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Environmental Factor, November 2012

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With death of Arlen Specter, NIH loses a faithful supporter

By Eddy Ball

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.)

Shown in the U.S. Senate before his defeat in the 2010 election, Specter was respected by legislators on both sides of the aisle for his principled stand on issues, ranging from Supreme Court nominees to funding for medicine, science, and public health.

News of the death of former Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) Oct. 14 at his home in Philadelphia saddened many at NIH who had worked with him over the years to advance biomedical research. Specter, who died at age 82 of complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, was eulogized at a memorial service Oct. 17 attended by many dignitaries, including NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., and National Cancer Institute Director Harold Varmus, M.D.

A New York Times article on Specter’s death described him as hard-edged and tenacious, yet ever the centrist. He was always known for his independence and bi-partisanship, especially when it came to his unwavering support for advancing science and medicine.

“There were many powerful testimonials delivered at the Har Zion Temple, including a very personal remembrance from the Vice President,” Collins wrote afterwards. “Many of the comments from the eulogizers related to Arlen’s support of medical research, and the NIH was repeatedly mentioned as a part of the federal government that the Senator cared deeply about. I was particularly moved by the final remembrance, delivered by his lawyer son Shanin.”

In his eulogy,(51KB) Shanin Specter spoke to his father’s abiding faith in the power of science. “He is survived by his will to fund and fight for a cure. From stem cells to medical research on Alzheimer's and Parkinson's and diabetes and, yes, to cancer, whose hateful mysteries he helped to try to unlock, he believed these wars were as important as our other wars.”

“He knew that our battles for our health are waged on the ultimate battlefield, one where we are all the underdog. Cancer claimed him as it has too many. But one day it will be solved,” Shanin Specter concluded. “And when it is, Arlen Specter will be counted among the righteous that made it happen.”

Although NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., was unable to attend, she remarked about the depth of the loss to NIH and government-funded science. “For those many years, Sen. Specter stood by the value of biomedical research to the overall wellbeing of every American,” she said. “We desperately more people with the foresight he brought to his work as a public servant — men and women who can understand the importance of maintaining our investment in the future of this country.”

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