In Memoriam: Anthony Clive James, PhD

1943-2011

by William J. Bair

Anthony Clive James (Tony James), a friend and colleague for almost all of his 42 years as a fellow radiation biologist, died 20 July 2011 at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle after just beginning a clinical trial of an experimental drug for melanoma. He had been diagnosed in the spring with advanced metastatic melanoma. Tony entered this clinical trial with his usual great optimism, as he said in one of his last emails, “all bright-eyed and bushy tailed (guinea-pig wise)." 

Tony was born in 1943 in Llanfrechfa, South Wales, to Trevor and Phyllis James. As a child, he had a naturally inquisitive mind and insatiable curiosity. Graduating at the top of his class in grammar school, he was awarded a full grant at University College London, where he majored in physics and expressed his Welsh upbringing on the rugby field until his ear was partially ripped off and his nose permanently dislodged by a running tackle. 

After completing his degree in physics with honors in 1964, he stayed on in London, working for British Insulated Callender’s Cables Research Laboratory for about a year before entering the University of London’s Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine in 1966 as a Medical Research Council Fellow. He completed a PhD in radiation biology in 1969. His research introduced him to radionuclide dosimetry and decorporation therapy. His daughter Antonia tells us that during his university days,  he rented a flat with seven other students who were a mixture of scientific disciplines, but had a common knowledge in how to “throw a party." During this time Tony met his future wife, Janet, who formed “an initial lukewarm impression that he was a bit of a know-it-all." They were married in 1968.

In 1970-1971, Tony entered the field of radiation protection at the Medical Research Council’s Radiological Protection Service in Surrey, studying radon daughter concentrations and aerosol characteristics in underground mines. He conceived the first radon daughter monitor (RDPM - Radon Decay Products Monitor) for use in mines, incorporating simultaneous sampling and counting, and the James-Strong method for the assessment of RaA (218Po) and working levels. This was the beginning of his lifelong contributions to our understanding of radon as an ubiquitous radiation risk.

In 1971, Tony accepted a position at the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) at Harwell. His daughter Antonia said Janet was still working in London and they would meet in Abingdon on Friday nights to visit the launderette and eat fish and chips. “This was a welcome break from Tony’s signature—and only—dish of sausage and mash." In 1973, their first son, Richard, was born and, with Janet at his side, Tony designed and built a new house—the beginning of a lifelong hobby of carpentry. Richard was soon joined by their daughter, Antonia, and another son, Gareth. Tony ensured his children had a generous introduction to sports activities such as football and judo lessons. This attention to their children’s healthy activities was not a deterrent to Janet and Tony having a pint or two at their local pub. I am told that on one occasion his fuel pump failed, but instead of getting it repaired, Tony set up an elaborate system whereby gasoline in a plastic bag was fed directly into the carburetor. He only got the car repaired after his passengers started to complain because they had to ride along with their arm out of the window holding the plastic bag filled with fuel. 

Tony continued developing field methods for the measurement of radon daughter equilibrium and the unattached fraction of potential alpha energy. He also studied the size distribution of long-lived alpha-activity particles in workplaces and the deposition of radon daughters in the bronchial tree using ventilated excised lungs of pigs in an artificial thorax. Tony, with J.R. Greenhalgh and Dr. Alan Birchall, developed a model to calculate deposition and clearance in the human respiratory tract and the bronchial doses from exposure to daughters of radon and thoron. This resulting James-Birchall model contributed significantly to the 1981 International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) Publication 32, Limits for Inhalation of Radon Daughters by Workers. Tony was one of the youngest principal scientific officers in NRPB at that time. He was known by some as one of the “bright kiddies."

In 1988, Tony joined the biology department in the Life Sciences Center at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Washington. He was a natural fit to the center’s “Molecules to Man" approach to addressing occupational and environmental health issues resulting from exposures to radionuclides or toxic chemicals. He applied his knowledge of radon dosimetry to the center’s large radon program that included cell cultures and experimental animals. He also explored estimating past radon exposures in homes by measuring radon decay products deposited on glass artifacts. Work with Birchall at NRPB resulted in “LUDEP," a lung dose evaluation program implementing the new ICRP Publication 66 dosimetry model for the respiratory tract. In 1991, he was promoted to laboratory fellow.

In 1994, Tony left PNNL to accept an appointment as associate research professor at the United States Transuranium and Uranium Registries (USTUR), College of Pharmacy at Washington State University (WSU). The USTUR, located on the WSU Tri-Cities campus, collected and evaluated tissues obtained from voluntary postmortem donations from persons who had known or suspected intakes of actinides or uranium with the purpose of validating or refining existing biokinetic models. In 2005, Tony became director, assuming leadership with his usual unlimited enthusiasm and dedication, hiring new bright young scientists and infecting them with his ideas and energy. Forming collaborations with universities, he introduced the challenges and satisfaction of a career in radiation biology to several young students. All of this set the stage for a vigorous research program. Life at the USTUR under Tony’s direction was dynamic, with occasional “bloody hells" followed by relaxing good humor. He believed “it is bad if you don’t argue with your boss—it means you do not have an opinion of your own." The staff admired, respected, and loved him! He retired as director in September 2010, but remained as a consultant to his successor, Dr. Sergei Tolmachev.  

In 1995, Tony established his own company, ACJ & Associates, a scientific consulting company specializing in internal radiation dosimetry and health-risks assessment. He successfully matched wits with antinuclear attorneys and supported numerous government agencies and corporate clients in the United States and across the world for nearly 10 years.

In partnership with Birchall at the NRPB, Tony developed the radiobioassay and internal dosimetry software suite “Integrated Modules for Bioassay Analysis." It implements all of the biokinetic and dosimetric models currently recommended by the ICRP.

Tony specialized in both practical and theoretical internal dosimetry of radon, transuranic elements, and uranium. Throughout his career, Tony served on many national and international scientific committees. As a member of an ICRP task group, he provided critical leadership in developing a new dosimetry model for the human respiratory tract, which appeared as ICRP Publication 66. He was a corresponding member of an ICRP task group that calculates dose coefficients for workers and members of the public for ICRP publications. Tony served on committees of the National Research Council and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and on the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements committees “Radiation Exposure of the U.S. Population" and “Uncertainties in Internal Dose Assessment." He was an alternate member of the Hanford Advisory Board. He was an associate member of the European Radiation Dosimetry Group. Tony was a member of the Japan Health Physics Society, Radiation Research Society, Health Physics Society (HPS), and Society for Radiological Protection (UK). He held the Certificate of Competence in Applied Health Physics and was honored as the HPS 2009 Landauer Lecturer.

He authored or coauthored well over 100 articles in the peer-reviewed scientific literature and gave many invited papers and lectures throughout the world.

Dr. David Taylor, who knew Tony from his university days, said he was “a talented, enthusiastic, and painstaking scientist with sound experimental skills and a broad vision."

Tony brought to Richland a family that enhanced the lives of their friends and neighbors and scientific colleagues with great dinner parties and a welcome bit of English-pub culture. He was justifiably proud of his family and their achievements. He leaves his wife, Janet; sons, Richard (Debbie) and Gareth (Joyce); daughter, Antonia (Chris Francis); and eight grandchildren. 

With his passing, the world of science will be a bit poorer, but he will remain with us through his many contributions.