Stokes honored by U.S. Public Health Service
By Eddy Ball
NTP center director Rear Adm. William Stokes, D.V.M., received the Distinguished Service Medal from the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Dec. 19, 2012, during his flag officer retirement ceremony at NIEHS. The event (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/newsletter/2013/1/spotlight-stokes/file202364_508.pdf) (466KB) filled Rodbell auditorium with well-wishers, including members of his family, many of his co-workers in NTP, and more than 70 fellow USPHS officers in dress uniform.
The Distinguished Service Medal is the highest award presented by USPHS, and the flag officer retirement ceremony is a time-honored tradition of the USPHS, based on the centuries-old pomp and circumstance of maritime changing-of-command formalities. On hand to support the carefully choreographed event were the U.S. Surgeon General’s Honor Cadre, USPHS Choral Ensemble, and U.S. Army Forces Command Brass Quintet.
Stokes’ retirement as a rear admiral and assistant U.S. Surgeon General, with nearly 34 years of active duty service as a commissioned officer, was mandated by USPHS regulations.
High praise for a stellar career
On stage with Stokes during the 2 1/2-hour event were NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D.; NTP Associate Director John Bucher, Ph.D.; Deputy U.S. Surgeon General Boris Lushniak, M.D.; and fellow officers who had served with Stokes during the course of his career as a USPHS commissioned officer.
Master of Ceremony USPHS Commander George Durgin, Resilience Division chief at the Defense Centers of Excellence introduced the program of nine speakers who delivered the highest praise for their retiring colleague. Captain Terri Clark, D.V.M., the tenth chief veterinary officer for USPHS and director of the NIH Office of Animal Care and Use, set the tone for those who followed her. “Bill is just a steadfast visionary leader,” she said of her mentor and longtime comrade.
Others praised Stokes for his work in disaster deployments, including the 2005 aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; his important contributions during the transformation of USPHS to a more consistently military-like uniformed service; and his selfless efforts to spur the career development of subordinates and colleagues. The ceremony included the reading of letters from the assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, M.D., members of the North Carolina congressional delegation, and a number of colleagues who were unable to attend.
Lushniak offered the ultimate praise from a commanding officer, when he said of Stokes, “If you want a job done the right way, put Bill in charge.”
Emotions run high at this important point in an officer’s career, and it was hardly surprising that Stokes had to pause several times when his turn came to speak. Facing the sea of blue uniforms, Stokes recalled fondly the many role models who, during his life, helped to build his strong work ethic and instill, early on, the core values of USPHS — integrity, excellence, leadership, and service to others.
Stokes received USPHS and U.S. flags, as symbols of his dedicated service, as well as gifts from colleagues. In an especially touching part of the ceremony, Lushniak presented Stokes’ wife, Nancy, with a citation and flowers in appreciation of her support during what Lushniak described as Stokes’ marathon of service to the nation’s public health.
Stokes’ legacy at NIH
Prior to his official separation Dec. 31, 2012, Stokes served as director of the National Toxicology Program Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods (NICEATM) and executive director of the Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Validation of Alternative Methods (ICCVAM). NICEATM and ICCVAM provide scientific support and coordinate interagency initiatives for advancing new and alternative safety testing methods, including those designed to replace, reduce, and refine the use of animals in toxicity testing.
Stokes has 33 years of experience in biomedical and toxicological research, 26 years of that with NIH, and has served the NTP since 1992. He served his country in three of the seven uniformed services, for a total of 42 years of active duty and reserve service. He also held positions as the animal program director at NIEHS and the The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and as the eighth chief veterinary officer for USPHS.