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NIH Holds Tribute for Johnson-Thompson

By Eddy Ball
November 2008

Marian Johnson-Thomp
Marian Johnson-Thompson (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

On October 9, NIH held its own tribute and reception for former NIEHS Director of Education and Biomedical Research Development Marian Johnson-Thompson, Ph.D., in the Cloisters Building on the Bethesda campus. Friends and colleagues from the Washington area and beyond gathered to add their praise and best wishes for a fruitful retirement to those expressed in a similar NIEHS ceremony held September 22.

Traveling to Bethesda from RTP were NIEHS Acting Director Sam Wilson, M.D., and Joan Packenham, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Office of Research Compliance. Wilson made the opening remarks at the event and was followed by leaders in science education and minority involvement at NIH and elsewhere - as well by Johnson-Thompson's former students, mentees and husband.

Leading off the program was Vivian Pinn, M.D., director of the NIH Office of Research on Women's Health, who in 1967 was the only African American and only woman in her class to graduate from the University of Virginia School of Medicine. Pinn surveyed Johnson-Thompson's accomplishments from her childhood in Florida through her tenure at the University of the District of Columbia and at NIEHS.

Director of the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities John Ruffin, Ph.D., followed Pinn with observations on Johnson-Thompson's "ability to always see the bigger picture." Another colleague who spoke of her role in expanding educational opportunities for minorities was Lovell Jones, Ph.D., director of the Center for Research on Minority Health at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center and a former member of the NIEHS National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council.

Acknowledging Johnson-Thompson's dedication to students was longtime friend and colleague Freeman Hrabowski, Ph.D. Hrabowski is the president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, home of the Meyerhoff Scholarship Program whose students honored Johnson-Thompson by naming her Mentor of the Year in 2001.

Speakers were also on the program offering their appreciation for Johnson-Thompson's work as a scientist and educator. Colleagues Agnes Day, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Microbiology at the Howard University College of Medicine, and former Chair of the University of the District of Columbia Department of Biology and Environmental Science Carolyn Cousin, Ph.D., talked about her contributions to the field of microbiology. Her former student, Morgan State University Provost Joan Robinson, Ph.D., and her current Meyerhoff mentee, Tamika John, offered their perspectives on Johnson-Thompson's transformative influence on their lives.

Johnson-Thompson's sisters in the Federal City Alumnae Chapter Delta Sigma Theta Sorority spoke of her dedication to community service, and her husband, Charles, talked of his pride in being a part of her life. He also added her service with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure at the N.C. Correctional Institution for Women on breast cancer awareness to her long list of accomplishments.

Johnson-Thompson closed out the tribute with a look back at her years as an educator, scientist and public servant and voiced her appreciation for the many people who have helped make her career so rich and rewarding.



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