authority on the complicated details of the original Clinical Center building, died Oct. 3.

John Roland “Mike” Harrison, a long-time authority on the complicated details of the original Clinical Center building and subsequent additions, died Oct. 3 of a heart attack at age 71.

Born in St. Louis and reared in College Park, Md., Harrison literally grew up on the Bldg. 10 construction site; his father was supervisory engineer of hospital construction for the Army Corps of Engineers. “Mike came and played in the dirt while the building was going up,” said Jim Wilson, current chief of facilities for the CC and a long-time friend of Harrison’s.

Harrison earned a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Maryland and came to NIH in spring 1957 as an officer in the Public Health Service. He worked on a variety of buildings on campus, mostly in his specialty of heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Assigned to open the new Ambulatory Care Research Facility—an addition to Bldg. 10—in 1981, he was soon named building services manager for all of Bldg. 10.

“He knew where every room and every elevator was in the entire building, by number,” said NCI’s Pat Schettino, Harrison’s companion for the past 20 years. “He knew it backwards and forwards.”

Harrison’s deep familiarity with Bldg. 10, his exacting standards and his incubation within the NIH culture earned him a nickname. “We called him ‘the corporate critic,’” said colleague Don Sebastian of the CC Office of Facility Management. “He had grown up with the corporation [NIH] and he never was shy about saying what he needed to say. He knew the NIH way and system.”

Away from work, Harrison was passionate about racing and engines. “He raced high-performance boats on the Potomac River and built engines for them,” Wilson recalled. “He was also a world-renowned expert on Corvairs,” a rear-engine car produced by GM in the 1960’s.

“He owned up to half a dozen Corvairs at times,” said Schettino, and regularly attended national CORSA (Corvair Society of America) meetings, often as a judge. His prize version was one he modified with a Chevy 350 V-8 engine; he converted the car to a mid-engine design to improve performance. “He raced that one for awhile, but was working on turning it into a show car,” Schettino said. “He was always making parts for it.” He also raced motorcycles and was an avid fan of NASCAR races.

Colleagues recalled him as competitive and constantly engaged, whether it was doing the newspaper’s crossword puzzle every morning or playing cribbage on a set he kept in his desk. “He didn’t like to lose,” Sebastian said. “And he was a fine writer. He had the English language by the [tail].”

Harrison was also known for his decidedly uncorporate attire. “He had that rebel look, with long hair and beard, way before the Beatles,” Sebastian noted.

Harrison retired from the PHS in 1987 at the rank of captain, though colleagues joked that they had never seen him in uniform. “That’s because he didn’t own one,” Schettino said.

He remained on campus for another dozen years, mainly as a contractor for Bovis Lend Lease and primarily as an authority on issues involving Bldg. 10, including preparations for the new Clinical Research Center and how to use vacated space within the old hospital.

Harrison earned the lifelong name of Mike when, on the day of his birth, his 4-year-old sister hollered to her pregnant mother on the way to the hospital, “Bring me home a Mikey,” Schettino explained. “Mike was a very giving man who touched a lot of lives in a very positive way,” she said. “He was a man of strong principles and was willing to stand up for them. He approached everything with the intent of doing the very best he could and he took the time to make that happen. He was very passionate about NIH and about maintaining the facility so the work could go on.”

“I lost a good friend when Mike passed away,” said Wilson. “He treated me as a father would treat a son.”

Harrison is survived by a son, J. Michael Harrison, and a sister, Rhoda Walker. The family suggests memorial contributions may be made to the American Heart Association or American Cancer Society.

NEI’s Wiggert Retires from Long Career in Science

Dr. Barbara Wiggert

Dr. Barbara Wiggert, acting chief of NEI’s Laboratory of Retinal Cell and Molecular Biology, recently retired after 30 years of government service, all with NEI. She says it’s time to move on to another chapter of her life.

She earned her B.A. in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin in 1959. For the next 4 years, she attended Harvard University, division of medical sciences, where she earned her Ph.D. in biochemistry. She then returned to Wisconsin as a postdoctoral fellow in biochemistry at the UW Medical School. In 1965, Wiggert moved to Massachusetts with her husband and children and in 1969, the Wiggerts moved to Colesville, Md., where they reared their three daughters and one son.

Wiggert joined NEI’s Laboratory of Vision Research as a part-time guest worker in 1972. After 3 years, she began working full-time in the lab and spent the next 11 years serving as a postdoctoral fellow, staff fellow and research chemist. In 1986, she joined the Laboratory of Retinal Cell and Molecular Biology as a section chief, and in 1997, she became the acting chief of the lab, where she spent her time until her retirement.

“I enjoyed the science immensely,” she said. “It was a joy to work in a scientific community where I was given the freedom to explore new areas in scientific fields that were so interesting and rewarding.”

Wiggert’s areas of research have included: Gene expression and the regulation of gene expression in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), and the identification of a new gene, NORPEG and its protein, which may play an important role in RPE cell structure and formation; molecular mechanisms underlying the effects of fenretinide, a synthetic compound similar to the form of vitamin A that is integral to the visual cycle process; and the effect of acute, intense light on the rat retina.

“I appreciate being able to look back on a wonderful career that allowed me to stay home with my children when they were young and then to return to the research that I love,” she said. “Now I will direct my attention to my children and seven grandchildren.” She enjoys living in Annapolis east of the Severn River and having time for gardening and volunteer work and attending classical music events. She also plans a visit to London where her son, daughter-in-law and grandson live.

A symposium honoring Wiggert was held at Bldg. 60 on Nov. 9. The title was IRBP: A Journey Toward Understanding the Retina. Many guests spoke, including Wiggert’s former supervisor Dr. Gerald J. Chader, who is now a professor in the department of ophthalmology at Keck Medical School in Los Angeles. His talk was titled, The LRCMB: Contributions of Dr. Barbara Wiggert.

‘Hat Lady’ Franklin Promotes Attention To Stray Mail
Sandi Franklin
Sandi Franklin

Sandi Franklin has been a messenger at CSR for 18 years and is a standout—known by many for her devotion to her job as well as her hats.

Some of her hats have flowers, some are summery and a recent one was a stylishly simple black number. The hats give Franklin a special air as she travels through Rockledge II, delivering mail twice a day, 3 days a week on floors 1 through 6.

The hats began as a practical matter: “As part of my job, I used to be out in the sun a lot going between buildings and to the main campus,” she recalled recently. “So [in] the summer of 1988 or ‘89, I bought a hat to keep off that sun. Then, later, I spotted another good one and bought it. All this time later, I just have 19 of them. I haven’t made any of them myself, but I accessorize them, adding flowers or another decoration.

“And, you know, I only wear them from about June through September, yet some people look at me in mid-winter and want to know, ‘Sandi, where’s your hat?’ I guess that’s my reputation.”

She knows hundreds of faces of her clients, many by name. “What I really like,” she said, “is that 70 percent of the time when I go out somewhere, I’ll run into someone from CSR I know. It may be in the lobby of a hospital, or in a restaurant or at Atlantic City—but there’s a familiar face.”

She enjoys writing stories. Several times a year she brings one to the noon Monday literary group on the fourth floor of Rockledge II. Members read an offering and then comment on it at the next meeting. And if you’re planning a holiday event or talent show, she’s available to entertain; she enjoyed doing stand-up comedy at a place called Food for Thought on Connecticut Ave.—until the landlord raised the rent and the place closed.

But when it comes to the job of delivering the mail, she has some advice to keep under your hat: If you get a misdirected piece of mail, don’t just put it back in the inbox. Mark on the envelope the reason why it is being returned—“moved away,” “no longer here,” “retired” or “now at FDA.”

However, she counsels, if the address on the letter differs from the place the letter was delivered to, that’s when simply putting it in the outbox is the right thing to do.—

Chacko Heads CSR Bioengineering Integrated Review Group

Dr. George Chacko Dr. George Chacko has been named the new chief of the bioengineering sciences and technologies integrated review group at the Center for Scientific Review. BST coordinates the review of grant applications focused on the fundamental aspects of bioengineering and technology development in bioinformatics and computer science, gene and drug delivery systems, imaging principles for molecules and cells, modeling of biological systems, statistics and data management, instrumentation, chips and microarrays, biosensors, and biomaterials. Chacko joined CSR in 2001 as scientific review administrator for a special emphasis panel that focused on bioinformatics and computational biology. He has worked in the immunology, biological chemistry and macromolecular biophysics and BST IRGs. He will continue as a scientific review administrator. Chacko received B.V.Sc. (D.V.M. equivalent) and M.V.Sc. degrees in veterinary medicine and veterinary pathology, respectively, in India. He also received a Ph.D. in biochemistry and immunology at Ohio State University. Chacko had postdoctoral training at Washington University School of Medicine and then joined NIH as a cancer research training associate at the National Cancer Institute.

CSR Mail Clerk Buxton Retires

Bob Buxton has retired after 36 years of service to NIH as a mail clerk.
Bob Buxton has retired after 36 years of service to NIH as a mail clerk.

Bob Buxton has retired after 36 years of service to NIH as a mail clerk. He was known for the cheerful and conscientious way he made sure mail and grant applications got to where they were supposed to go.

“Bobby is often able to recall where many CSR staff members were located in the old Westwood Bldg. more than a decade ago,” said Nadel Griffith, chief of CSR’s Administrative Branch.

Retiring didn’t come easy. “Over the last year, Bobby’s knees and spine became seriously damaged,” said his sister, Priscilla Bright. “He had to have surgery for ruptured disks…and had both knee joints replaced. People were so welcoming when he returned. But his medical problems left him with chronic pain, which contributed to his decision to retire at 62.”

When Buxton was asked what he liked most about his job, he said, “Meeting all the doctors.” The feeling was mutual. Bright recalls the day he came home with several new shirts. Someone had noticed he had outgrown many of his and bought him some new ones. “From a pretty nice store,” she added. “So many kind people at NIH made him feel like a special part of the family.” Buxton also looked after his coworkers. “He would deliver packages that he knew were too heavy for me to handle,” said Sandi Franklin. “He was a great help and is a true friend.”

Buxton had suffered a lack of oxygen at birth that left him with a learning disability. His mother had a master’s degree in education and believed Bobby had a productive place in the world. She helped him develop skills such as reading, memorizing fine details and helping others.

His mother eventually heard about a program started by President Kennedy that places people like Buxton in appropriate government jobs. Buxton remembers the day he applied for the mail clerk job at NIH in 1970. He laughs about the crazy questions they asked him, including “Have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”

Buxton won a number of awards over the years for his exemplary service to NIH. Most recently, he was honored by a retirement party at CSR. “You’re going to be missed,” said Griffith. “We want you to come back and visit.”

Buxton plans to keep busy, moving into a new apartment, reading about current events in the newspaper, pursuing his interest in classic cars of the 1950s and 60s and applying for a part-time job.—

Bailey-Wilson Receives IGES Leadership Award

Dr. Joan Bailey-Wilson

Dr. Joan Bailey-Wilson, co-chief of the Inherited Disease Research Branch, NHGRI, recently received the 2006 Leadership Award conferred by the International Genetic Epidemiology Society (IGES). The award recognizes her research, teaching and service and was presented at the 15th annual IGES meeting in Tampa Bay. Bailey-Wilson develops new statistical methods and performs analyses that guide other genome scientists in their hunt for disease-associated genes. Trained in statistical genetics, she studies the genetics of complex diseases and develops novel methodologies that can be used to explain the roles that both genes and the environment play in causing these diseases. She has also been part of the hurricane victim DNA identification expert panel for the disaster in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and the kinship and data analysis panel, a committee convened by the National Institute of Justice to advise New York authorities on issues relating to the use of DNA identification of victims of the World Trade Center terrorist attack.

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