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Event Celebrates Johnson-Thompson's Career

By Eddy Ball
October 2008

Annette Rice
Colleagues Annette Rice, left, and Veronica Godfrey set the tone for the celebration with their bittersweet mix of joy and humor about the good times they've shared with Johnson-Thompson - and their loss now that she won't be as much a part of their working lives. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Suk, holding the standard retirement-gift photo of the Institute, served as master of ceremonies at the event. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Sandie White, Ph.D.
Sandie White, Ph.D., reflected on her memories of working with Johnson-Thompson early in their respective careers at Howard University and the University of the District of Columbia in the late 1970s. After she and husband Ken Olden, Ph.D., moved to North Carolina, Olden recruited Johnson-Thompson. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Wilson, above, laughed as he remembered some of the lighter moments of the past 14 years. He was the final speaker before the honoree herself took the podium to thank the audience for helping to make her experiences at NIEHS so rewarding. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Johnson-Thompson, center
Johnson-Thompson, center, posed with friends James Copeland of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, left, and Kay Johnson Graham, minority outreach coordinator in the NIH Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Marian Johnson-Thompson, Ph.D., served as NIEH director of Education and Biomedical Research from 1994 (see related story (, when she was recruited by former Director Ken Olden, Ph.D. On September 22, people from NIEHS, the greater scientific community and her family filled Rodbell Auditorium to celebrate her career. The retirement ceremony was organized by friends at NIEHS and moderated by NIEHS Acting Deputy Director Bill Suk, Ph.D.

As a collage of photos from Johnson-Thompson's years at NIEHS filled the screens in the auditorium, speaker after speaker praised her accomplishments as a microbiologist, educator, patient and human rights advocate, trusted advisor, friend and sorority sister. Several speakers praised Johnson-Thompson's tenacity in the defense of what she felt was right and her ability to disagree with colleagues on the NIEHS Institutional Review Board (IRB) without taking things personally.

One speaker, longtime friend Sandie White, Ph.D., lauded Johnson-Thompson for "fighting the good fight." Another, NIH colleague Kay Johnson Graham, Ph.D. observed that Johnson-Thompson's mission to expand science education opportunities for minorities and underserved populations demonstrated her commitment to genuine equality of opportunity.

The final speaker at the ceremony, NIEHS Acting Director Sam Wilson, M.D., described Johnson-Thompson as "one of the closest advisors to me" and the many planning meetings they had together over the years. Wilson credited her with inspiring some of the most effective and innovative education and recruitment programs anywhere.

Well-wishers presented the retiree with personal gifts and mementos. Colleague Sharon Beard gave her a collage of photos from their work together, NIEHS Acting Clinical Director Darryl Zeldin, M.D., presented a plaque on behalf of the IRB, and Suk gave Johnson-Thompson a vase on behalf of colleagues at the Institute. Wilson presented her with a panoramic photo of the Institute signed by friends and colleagues.

Closing out the program, Johnson-Thompson talked of the challenges and rewards of her work at NIEHS. She was visibly moved by the words of her friends and colleagues, and her voice quivered with emotion as she thanked the audience and offered them her best wishes.

Along with joining in the fun, Zeldin praised his colleague for her leadership of the IRB and dedication to the protection of human subjects' rights and privacy. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Joan Packenham, Ph.D., left, and Sharon Beard
Durham Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sisters Joan Packenham, Ph.D., left, and Sharon Beard have been important partners with Johnson-Thompson in their service to community and science education. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

guest of honor posed with events coordinator and friend Elliott Gilmer
Holding the flowers she received earlier, the guest of honor posed with events coordinator and friend Elliott Gilmer, who was in charge of set-up, computer-projection and sound support for the many meetings Johnson-Thompson organized at NIEHS. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

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