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Director's Comments:  Thomas Cairns, Ph.D.

The NCTR Directorship "A Wonderful and Glorious Burden"

Image of former NCTR Director Thomas CairnsDear FDA Colleagues: As we prepare to celebrate the 35th anniversary of NCTR and the 100th anniversary of the FDA, I am proud to have been a part of your history. In the late 1970s my arrival at the gates of NCTR with the then FDA Commissioner, Donald Kennedy, to assume the leadership role was not exactly under the best of times. Looking back on those early years during the infancy of the Center stimulated me into a deep reflective and retrospective mood obviously recalling the achievements of the past, but much more the maturity the Center has achieved on the present-day global scientific stage of toxicology in the service of humanity.

It is the very essence of our human emotions to perform this mental task weighing achievements with assignments as yet not accomplished, for the true definition of legacy is those tasks yet to be performed. Directors are capably supported by a team of scientists who perform the fundamental tasks of research and promote advancements in our understanding of toxicology. For without them the burden of office would have been tremendously complicated. To the scientists who served during my tenure as Director to help build the Center into the fine scientific institution it is today, I offer my sincere appreciation to all you have accomplished for the FDA in the last 35 years.

As you all know, it is somewhat difficult to be self critical. Above all else, the basic decree, inferred in the oath of office, is "to faithfully execute the duties of the Office of Director". This honorable vow still reverberates within my mind these some 30 years later. During the five years that ensued there were many moments of disappointment brought about by cynicism and pessimism. But an NCTR Director must overcome such difficulties often in the face of adversity and always look forward. Patience under adversity is a demanded quality for a Director. I found that instant action was rarely ever successful. It was far better to ponder the issues, then respond. But some decisions did bring a feeling of achievement.

In many respects the NCTR Director becomes the Center in the eyes of the scientific community. Your behavior is largely controlled as indicative of the consensus of the Center controlling your every action and the effectiveness of your delivery of speeches. Words by themselves are not persuasive without the accompanying logic and understanding. Directors are molded by the burden of responsibility and must possess that rare commodity, that of being of a facilitator not an autocrat. For leadership is the art of guiding and maintaining consensus without strong dissent or the unsavory consequences of politics. All these concepts I struggled with during my term. I leave the task of judging performance to future historians.

As the second NCTR Director, I have taken a historical look back in time to honor your former Directors. This honorable list contains the great names of our past history, triumphs, glories, and most of all your rise to current day status. Each of them has, with their personal wisdom, added substantially to the NCTR collective strength. Each represented your accumulation of will power to improve and measure your tenacity to survive in an ever increasingly complicated and complex world. They have been triumphant. To learn from the past is honorable, but to succeed in the future requires a competitive mind and a willingness to try new ideas, to adapt to changes, to use new technology, and most of all to use people skills to the benefit of the FDA.

The responsibilities of NCTR Director I have characterized as a glorious burden. Let me briefly relate a little of the glory part. While in office I had many cherished memories - ED01 Study, NTP, Peer Review, Mass Spectrometry Laboratory, Science Council, EPA Cooperation, the Monkey Colony, etc. But the most honored memory of all is the progress and maturity of the many fine young scientists who have dedicated themselves to the NCTR and, in the process, making outstanding professional careers featuring the core sciences conducted at NCTR. These achievements have pleased me so much in the last 30 years as I watch their growth and success. As a lover of Gilbert & Sullivan, I remember a lyric that goes "If in this world you wish to success, you must shout it and stomp it and blow your own trumpet".

All of these events have had a significant effect on the stature of NCTR on both a national and international level. They provide synergistic evidence of FDA's commitment as custodian of the public health. Many perceptions wash through my mind at this time as I recollect my years with passion and pride in a scientific institution I have always admired and supported. Memories last a lifetime, and I have an ample supply to dwell upon in future years.

And so, my fellow FDA scientists, as we embark on the 35th anniversary, I have enjoyed this brief recollection of my wonderful years at Jefferson. Your invitation to allow me relive the pride of tenure as NCTR Director has been a rewarding process for which I am grateful and pleased. The burden of responsibility was a wonderful experience and a glorious feeling of achievement.


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