Header Image Martin Rodbell, 1925-1998

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"To my chagrin the chemistry course required a more sophisticated level of understanding than I had experienced. The same was true of physics. The result, I switched to French literature as a major....Only after graduation, taking an extra year for studying advanced physical chemistry and related courses, did I understand that I was capable of being a scientist. I was nearly 25 years old!" Martin Rodbell, letter to Dr. Leon Lederman. December 30, 1995 (This picture taken 1994). A Baltimore native and the son of a grocer, Martin Rodbell was born December 1, 1925. He attended Baltimore City College, a public high school, and then Johns Hopkins University. World War II interrupted his studies there; he served as a Navy radioman with the Pacific fleet. After the war, Rodbell returned to Johns Hopkins, and switched to science, from French literature, as a vocation. At the University of Washington, in Seattle he received his Ph.D. in biochemistry, and then came to the National Institutes of Health as a research biochemist in Nobel laureate Christian Anfinsen's laboratory at the National Heart Institute, now called the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

"In many respects my career and experiences with people and events have been seamless in that I cannot separate one from another. Without doubt, the thread of one's life should be within the matrix of the total human experience." --Martin Rodbell, LePrix de Nobel, 1994 Martin Rodbell

"All day I listened to Morse code. If that isn't preparation for looking at cell signaling, I don't know what is."  Martin Rodbell on his Navy days (this picture taken in 1946). Rodbell worked at the NIH from 1956 until his death in 1998, first in the National Heart Institute, then in the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases, now called the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. He was scientific director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) from 1985 to 1989.

For a more in depth look at Martin Rodbell's life and work, visit the National Library of Medicine's "Profiles in Science" site and the Nobel Foundation's eNobel site.

The Final Farewell
The Last Ode From Building 6

Like a reciprocating engine
Or perhaps better likened to a yoyo
He comes and Goes
Unable to say No
Why, one must query
Does NIH have such an elastic Hold or
Are you wary
That there's again another story to be told?

Well mes amis, Surprise!
His plastic behavior is not because of what you
May surmise.

Benevolent administration, it is quipped or
perhaps salary overblown
No, no, no
That's simply a DEVINE pitch.

Perhaps it's because of all that laboratory space
That appears on tops of centrifuges
Or on the Floor
And with Amazing Grace
Even behind the Doors.

Then too, of course
There are all those available positions called FTEs
That appear so frequently with ease
Only to be withdrawn at Christmastide
At the whim of Stockman's army of QMBese.

Some would argue with merit
That it's all because of the TCO*
That seemingly bottomless pot of gold
Which our university friends
In envy

Ha, ha
Now you think of the Ultimate power selector
The joys and pleasures of being lab chief
Or Director
With all those wonderful privileges
Of being treated by colleagues
Both above and below
As if anything you do positive is
Nothing but sacrilegious
Or worse.
Surely you must know that


Well, none of the above "assets'
Said with enclosed quotes
Can explain the numerous facets of why
He cannot bolt.

The real reasons reside
With people, with ideas and their exchange
With the freedom to be wrong without fear
The ability to conjure theories as if a seer
Without the constant overbearing reviews
by so-called Peers.
The philosophy of Science,
That seedbed of Truth and Beauty Survives in our midst
Not because of our administrators I insist
But because of our overwhelming passion
To know and understand in individual fashion.
And, with insatiable curiosity,
To reach for the unattainable goal
In the face of the public's
Unceasing desire to have cures for AIDS, common colds.
And the unrelieved fear of cholesterol.

And now.
A special toast to my close friends and associates of many years
Whose camaraderie was so necessary
In face of constant failure

Or even successes so rare as to be pyrrhic-
Those miracles that cleanse the spirit.
I thank you all, those here, or out there
Or who have gone to the Elysian Fields,
For sharing those glorious moments
When GTP and Transduction
We made Into a JBC production.

Finally, dear friends. Barbara and I
Leave this hallowed, formerly convent bounded place
And our beloved house in Chevy Chase,
With fond, even loving memories of three decades.
Our only solace
Other than your more than kind accolades
Is the certain knowledge
That, like the Yoyo, the reciprocating engine,
And the rubber band
We shall-as sayeth that old soldier-
Frequently from the Southland.

*telephone call order

Delivered before a special group of friends and colleagues in the assembly hall of Building 1, June 1985

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