After more than 3½ decades, the self-described “tree hugger” who adopted the NIH campus and cared for it like it was his own backyard is leaving these green pastures for more leisurely pursuits. NIH Landscape Architect Lynn Mueller retired Dec. 31, 2 months shy of 37 years of service here.
Looking back, Mueller’s NIH career got off to a somewhat inauspicious start. It was just after the long President’s Day weekend in February 1979, and the D.C. metro area had just been buried under more than 20 inches of snow, the result of a humongous winter storm that surprised even weather forecasters. Enter Michigan native and Michigan State University graduate Mueller, who had been hired as landscape architect at NIH, sight unseen, after a phone interview.
Before coming here, he was a registered landscape architect at the largest landscape contractor in southeast Michigan. His turf there covered whole towns, “from Toledo up to Saginaw over to Grand Rapids and through much of the Detroit suburbs. So I wondered how 300 acres would keep anyone busy—much less 2 people,” he said, counting himself and Tom Cook, then chief of the Grounds Maintenance and Landscaping Branch in NIH’s Division of Engineering Services, who hired him.
“Originally I wanted to get into the [National] Park Service,” Mueller explained. “I initially turned this job down.”
But Cook was persistent and called Mueller again. Apparently the job series was in a “shortage category”—HR-speak meaning recruiters could sweeten offers to qualified candidates. Mueller would be able to start at the highest grade allowable—GS-7 at the time. In addition, Cook said he needed him to start right away.
“I didn’t even know what N-I-H stood for,” Mueller said, recalling his first impression. “I got here and Tom drove me around the campus, bought me lunch, I accepted the offer and then thought, what have I gotten myself into? Of course it all worked out great.”
Later that same year, he married his sweetheart in Michigan and they replanted themselves in Maryland. A registered nurse, she landed a job in neurology at the Clinical Center, “making a lot more money than I did,” Mueller said, laughing.
In addition to managing snow-removal, lawn-mowing and tree contractors, his first two assignments were biggies—overseeing the landscaping at the ACRF (the then newly built clinic attached to the front of Bldg. 10) and completion of the grounds at the Lister Hill Center (Bldg. 38A). Construction on those areas was concluding and Mueller’s job was to make sure the government was getting everything it paid for, in terms of landscape installation and site restoration.
“[From the beginning] Tom had me out inspecting the grounds, looking for trouble spots, which I still do today,” Mueller said. “I’m always looking for areas that need to be renovated, unsightly public areas that may need attention.”
But anyone who’s ever paid the slightest attention to NIH out-of-doors knows Mueller didn’t just perform above and beyond the call of duty. He loved the place. In fact, NIH folklore insists Mueller knows every tree and blade of grass by name; that’s probably not much of an exaggeration.
He was always coming up with creative campus improvements: Use of a “resistograph” device to determine unseen structural tree health; an official tree census in 2000 (although Mueller had taken his own survey 20 years previously); installation of bluebird and purple martin houses and bat houses to control the mosquito population without using insecticides; no-mow meadows and buffer strips that naturally filter out road and parking lot pollutants.
In 2001, he secured $700,000 for a project to restore the seriously eroded NIH Creek. Mueller remembers those negotiations—competing for reforestation dollars when funding was particularly tight—as some of his most challenging work here. He argued that returning the stream to its natural “greener” state would be crucial for stormwater management in the long run; drawing indigenous wildlife back would be a bonus. NIH management agreed. The eco-friendly restoration also caught the attention of like-minded conservationists, Maryland state foresters and the Department of Agriculture.
“Eventually, the project got recognized and it’s a beautiful habitat,” Mueller said. “What’s been so remarkable is that I’ve had 10 direct supervisors who all have been very supportive of these initiatives over the years. That’s been the basis of my success, having supervisors who have been understanding of these efforts…It’s usually a lot easier to pave over areas and cut down trees than to try and save them. The environment and the landscape are too often afterthoughts.”
“I’ve really enjoyed being Lynn’s supervisor for the last 6 years,” said Jim Lewis, chief of the Specialty Branch in the ORF Division of Facilities Stewardship. “When you supervise somebody like Lynn, who really doesn’t need supervising, you don’t really need to do anything but stay out of the way and maybe sign off on a little paperwork every now and then and the results have been great.”
Mueller’s favorite project (and one with results both historic and international) was the successful cloning of the Tree of Hippocrates, a 1961 gift to the National Library of Medicine from Greece. Mueller had noticed the historic sycamore deteriorating in the late 1980s due to weather and fungal disease. He attempted several different ways to nurse it back to health, to no avail. Then in 2004, he located—in Michigan—the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, which was able to clone the tree from cuttings Mueller sent. The original tree died in 2013. Two “new” Hippocrates trees were planted here. On Earth Day 2014, the Greek ambassador attended a ceremony celebrating the tree’s rebirth at NIH.
“That was really rewarding,” said Eagle Scout Mueller, who developed an affection for nature, the environment and animals early in life. As for his immediate after-NIH future, Mueller has no specific plans, beyond a bit of travel to expand his birding “life list” and perhaps some skiing. “It’s been an outstanding career,” he concluded. “They say if you enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll never work a day in your life. Well that’s true for me—except having to manage some of those ice and snow ‘Storms of the Century.’”
Last January, Ann Brewer put a deck of playing cards on a table in her office to count down the weeks to her retirement. Each week she took one card from the deck.
“There are 52 cards in a deck and 52 weeks in a year, so I thought the cards would be a fun way to count down,” she said.
On Dec. 31, Brewer retired as director of the Executive Secretariat (Exec Sec) in the Office of the Director.
Her office manages all written correspondence coming to and from the NIH director and principal deputy director. In 2014, she estimates her office handled 8,000 pieces of correspondence. Exec Sec also manages the official federal record of all documents signed by the director or deputy and other important documents related to NIH’s mission.
Trained as a nurse, Brewer came to NIH in 2002. During her tenure, she has worked with four directors—two acting and two permanent. Before coming to NIH, she was the coordinator of female health at the Wisconsin department of corrections.
Brewer also plays the piano. In 1990, she began playing at the Wisconsin governor’s mansion for special events. There, she met then-governor Tommy Thompson. After she performed, they would talk.
“I’d bend his ear, talking about health care issues that were important to me,” Brewer said.
When Thompson became HHS secretary, he told her about an open position at NIH. She applied and got the job. At first, Brewer thought she would stay only for a few years and move back to Wisconsin. Like so many NIH’ers, she stayed longer than planned.
“Working at NIH wasn’t my first choice, but in hindsight it should’ve been,” she said. “It is an incredible place.”
She credits many of her colleagues with providing support and giving advice during different family members’ illnesses. NIH is “an amazing place where everybody is willing to help out,” she said.
Once a month, Brewer gave up her lunch break to play traditional pop music and classical music on the Clinical Research Center’s Steinway grand piano in the north atrium for patients, staff and visitors. She’s also proud to have sat on the board of directors of the Friends of Patients at the NIH.
She championed efforts to reduce Exec Sec’s greenhouse gas emissions, energy and water consumption and pollution. In one year, she estimates that her staff has driven 100,000 fewer miles than they would have because of telework policies and flexible workplace agreements. Her efforts have also saved 200,000 pieces of paper.
After she sells her house on Capitol Hill, she’ll return to Wisconsin to be closer to her 3 children and 4 grandchildren. Once there, she plans to volunteer for advocacy work on behalf of families dealing with alcoholism and cheer for her two favorite football teams, the Green Bay Packers and the Wisconsin Badgers.
Ann London is retiring after 37 years in public service. She began her career at HHS in 1978 at what was then the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration (now the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). In that position she gained the editing skills that shaped her professional future.
She joined NIAID in May 1982 as an editorial assistant in the Laboratory of Immunoregulation, where she worked with its chief Dr. Anthony Fauci and other scientists. London loved being in the lab, working with the fellows and learning about their research and how it translated to Clinical Center patient wards. “Being a part of the energy in the early AIDS era—before the disease was even named—made NIH research real,” she said. “It was hard leaving Bldg. 10.”
After Fauci became NIAID director in 1984, London moved to Bldg. 31. She was assigned to the Office of Communications, where she continued as his editorial assistant for a few months and began her writing career. She also handled public information calls—a stretch for an admitted introvert, but she enjoyed the opportunities to engage with the public, especially patients and their families and health care providers. “I listened to their questions and stories and helped them get correct information,” she said. “Having direct contact with the public helped me to write our publications to fit their needs. It was very fulfilling.”
As a public affairs specialist in the renamed Office of Communications and Public Liaison, she managed the NIAID exhibit and publications programs. Although she no longer handled public calls, she continued to write health and science publications for the public, often using feedback from health care professionals who visited the NIAID exhibit booth at conferences. Her work included determining the needs of the institute’s diverse audiences and ensuring NIAID communication products met those needs. Some of her publications received Blue Pencil and NIH plain language awards. For a time, she also handled requests as the NIAID Freedom of Information coordinator.
After working for much of her career in the print medium, in 2012, London joined NIAID’s New Media and Web Policy Branch, part of the Office of Communications and Government Relations, as a digital information specialist. There she worked on the institute’s Dr. Donald Charles Raupublic web site and the intranet, not only editing content but also coding pages and optimizing web and social media content.
Throughout her career, she served on editorial, plain language and communications working groups and teams.
London looks forward to “decompressing” and to spending time with her three sons and daughters-in-law and grandson in the D.C. area, New York City and Los Angeles. She will continue to pursue her passions for helping people and for travel and the outdoors. She has visited 47 states and 20 countries. Future adventures include a long-anticipated trip to Denali National Park. Her favorite foreign destination is Italy, but always high on her travel list are her family’s roots—the Chesapeake Bay and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Fauci was unable to attend London’s retirement party, but sent a video greeting “to express how grateful I am to you for your many years serving the institute…NIAID thanks you, NIH thanks you and the whole public health effort thanks you.”
Dr. Donald Charles Rau, chief of NICHD’s macromolecular recognition and assembly section since 2002, passed away on Dec. 11 after a long battle with cancer.
Rau’s lab studies the forces, structure and dynamics of biologically important complexes to understand the macromolecules that control cellular functions. His work created a foundation for current and future generations of researchers to rationally design therapeutic agents that interfere with disease-associated complexes.
“We have lost a dear friend, a wonderful colleague and a great mentor,” said Dr. Joshua Zimmerberg, an associate scientific director at NICHD. “Don was a humble researcher who did amazing research during his 36 years at the NIH.”
Rau earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois in 1968 and his Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology from Harvard in 1975. He arrived at NIH in 1979 and stayed until he was no longer able to come to the lab. His observations and novel methods gave the world a unique perspective on biologically important recognition and assembly reactions, according to Zimmerberg.
Rau almost single-handedly advanced the fundamental understanding of intermolecular forces, DNA packing and the importance of water in DNA-protein recognition. Along the way, he developed several practical tools such as using osmotic stress to study the physical properties and kinetics of DNA-protein complexes. By 2008, Rau established that the DNA long-range attractive force has twice the exponential decay length of its short-range repulsion. By 2010, he determined the dependence of the force amplitudes on DNA-associated cation charge.
“He was a bench scientist guided by his brilliant mind, his fertile imagination and a deep understanding of physics and chemistry,” said Zimmerberg. “Most, if not all, of his papers include experimental data that he himself generated.”
Rau also was an expert on the fundamentals of DNA packing by protamines, which are small proteins found in the nucleus. He felt that exploring the controlled replacement of histones by protamines would be essential for understanding the role of and damage caused by defects in DNA packing.
Rau’s family organized a “Celebration of Don’s Life.” They request that any gifts in his memory go to the American Cancer Society, the Children’s Inn at NIH, the Foundation for the NIH or the NIH Clinical Center’s Patient Emergency Fund.