Mentor to Many
McNairy Retires After 37 Years of Federal Service
By Jilliene Drayton
Over 200 colleagues, family members
and friends from as far away as Hawaii attended Dr. Sidney McNairy’s
retirement reception. During the event, Dr. Karam
Soliman (r) of Florida Agricultural and
Mechanical University presented McNairy with the university’s
Headshot Photo: Melinda
“My mother once told me that no excuse was good
enough for failure,” said Dr. Sidney A. McNairy, Jr. “She did not achieve
more than an eighth-grade education, but she made sure that her children
McNairy’s mother encouraged him to reach goals that
at the time seemed unattainable for an African American in the segregated
south. McNairy not only accomplished his own career dreams, but also went
on to ensure that others like him achieved theirs. After nearly four
decades of federal service, all at NIH, McNairy recently retired as chief
of the Capacity Building Branch in the NIGMS Division of Training,
Workforce Development, and Diversity.
Born in the projects of Memphis, Tenn., McNairy
developed an interest in science at a young age. “I occasionally stayed
on my grandmother’s farm, where I was fascinated by everything from how
chickens hatched from eggs to how milk made butter,” he said. “I decided
to pursue science because I had a curiosity and an aptitude for it and
The first of his family to graduate from college,
McNairy earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from LeMoyne-Owen
College in Memphis. He then pursued a master’s degree in biochemistry at
Purdue University, where he was 1 of 12 African-American graduate
students. At the urging of his senior thesis committee, McNairy went on
to earn a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Purdue.
McNairy began his professional career at Southern
University in Baton Rouge, where he served as a professor of biochemistry
and director of the Health Research Center. He also held many visiting
scientist appointments at both companies and federal agencies, including
Pfizer, Eli Lilly, General Electric, Standard Oil of California and the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A mentor to many, McNairy
said he worked to motivate and inspire students: “I tasked my students
with writing their own original research papers. Many of my mentees went
on to successful careers in research and medicine.”
After 10 years in academia, McNairy joined NIH as a
program director at what was then the Division of Research Resources
(later the National Center for Research Resources). “I originally visited
NIH to learn how to compete for research support,” he recalled. “I was
then offered a permanent job, and I decided to stay for a year—but that 1
year turned into 37.”
In 1995, McNairy was appointed associate director
for research infrastructure and director of the Division of Research
Infrastructure at NCRR. In this position, he developed and oversaw the
Research Centers in Minority Institutions (RCMI), Institutional
Development Award (IDeA) and Research
Infrastructure in Minority Institutions programs. He also directed the
Animal and Research Facilities Improvement programs and the Science
Education Partnership Awards.
In early 2012, after NCRR was dissolved, McNairy
joined NIGMS, where he continued to manage the IDeA
program as well as two other NIGMS-supported capacity-building programs.
“Sidney made a tremendous impact on the IDeA and the RCMI programs,” said Dr. Fred Taylor, new
chief of the Capacity Building Branch. “His unwavering commitment and
passion to address the health issues that affect many of the communities
that these programs serve are what helped make IDeA
and RCMI successful today.”
During his career, McNairy received many honors and
awards, including nine honorary doctorate degrees, election to the board
of trustees at his alma mater and several NIH Director’s Awards. He also
led an NIH delegation to the 66th Lindau Nobel
Laureate Meeting, which he described as one of the highlights of his
In retirement, McNairy said he first wants to wind
down—but only for a short period. “I plan to serve as a mentor for
developing investigators, perhaps return to teaching, pursue my culinary
interests and one day write a book.”
Taylor Named NIGMS Capacity-Building Chief
Dr. W. Fred Taylor is the new chief of the Capacity
Building Branch in the NIGMS Division of Training, Workforce
Development, and Diversity. The branch manages the Institutional
Development Award (IDeA) program, which fosters
basic, translational and clinical biomedical research at institutions in
states where NIH funding has historically been low. The branch also
supports a number of programs aimed at increasing the research capabilities
of institutions with substantial enrollments of students from groups
underrepresented in the biomedical and behavioral sciences as well as
enhancing the research competitiveness of faculty at those institutions.
joined NIGMS in 2011 from the former National Center for Research
Resources, where he was a health scientist administrator for 11 years,
during which he helped guide the growth of the IDeA
program. Before coming to NIH, he was deputy director of the thermal
stress program and director of the hyperbaric environmental adaptation
program at the Naval Medical Research Institute.
Taylor earned a B.S. in biology from Saint Mary’s
College of California and a Ph.D. in physiology from the University of
Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, where he also conducted
His honors include a 2012 NIH Director’s Award.
CSR Scientific Review
Officer Sinnett Retires
CSR’s Dr. Everett Sinnett
Retirement will allow Dr. Everett Sinnett to take a deep breath. Good, deep breaths
have been his field of interest throughout his career, including 32 years
at NIH. He retired in December as a scientific review officer for the
respiratory integrative biology and translational research study section
at the Center for Scientific Review.
Growing up near the ocean in Maine, Sinnett became intrigued by comparative mammalian
lung mechanics, especially the adaptation of marine mammals to their
environments. After a B.S. in biology from MIT, he earned his Ph.D. in
marine biology from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. One notable
research expedition took him to Antarctica, where he spent two months
studying Weddell seals.
Sinnett came to NHLBI
in 1980 after postdoctoral work at Harvard School of Public Health. As a
program officer, Sinnett said a highlight was
serving as contract officer for the HIFI (High Frequency Intervention)
trial. This trial found that a new form of ventilation for premature
infants, about to be widely used, could have serious side effects.
“This was a critical study that required an
excruciating level of detail,” said James Kiley,
director of NHLBI’s Division of Lung Diseases. “With this study and the
rest of his portfolio, Ev did everything at the
highest level.” When Kiley joined NIH, he
noted, “Ev served in a mentoring role, helping
me understand my new position as a health scientist administrator.”
In 1990, Sinnett moved to
CSR, where he took over the first respiratory-focused study section.
(Previously, cardiovascular review groups considered this research.)
At CSR, as at NHLBI, Sinnett’s
thoroughness was valued. “Ev became an
institution over his many years of service,” said Lawrence Boerboom, chief of the cardiovascular and respiratory
services integrated review group. “He was a meticulous organizer of his
review meetings. He prided himself in carefully assessing the needs of
each application in his study section and recruiting reviewers to meet
When Sinnett came to NIH,
paper and pen were the norm. He served on many committees to improve
electronic processes, including being the CSR IMPAC II liaison for more
than a decade. “Ev was the go-to person for
us,” said Eugenia Chester, customer services manager in the Office of
Extramural Research. “He was instrumental in helping us design and test
systems that benefitted peer review and the
A tennis, biking and
all-around exercise enthusiast, Sinnett served
on the NIH worksite health promotion action committee, leading to
healthier offerings in vending machines and cafeterias, among other
improvements. He mapped walking routes around Rockledge and advocated for
no-cost access to showers at NIH for employees after they exercise on
Sinnett donated 128
units of blood at the Clinical Center during his career, which he
calculated as equivalent to his body weight.
Immediate plans include more time in Maine at a
family home on Casco Bay and more tennis and bridge. He and wife Rachel
will visit one of their two sons (they also have a daughter) in Beijing
this year. Not surprisingly, he has been thinking about Beijing’s
notorious air quality and its effect on respiration.
Former FOIA Chief Belk
Joanne Hebb Belk, 89, who
directed NIH’s compliance with the Freedom of Information Act for many
years, died Mar. 4 at her home in Hanover, N.H.
Belk was born in Detroit. She graduated from
Framingham Academy and High School (Mass.) and spent summers and free
time writing and editing for Boston area newspapers: the Framingham News and
She attended Simmons College, from which she received her B.S. in June
1944 and immediately entered the Women’s Army Corp.
In 1946, under the auspices of the GI Bill, she
studied in Germany, Sweden and Switzerland for 1 year in the American
Students Abroad Program. She returned to the United States to write on
the staff of the Boston
In 1967, she joined the staff of Science magazine as
an editor, received her paralegal certification from George Washington
University in 1975, and, in 1977, began a 22-year career at NIH as acting
director of the FOIA Office, part of the Office of Communications and
Public Liaison, OD. She received an NIH Merit Award in 1989.
Belk retired in 1998, at age 75. In retirement, she
travelled to Africa, Europe and Asia, often with her best friend Marilie “Mouse” Rockefeller of Washington.
She is survived by her son Samuel (“Q”) and two
OER’s Morton Retires from eRA
After 44 Years at NIH
By Manju Subramanya
Oliver “Pete” Morton recently retired after 44 years at
NIH. He was in charge of more than 30 electronic systems that process
Tom Mason, a longtime colleague and friend of
Oliver “Pete” Morton, program manager at OER’s Electronic Research
Administration (eRA), competed with him one
year on who could take the best photograph. On a trip to capture the
cherry blossoms in D.C., Mason, the eRA
operations chief, was disappointed—the crowds, tour buses and drizzle had
ruined his chance of getting the right picture. Then Morton showed up
with flawless renditions of the pink blossoms. Turns out he had simply
used Photoshop to remove the extraneous stuff. Photography is a metaphor
for Morton’s life, Mason said. “He focuses on what truly matters.”
That knack of separating the wheat from the chaff
has stood Morton in good stead in his 44-year career at NIH. It started
at the Clinical Center in 1969, when Morton was hired as a health
physicist, wound through the Center for Information Technology and ended
at eRA, which he joined in 2004. He retired at
the end of March.
At eRA, where he oversaw
the 30-plus electronic systems that process extramural grants, Morton
quickly changed the organization from a pure IT shop to one that
understood the extramural grants business and worked with the grants
community to identify their needs and priorities. He introduced the
concept of customer relationship managers, who worked with the 4,600 NIH
staffers and the global community of over 165,000 researchers using the eRA systems.
“Pete introduced a real sense of customer service
and made eRA systems as flexible and responsive
as possible,” said Dr. Sally Rockey, NIH deputy
director for extramural research and OER director. “With eRA policies and process, he has established a strong
partnership with institutes and the extramural research community.”
Dr. Brent Stanfield, director of NIDDK’s Division
of Extramural Activities, recalled that NIH was largely a paper
environment before eRA’s IMPAC modules came
into being. “The vast majority of NIH’s business is extramural funding,”
he said. “If you took the systems away, there would be riots. We are all
so dependent on it.
“Pete has achieved a lot. He has been very
responsive to the needs of the NIH community,” Stanfield added.
“When we accomplished milestones of our systems,
Pete has led the way,” Rockey said, citing
Morton’s involvement in moving grant applications from paper to now
almost 100 percent electronic. “He has been instrumental in changing the
availability of eRA systems to 24/7, which is
Recently, Morton has facilitated collaboration with
federal agencies such as NSF and DoD on areas
of mutual benefit; eRA systems are already used
by AHRQ, CDC, FDA, SAMHSA and VA. “eRA
is seen as a trusted partner,” he said.
Senior eRA managers
lauded Morton for his can-do attitude, his humility, his ability to make
everyone feel valued, his calming force, his openness, his motivation of
staff and his penchant for not taking life too seriously.
In retirement, Morton looks forward to spending
more time with his wife, Cindy, his daughter Jennifer and playing with
his 10-year-old grandson Chris. He also plans to tend to his 350-acre
pine tree farms near Macon, Ga., and take photo expeditions.
Parting advice? “Listen very, very carefully to
customers and staff and bring that input to bear on developing a vision
of what our future should be,” Morton said. “It is the hardest thing to
do, but the most important.”
NIH Mourns Sheldon Cohen
By Claudia Wair
Dr. Sheldon Cohen, circa 1984
Dr. Sheldon G. Cohen, 94, a noted research
scientist, physician and medical historian, died Mar. 26 in his Chevy
Cohen graduated from Ohio State University in 1940
and received his M.D. from New York University School of Medicine in
1943. After an internship at New York’s Bellevue Hospital, he served as a
flight surgeon, rising to the rank of captain, with the U.S. Army Air
Corps during World War II. Subsequently, he completed residencies in
internal medicine and allergy at the Fort Howard Veterans Administration
Hospital in affiliation with Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the
University of Maryland, and then finished a research fellowship in
applied physiology and immunology at the University of Pittsburgh.
From 1952 to 1972, he pursued a career in
Wilkes-Barre, Pa., combining clinical practice in allergy and internal
medicine and academic and research endeavors at Wilkes College. While a
professor of experimental biology, he developed a biomedical teaching and
research program for advanced undergraduate students.
He joined NIH in 1972 as a training consultant to
NIAID. The following year, he became chief of the Allergy and Immunology
Branch, and in 1977, was selected for the newly created position of
director of the institute’s Immunology, Allergic and Immunologic Disease
Program (now DAIT).
“Sheldon Cohen was a dedicated physician and
scientist who made numerous contributions to the understanding of
allergic diseases,” said NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci.
“His long career at NIAID was marked by his enthusiasm for and commitment
to the field, and his work as a medical historian leaves an enduring
Cohen served in several professional societies,
including as executive vice president of the Lupus Foundation of America
and as director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for
Allergic Diseases. He also was a member of the WHO expert panel on immuno-logy and the National Research Council
committee on aerobiology.
“Although busy as a science administrator, he
always had time for consultations, often at great length, on difficult
medical cases,” said FIC’s Richard Krause. “He was a gentleman of the old
school: always kind, considerate and with the patience of Job when
Cohen joined the American Academy of Allergy,
Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) in 1950, and he became a fellow of the
organization in 1953 and an emeritus fellow in 1989. He served as AAAAI
historian from 1963 to 1969 and wrote historical retrospectives for the
organization’s 25th and 50th anniversaries. He was awarded the AAAAI
Distinguished Service Award in 1971.
After completing his tenure as director of the
Immunology, Allergic and Immunologic Disease Program in 1988, he
continued to work at NIH as a scientific advisor at NIAID and as visiting
scholar at the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of
Medicine. He worked closely with NLM staff to develop the Breath of Life
exhibition. In 2001, he commissioned bronze busts of Edward Jenner, Louis
Pasteur and Moses Maimonides for permanent display in NLM’s History of
Medicine Division reading room.
Dr. Stephen Greenberg of NLM’s History of Medicine
Division remembers that “Dr. Cohen was very fond of cheesecake,
particularly with strawberries, but as he grew older, he was advised to
limit his intake. To circumvent that, he would occasionally arrive in the
History of Medicine Division with a cheesecake for the staff. I suspect
he made deliveries to other offices as well.”
Cohen lived to see the third edition of his Excerpts from Classics in
Allergy published in the weeks before his death. He was
working on a new e-book on well-known public figures with asthma.
“Many will remember his inquisitive spirit,
dedication and diligence,” said NIAID’s Dr. David Morens,
“as well as the very high bar he set for other scholars in our
Cohen enjoyed fishing and freshwater sailing during
his years in Pennsylvania. His curiosity led him to explore other
cultures through international travel with friends and colleagues. More
recently, he enjoyed watching college sports on television, and when his
Ohio State teams took to the field or the court, he would kindly rib his
University of Michigan great-nephew about the ongoing rivalry.
Dr. Bernard Janicki,
Cohen’s onetime deputy, was “impressed by his extensive clinical and
basic science knowledge and by his compassion, personal warmth and agile
wit. We shared official travel experiences as well as many off-duty
activities; my children welcomed him as an unofficial family member. He
dedicated his life to serving others and will be missed very much.”
His sister, Bernyce Cohen
Epstein, preceded him in death in 2004.
Cohen is survived by his nephew, Lee Epstein;
niece, Jayne Epstein; and three great-nephews.
A memorial service will take place at 1:30 p.m. on
Sunday, May 19 at Temple Emanuel, 10101 Connecticut Ave., Kensington, MD
20895. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to NLM’s Historical
and Rare Book Collection or to a charity of the donor’s choice.
Medical Arts’ Dreyfuss
Dies at 58
Ricardo “Rick” Dreyfuss,
who worked as a photomicroscoper for the
Division of Medical Arts, Office of Research Services, died Mar. 14 at
Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring. He was 58 years old.
Dreyfuss had 33 years of
experience in creating images that illustrated the most complex
biomedical research results, processes and procedures. His
photomicrographs graced the covers of countless scientific journals. He
received the NIH Director’s Award in 1994.
In addition to his work as a photographer, Dreyfuss was a gifted artist and woodworker, and a
musician. He was born in San Bernardino, Calif., and served in the Army
in the 1970s in Germany.
Dreyfuss is survived by
his wife of 30 years, Lana, four children, a brother and two sisters.