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Army gains as NIEHS loses Gentry

By Eddy Ball
September 2010

departing Contract Specialist Melissa Gentry
Gentry's popularity meant that virtually every seat at the party was filled and the back wall of the Keystone conference room lined with friends and admirers. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Gary Delaney, standing
Delaney, standing, started things off with a monologue in which he referred to all the good things about Gentry that he promised not to talk about. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

colleague Vondia (Collete) Malone
One of the first tributes was the poem "Stepping Out," composed and written by Malone, above. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Don Gula
Gula, above, inadvertently set himself up for a roast by saying that gaining Gentry at the ARO was "like getting your first choice in an NFL draft." (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Jimmy Bryant, left, hugging Gentry
Bryant, left, hugged Gentry following his tribute to his longtime - and much shorter - colleague and mentor. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Friends and colleagues gathered Aug. 10 to wish departing Office of Acquisitions (OA) Supervisory Contract Specialist Melissa Gentry the best in her new job at the Army Research Office (ARO). While testimonials, food, and fellowship dominated the going away party, speakers who came to celebrate Gentry's contributions also lamented the Institute's loss of one of its much beloved senior contract specialists to another agency.

In their talks about how much Gentry will be missed, several of those speakers took advantage of having Don Gula in the audience. Gula is a longtime friend and colleague of Gentry and was an NIEHS employee for 20 years when he took a job at ARO in 2009. Some of the speakers joked that Gula had played a part in persuading Gentry to take her new job.

Gentry's supervisor and event emcee, Gary Delaney, opened the party by saying that he promised Gentry he would not throw a "Gula-Bash" of embarrassing tributes, while at the same time referring to all the accomplishments he said "I can't talk about." To keep his promise to Gentry, Delaney opened the floor for spontaneous tributes from those who hadn't been a party to his promise.

As Delaney said afterwards, he didn't realize that this informal Gula-Bash would also turn into something of a good-natured Gula-Roast.

In a show-stealing stand-up routine that kept the audience laughing, Jimmy Bryant, a contract specialist in the OA, wove references to Gula into a monologue in praise of his colleague. Bryant said of Gentry, "She's good people," as he offered example after example of her humor, dedication, and professionalism. He punctuated his tribute with several good-natured jabs at Gula, saying, "I'm not happy with Don," and concluding, "He has really, really worked my nerves."

By the time she had listened to fond memories and farewells from so many of her friends at NIEHS, including a poem composed by OA colleague Vondia (Collete) Malone, Gentry was almost in tears. She managed to maintain her composure long enough, however, to move the party on to the refreshment table, as she talked individually with friends from throughout NIEHS.

Bryant clearly spoke for many in the room about a future at NIEHS without Gentry, when he recalled the words she used to encourage him in times of stress and frustration. "She said, 'Jimmy, trust and believe.'"

left to right, are Shields, Holmes, and  Holliday
Shown above, left to right, are Shields, Holmes, and Holliday enjoying Bryant's narrative of his experiences working with Gentry. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

left to right, Margarita Roque, Don Gula, Rose Anne McGee, and Kathy Ahlmark
Seated from left to right, Administrative Officer Margarita Roque and Gula joined Rose Anne McGee and Kathy Ahlmark of the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Charletta Fowler, left, and Gentry
Administrative Officer Charletta Fowler, left, was just one of many from other branches of the Office of Management who paid tribute to Gentry's work during her 21 years at NIEHS. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

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