Tributes and remembrances from every
sector of the NIH community were offered
for retired Rep. Louis Stokes (D-OH), who
died of cancer on Aug. 19 at age 90. The
congressman for whom NIH’s Bldg. 50 is
named served throughout his career as a
strong, reliable supporter of federal funding
for medical research in general and for NIH
“I am deeply saddened by the news of the
death of former Congressman Louis Stokes,”
said NIH director Dr. Francis Collins, in a
statement. “He leaves a legacy of compassionate
and effective leadership that few can
match. Throughout his 30-year career as a
representative from Ohio, he was a persistent
and emphatic champion of extending the
benefits of biomedical research to all people,
especially in the area of health disparities…
My own laboratory is on the fifth floor of [the
Stokes Bldg.], and I am reminded of his legacy every time I go over to the lab.”
| In 2013, Stokes unveils his portrait, which hangs in the lobby of Louis Stokes Laboratories.
Around NIH, Stokes will be remembered especially for his efforts—both while serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and after his retirement from that post—to establish and nourish research into improving the health of minority and underserved populations. Stokes was instrumental in launching NIH’s Office of Minority Programs in 1990, which became the Office of Research on Minority Health in 1993, rose to center status in 2000 and gained institute status in 2010.
In 2001, Stokes was appointed to chair the HHS secretary’s new advisory committee on minority health.
“[Stokes] was a stalwart for health equity, leading efforts to expand the federal commitment to improving public health, particularly for our most vulnerable populations,” said NIH principal deputy director Dr. Lawrence Tabak, who recently served as acting director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. “Rep. Stokes insisted that NIH make health disparities a research priority.”
In 2001, at a ceremony formally dedicating the Louis Stokes Laboratories, then-NCMHD director Dr. John Ruffin noted, “Lou Stokes is not a scientist, but he has spent his life assuring that the less fortunate in society have access to the fruits of science.”
“I had no idea what it would be like having a building bearing my name...on the campus of the greatest biomedical research institution in the world,” Stokes said at the time. “It is totally overwhelming. We walked around here in total amazement. My wife commented, ‘Just think, from a little boy growing up in the projects in Cleveland, to having a building named after you at the National Institutes of Health.’”
Hearing of Stokes’s passing, NIH scientists recalled his personal interest in their work.
“Soon after Bldg. 50 was completed…and began to be occupied in 2001, the section of biophysics, Laboratory of Cell Biology, was privileged to host Congressman Stokes and his wife, Jay, on a visit to the building that bears his name,” said Dr. Martin Kessel of NCI. “By the time of the visit we had already installed one of our then state of the art electron microscopes in the basement of Bldg. 50; we took [him] to see the instrument and explain what research an instrument of this type could accomplish. Rep. Stokes was extremely interested in learning about how the electron microscope is used in biomedical research and asked many questions.
| Above, left, Stokes and wife Jay visit with Bob Chunko of FEI and NCI’s Dr. Martin Kessel. At right, in 2002, Dr. Sriram Subramaniam and Dr. Jacqueline Milne, both of NCI, talk science at the congressman’s request.
“At the end of 2002, [he] came back to the lab and only wanted to hear about the new research we had done in ‘his’ building. Sriram Subramaniam (NCI) obliged, and provided him with a summary of the latest work on the enzyme pyruvate dehydrogenase…It is an honor to remember someone who was clearly influential in congressional funding for biomedical research. His name above the entrance…will remain a living testimony.”
Office of Research Facilities architect Frank Kutlak, who managed design and construction of the Stokes Bldg. for more than 4 years, recalled, “I had the pleasure of meeting and giving ‘Lou’—as he insisted on being addressed—and his wife a tour of the construction site prior to its completion. He and Jay visited a few more times during construction and they told me that they even drove past it in the evening just to see the building lit up. They were very pleased and proud that the…lab facility was named after him…I admired and respected him and will miss him and his wonderful laugh greatly.”
Most recently, in 2013, Stokes returned to campus for the unveiling of his portrait, which hangs in the lobby of the lab building.
“I want you to be a part of everything me and my family feel about this day,” he said that day to a small gathering. “This is one of the most memorable and beautiful days of my life.”