Although his title in recent years has been R&W president, Schools has in fact been NIH’s ambassador-at-large, linking NIH and its people to larger concerns outside the perimeter fence. Observes Diane Baker, wife of NIH director Dr. Francis Collins, “Randy is the central node in an extensive network that connects community resources with the needs and opportunities at NIH. He is a master matchmaker who transforms unmet needs into successful partnerships.”
It might be simplest to view Schools as a seasonal phenomenon.
In the summer, he is one of the maestros of the Camp Fantastic BBQ, which for 32 years has raised funds for—and awareness of—his other summer obsession, Camp Fantastic, a weeklong getaway held each August near Front Royal, Va., for children with cancer. He also helps run the Comcast Outdoor Film Festival, now in its 19th year; it began on campus and continues to draw crowds every August. He is such a fixture at Bethesda Big Train collegiate baseball games at nearby Povich Field that he once ended up with a brain clot at Suburban Hospital after a player’s warm-up toss hit him in the head.
Kathy Russell, who recently retired as CEO of the Children’s Inn at NIH, remembers how Schools started the annual BBQ: “We had this idea to do a BBQ at really nominal cost, provide a social opportunity to learn more about camp, provide NIH employees a different lunch option and raise just a little money for [camp sponsor] Special Love. Someone suggested I call ‘Randy Schools at the R&W.’ Randy enthusiastically embraced the opportunity and not only helped us by hosting the BBQ—which he still does—but also got involved with Special Love personally. From that, friendships evolved and Randy became an asset in the development of the Children’s Inn at NIH, where he has served as a board member for more than 25 years. When you need to get something done, Randy knows everybody.”
Adds Dave Smith, CEO of Special Love, Inc., “Randy is the most giving, service-minded person I’ve ever met. He’s also one of the most genuine, unassuming people alive today. He responds to need on a purely human level, regardless of a person’s race, religion or ethnicity. He’s the common denominator that connects dozens of area charities and organizations, bringing them together to solve mutual problems and serve the common good. I’ve often told Randy that if it really is possible to ‘build treasure in heaven,’ he has a king’s reward waiting in the afterlife.”
Dr. Philip Pizzo, who helped found the Children’s Inn during a long career at NCI that preceded his becoming dean of Stanford School of Medicine, says, “I have had the opportunity to know many exceptional individuals who have changed the way we think about science and human disease, some whose impact may not be fully realized into the future. Randy Schools is one of these exceptional individuals whose impact has been immediate—touching the lives of children with serious illness, their parents and families and virtually everyone who he interacted with. Randy is the essence of human goodness—he truly cares about those in need and gives deeply of his own humanity to restore or invigorate that which has been damaged by illness and disease in others. He does this in an unassuming and self-effacing manner simply because he believes he can make a difference for others now, in the present. He has done this day after day, year after year, decade afterdecade, doing what medicine and science can sometimes never achieve—healing the inner spirit and bringing happiness to children, families and our community locally and beyond.”
This is a good example of the many dozens of times Schools has appeared, at the center of a lively gathering, in NIH Record photos. Seated is “Stormin’” Norman Wilson, a participant in the first Camp Fantastic in 1982, and possessor of a disarmingly unconventional sense of humor that has inspired a generation of campers and counselors. He is joined by (from l) Al Parker, Wilson’s cousin and caretaker; NIH alumnus Charles Butler, active volunteer for R&W and Special Love; Schools; and Angela Wilson, Norman’s sister.
|Schools had much work to do to clear out an office crammed with memorabilia collected over a nearly 40-year NIH career.
As if his summer achievements were not enough, Schools—who jokes, “I’ve spent more hours of annual leave in board rooms than under palm trees”—in the fall has helped run countless Combined Federal Campaigns and all 31 years’ worth of the NIH Interinstitute Relay Races, plus the Back to Bethesda civic events in downtown Bethesda.
Each winter for the past 20 years, he has chaired a holiday season Goodwill dinner for poor children and families.
Each spring for the past 18 years, he has helped organize and run the annual Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus premier night for kids, which happens every March.
And these are just the headline items. Anyone who ever got an out-of-office email message from Schools knew he could be almost anywhere when he was away from his desk.
Sitting in his hopelessly cluttered office in the basement of Bldg. 31 in mid-January, Schools, who before coming to NIH had stints in the U.S. Army (as a counterintelligence agent) and at the old Garfinckel’s department store, recounts a career enlivened by extracurricular associations; he just can’t help but network. An hour-long conversation includes brushes with Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig, Tony Bennett (“We shared a big sub at Montgomery Mall when he was in town for a fundraiser for the Children’s Inn”), Walter Cronkite, Barry Goldwater, Ted Turner, Jane Fonda, Larry King, several First Ladies, “even Bill Cosby—he was very warm. His third-grade teacher, Mary Naylor, was with him and he offered her a trip around the world.”
Schools also claims, “I’m one of the few people here who worked with Mr. Natcher [Rep. William Natcher (D-KY), namesake of Bldg. 45]. I knew him before I came here.”
It is only fitting that Schools headed an association (and, for a number of years, the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives), for it is associations that intrigue and mean the world to him; he can easily name half a dozen people within NIH’s orbit whose parents worked here and can recall Camp Fantastic alumni who now run companies or practice medicine.
Even as he turns over the R&W reins, Schools can’t help but emphasize associations: “Kallie [Wasserman, who will be acting R&W president] came here through the Comcast filmfest and the Ripken Foundation. And David’s [Browne, also a top R&W staffer] mom worked at NIH for more than 30 years…”
And even though he met celebrities and got to travel the world, Schools says, “The nicest thing about here, I think, is the people. The people at [the Office of Research Services and Office of Research Facilities] have been very helpful in making things happen around here, especially with construction of the Children’s Inn.”
ORS and ORF also helped site R&W’s stores and fitness centers, he said, and once helped build a squash court (since demolished to make way for Bldg. 35) at the behest of a former NIH deputy director. Schools is also proud of a range of accomplishments including support of the NIH Community Orchestra, the NIH Bicycle Commuter Club, NIH’s martial arts program, a host of employee clubs (softball was a personal favorite—he played for years in a league that flourished until county youth soccer leagues claimed most nearby fields), the many activities that benefit patients and, most recently, the successful launch of a Zipcar program here and a mentoring program for youngsters enrolled at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park.
“I’ve developed a lot of friends here,” said Schools. “You get pretty close over the years—lots of lifelong friendships. I will continue those, probably to the very end.”
He explains, “There’s a point in your life where you want to be able to travel a little bit, and do other things.”
In September, he will accompany the NIH Ski Club on safari in Africa—“They do cultural trips as well,” he quips. Schools intends to maintain his leadership, now in its 12th year, of the United Way of Montgomery County and to remain involved with a host of civic organizations, including those addressing deepening human services needs in the county’s eastern portion.
Heidi Grolig, CEO of Friends of Patients at the NIH, is among those reluctant to see Schools go. “I love Randy like a father,” she said. “He is the true example of an angel among us. He is always thinking of others and cares deeply about our community, friends, colleagues and the patients at NIH. You can always count on Randy. Although I will miss seeing him as often.”
“It’s been a good ride,” Schools concludes, mentioning fruitful relationships with all of the NIH directors under whom he has served and gratefully acknowledging that “R&W has drawn many giving people” who spent long careers there. “It’s been a really nice life. I look at retirement as a new beginning. I’m very lucky to have been at NIH—it’s a kind of paradise.”