Dr. Ethan Shevach (l) and Dr. William Paul (r) of NIAID’s Laboratory of Immunology congratulate Clarence Jackson on his recent retirement.
Flashback to 1948. President Harry S. Truman
was in the White House. Dr. Rolla Dyer was director of the National Institute of Health, part of the Federal Security Agency in the Department of Labor. On Monday, Jan. 12 of that year, 18-year-old Clarence Jackson, fresh-faced and eager, reports to the campus’s Bldg. 6 to begin a career that will extend nearly 3 times as long as the average NIH’er’s tenure.
At the time, only the National Cancer Institute
and the Division of Research Grants formally
existed at NIH. Later that year, the same act that pluralized “Institutes” in NIH’s name established the National Heart Institute. The National Institute of Dental Research debuted that fall. NIH’s total appropriation: just over $24.6 million.
Fast forward to 2010. Barack Obama is President.
NIH, part of the Department of Health and Human Services since 1953, is led by Dr. Francis Collins. The agency counts 99 buildings on its Bethesda campus alone and operates 27 institutes and centers with an annual appropriation
topping $30 billion, not including stimulus funds. Lots of changes can occur in 62 years, through 12 Presidents and 11 NIH directors.
And Jackson, now 80 years old, admittedly
has enjoyed witnessing the action from his front-row seat.
Recently, he was persuaded by his wife and daughters to retire from federal service. During a meeting to document his momentous career, however, he was quick to note that he’s not actually leaving the job.
“I’ll still be working here for 4 hours, 3 days a week,” he said, smiling broadly, “so I’m not really
As several well-wishers dropped by, Jackson reminisced about the NIH of old. “There were just 6 buildings on the campus back when I came here,” he said, marveling at the agency’s growth over the last 6 decades, “and T-6 was the smallest. [Bldg.] 31 was built in T-6’s place.” A research hospital also had been authorized and funding for it appropriated by Congress; Clinical
Center construction, however, was still 5 years from completion.
Over the course of his career, Jackson has probably
performed nearly every job associated with research lab set-up, resources and equipment, including supplying glassware and handling animal cages. For a while, he did some filing at an NIH outpost on River Rd. For the last 4 decades, however, he’s worked in the same lab along the 11th floor north corridor of the Clinical Center.
“Clarence Jackson basically sees that the Laboratory of Immunology works,” said Dr. William Paul, chief of the NIAID lab, who has worked with Jackson since July 1968. That’s 41½ years. “He simply makes our lab function and he’s been doing a great job of it for quite a long time. We’ve been very fortunate.”
“Mr. Jackson has facilitated the operation of my laboratory for as long as I can remember,” added Dr. Ethan Shevach, chief of the lab’s cellular immunology section.
“It is always a pleasure to greet him early in the morning when I come in, knowing that things will operate smoothly during the course of the day.”
Nicole Yung and Victor Hermenegildo, IRTA graduate students, have been working
as research support personnel with Jackson for 9 years in the Laboratory of Immunology.
“Since we started working,” they wrote in an email, “Mr. Jackson was and still is very dedicated to his job. He was very dependable, precise, respectful and punctual.
Mr. Jackson made our working experience fun. Although we don’t know much about football, he loves to share his Redskins moments with everyone at the workplace. We are going to miss him as our team leader because he knew how to coordinate the lab.”
Yung noted that Jackson “always has a big smile on his face and is ready to help if you need it. I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for all his leadership,
friendship and example and wish him the very best on his retirement.”
Hermenegildo said he grew especially close to Jackson, whose work ethic and manner remind Hermenegildo of his father. “During the times that I was taking
classes, Mr. Jackson knew how to give me privacy when I was studying. He always gave me advice and motivation to become successful in the final stages of my studies…we would like to let Mr. Jackson know that we congratulate him on his retirement and wish him the best luck in what his plans are from here on.”
According to NIH’s Human Resources Systems, Analytics and Information Division,
the average length of employment for people who retire from NIH is 21.6 years. Whether 62 years is an HHS record is hard to determine officially, but it is the longest duration of employment here in the last 5 years. In fact, not since 1996 has an NIH’er—the late Roskey Jennings, also of NIAID—served a longer time—66 years—on the job.
If Jackson has his way, that record is in jeopardy.
“I just really enjoy it here,” Jackson concluded. “The people are nice and I like what I do. Why would I want to stay home?”