||NIH director Dr. Francis Collins (l) bids farewell to his principal deputy, Dr. Raynard Kington, at a reception in Wilson Hall.
His was a rocket-like launch into the top ranks of NIH leadership: Named associate director of behavioral and social sciences research in 2000. Asked to serve as acting director of NIAAA in January 2002. Called to be NIH principal deputy
director just 14 months later.
Kington, however, should be well accustomed to quick climbs. He graduated high school at 16 and undergrad at 19. At 21, he had finished his M.D. and begun his internship, the first year of his residency. He’d earned his M.D., Ph.D. and M.B.A. degrees before he turned 31. He has arguably seen NIH from nearly every perspective—
from grantee and reviewer to acting IC director to acting director.
Above, l: Offering up a memento of the D.C. area, NIDCR director Dr. Lawrence Tabak, who served as acting NIH deputy director while Kington was acting NIH director, is among a host of top NIH staffers to wish Kington well at a Bldg. 1 reception.
Above, r: Kington and Collins enjoy light moments at the farewell reception with Kington’s family, including (from l) son Emerson, partner Dr. Peter Daniolos and son Basil.
Now, he sees it fondly, but firmly, in his rearview
|Kington and a sleeping Basil pose with NIH Deputy Director for Management Colleen Barros.
‘New Perspectives, New Energy’
“What’s that quote from Walden? ‘I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there…Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live…,’” Kington said, during a recent interview. “It’s good to have turnover in a job like this. It’s beneficial and healthy for large organizations to have churn in their leadership. You get new perspectives, new energy. The world is not static and good organizations should not be static.”
On taking the deputy director job, Kington recalled that he set a loose, but finite timeline
for his term. “In the back of my mind I thought I’d stay maybe 5 years max in the position,” he said. “I ended up staying for 7½.”
Ask anyone in the know: The principal deputy
director job at NIH is part-firefighter, part-King Solomon and, apparently, part-James Bond/007—only without the “license to kill.”
“Certain issues that took an extraordinary amount of time…it is unwise to talk about,” Kington quipped diplomatically, only half-joking.
“I take them to the grave.”
He explained, “A disproportionate amount of bad stuff goes to the deputy director [to handle]…
Every deputy director job is different, of course, but it’s the nature of the position.”
Former NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni, writing
in a farewell note read at a Wilson Hall send-off for Kington on July 8, put Kington’s service in perspective, “He rose to the challenges
of what I think is probably the most difficult job at NIH and accomplished it in superb fashion
with resilience and integrity. I will be forever
grateful to him.”
NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci noted, “Dr. Kington represents the epitome of integrity, keen intelligence, sharp insight, common sense and reason. He helped guide the NIH through some of its most challenging times in recent memory, and he did so with grace as well as strength of purpose. He will be sorely missed.”
|Clinical Center director Dr. John Gallin (r) offers good wishes to Kington on his departure this month from NIH. The search for the next principal deputy is under way.
Critical Backstage Manager
The thorniest problem he had to tackle? “Ethics and the conflict of interest situation,” Kington answers without hesitation. “I think it was one of the most difficult challenges the agency faced in its history. The intensity of feeling invoked on all sides, careers were seriously damaged, the character of the whole agency impugned—it was quite the challenge to handle.”
Serving often in a behind-the-scenes capacity, Kington left a legacy of accomplishments. Colleagues
say chief among them was his shepherding
of the ARRA funds last year. No small feat for NIH to spend 10 billion bonus dollars in a mere 2 years. The average research grant lifespan might be two or three times that term.
Kington called to mind different highlights.
“Helping to think through what became ‘D-Poughkeepsie’
[Division of Program Coordination, Planning
and Strategic Initiatives, or DPCPSI] and the Roadmap was especially rewarding,” he said. “I also will never forget how impressive the NIH staff is. I have worked with some remarkable people
at every level. I don’t think you can fully appreciate
the size and complexity of NIH, the incredible
breadth of work that the agency does, unless you come to work here.”
NIDCR director Dr. Lawrence Tabak, who is also serving currently as acting DPCPSI director,
said Kington’s contributions, both seen and unseen, were vital to the agency.
“Without Raynard’s selfless and tireless efforts,” Tabak noted, “the NIH Roadmap and its new way of doing business at NIH would never have been realized.”
Still, Kington said, there’s at least one issue he wishes he’d had more time to tackle at NIH:
“There’s still a huge amount of work to do in diversity and its impact on the scientific workforce
at large and at this agency,” he pointed out. “I think it’s very difficult for agencies to diversify without some major external force driving it. It’s not that there are not good intentions and it’s not for lack of trying. I don’t think that diversity has been seen as a core, long-term survival issue for NIH. I would have liked to have been a bigger influence on that.”
Although he still intends to find ways post-NIH to help the scientific community broaden its STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workforce—and hopes one day to teach a course in science policy—Kington said his career as a research scientist is virtually done.
“That door is essentially closing,” he explained. “It’s very difficult if not impossible to return after being absent so long. It basically leaves you behind.”
A Certain Symmetry
Legend has it that when newspaperman Horace Greeley advised in an 1850s editorial,
“Go west, young man,” he was actually speaking to a youthful abolitionist
minister named Josiah Grinnell. By 1854, Grinnell had traveled as far west as Iowa, where he founded his namesake town, which became a stop on the Underground
Railroad. After its founding in 1846 in Davenport as Iowa College, the school—one of the first accredited colleges west of the Mississippi River—relocated
to the town of Grinnell in 1860 and later formally adopted the name of its new home.
On Aug. 1, when Kington at age 50 becomes Grinnell College’s 13th president—and the first African American to hold the post—he’ll be about 10 years younger than the average college head, according to a study by the American Council on Education. Go west, young man. Relishing the rich history of his new institution, Kington said he anticipates both familiar and unfamiliar challenges.
“Some dimensions will be similar,” he said. “What I can bring is the perspective
of running a large organization. We train here [at NIH]. We have students, young people here. Our missions overlap, to some extent. Colleges are incredibly
optimistic institutions, believing in the potential to influence young lives. They’re also complicated organizations. I’ve never lived in a small town. I’ve never really been associated with a liberal arts college. It’ll be a leap into a new world. I’m looking forward to it.”