In Memoriam: J. Newell Stannard


by William J. Bair

J. Newell Stannard

James Newell Stannard, PhD, passed away peacefully with his family by his side 19 September 2005 in San Diego. Dr. Stannard was respected and admired by all who knew him and loved by those close to him. His contributions to radiation protection began in 1947 at the University of Rochester's Atomic Energy Project, a remnant of the Manhattan Project. He continued to be active, offering his wisdom on current radiation protection issues, until he entered the hospital shortly before his death.

Much has been written by Newell and about him in Health Physics News. Most recently, the July 2005 issue included an interview of Newell conducted by Bruce Boecker, which included an introduction by Mary Walchuk describing Newell's accomplishments and honors.

Rather than repeat much of that information, I will focus on the life of Newell, who became one of the most respected members of our profession. This spring Newell completed his memoirs, a beautifully written 131-page life story of a very exceptional person. This has been helpful to me in relating some of his early life.

Newell was born 2 January 1910 in Owego, New York. His parents were high school teachers; his mother taught Latin and his father, Greek. After Newell was born, the Stannards moved to Brooklyn, where his father taught chemistry at the Adelphi Academy and Adelphi College. Newell's elementary education was in the public schools, where he enjoyed singing and learned to play the violin. For high school, he went to Boys School, where his father taught chemistry. Boys School was strictly academic, strong in the classics, science, mathematics, and music. Newell was active in the Sunday School of the Flatbush Congregational Church, played in the Sunday School orchestra, and was a Boy Scout. Newell had a younger brother, Robert, born in 1918. His father taught classes at night to supplement their income and allow them to indulge in some of the cultural offerings of New York City and to spend summers in New England and the Adirondacks.

Newell graduated from high school at midterm in 1927. For several months before he started college he worked as a bank messenger. This experience on Wall Street convinced him that business college was not for him. He decided to go to Oberlin College in Ohio, where his father had graduated in 1900. Oberlin was a 2,000-student liberal arts college with a good reputation in the sciences. The small town of Oberlin and the small student body were a big change for the New Yorker. He was homesick the first semester and barely made it back after the Christmas break. One of the courses Newell took was ecology, probably a rare offering at that time. He majored in biology and chemistry and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1931.

While at Oberlin, Newell was accepted as a medical student at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. However, these were the depression years and, feeling he had been enough of a financial burden on his family, he declined. In his memoirs, Newell suggests he might have been less interested in medical school than being in Rochester, the home of a young lady he had met. She was Grace Kingsley, his future wife.

His mentors at Oberlin suggested he take a year of graduate study before he committed himself to science or to medicine. So he enrolled at Yale University as a special graduate student taking classes in chemistry and biology. At the end of the year, he turned down an assistantship at Yale and accepted one in the Department of General Physiology at Harvard, where a new biological institute had been built. In the fall of 1933 he began his studies at Harvard and in 1934 completed his MA degree in general physiology. He continued his graduate studies at Harvard, conducting research under Dr. Theodore Stier, who was interested in metabolic processes in microorganisms. His thesis was "Rate Limiting Metabolic Processes in the Yeast." In 1935 Newell completed his PhD, also in general physiology (biophysics).

For employment, Newell was attracted to the medical school at the University of Rochester because of its reputation and the fact that Grace Kingsley lived in Rochester. Dr. Wallace Fenn, professor of physiology, hired Newell as an assistant in physiology with a salary of $900 per year, $3,000 the third year. Newell and Grace were married in the summer of 1936. With Grace teaching school, they were doing quite well for the late 1930s.

In 1940 Newell and Grace decided a change in scenery would be good for both of them and he accepted a position as assistant professor in the Pharmacology Department at Emory University Medical School in Atlanta. This was only to last through 1941 since World War II was ramping up.

Newell knew he would be involved in the war effort. Soon after Pearl Harbor he accepted a civilian appointment with the Public Health Service as a pharmacologist. By Christmas the Stannards had moved to Bethesda, where Newell began work in the NIH Division of Industrial Hygiene on a Navy project involving personnel exposures to carbon monoxide from aircraft engines on carriers. Soon, the Navy decided that since they were doing classified work Newell should be a naval officer. He was commissioned a lieutenant senior grade and continued with essentially the same work, but was now assigned to the Navy's Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. Later during the war, Newell worked on toxic gases associated with the Navy's jet-assisted take-off (JATO) engines. He would have remained in the Navy after the war had the Navy shared his research interests. Instead, Newell returned to his position at the National Institutes of Health, where he worked on Cytochrome C.

In 1947 he learned that the Atomic Energy Project at the University of Rochester, which had worked extensively on uranium toxicology and also on radium, radon, polonium, and plutonium during the war years, was going to set up a graduate program in the new field of atomic energy. He expressed interest and became assistant director for education of the Atomic Energy Project and assistant professor of radiation biology. The Stannards moved back to Rochester, this time with Susan, who had been born in Bethesda in 1942.

Newell was hired primarily on the premise the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) would initiate graduate programs when it took over from the Manhattan Engineer District. By October 1948 the "Technical Fellowships in Radiological Physics" program had been established and administered by the National Academy of Sciences. The University of Rochester and Brookhaven National Laboratory were selected to train one group of Fellows, Brookhaven to provide on-site training after a year of classroom and laboratory classes at the University of Rochester under Newell. Vanderbilt and Oak Ridge National Laboratory were paired to train a second group under Elda Anderson. The students began arriving in Rochester in November to no classrooms, no teaching labs, etc. It was Newell's responsibility to deal with the situation.

Although he had been introduced to radioactive tracers before the war by Dr. Fenn, he knew very little about radiation and radiation effects. His broad training in general physiology (biophysics) and pharmacology and his military research experience probably helped him gain an early grasp on this new field. It was called radiological physics by the National Academy and the AEC, but it was already being called health physics in the Manhattan Engineer District. Newell was not only a scholar, but he was well organized, resourceful, and compassionate, all qualities important in assisting the Fellows in getting established with housing and enrolled in classes. Having been a Navy officer helped him establish rapport with the students, most of whom were World War II veterans. His office, with Rose Sternberg as his secretary, will be fondly remembered by all of those early Fellows.

During this first year a full curriculum was established. Newell taught a course, "Biological Effects of Radiation." Other members of the staff of the Atomic Energy Project developed courses in instrumentation, monitoring, physics, toxicology, pathology, genetics, personnel dosimetry, counting, etc.

Newell guided the education of hundreds of students who are now or have been among the leaders in the health physics profession. Most of the students arrived at Rochester on a National Academy of Sciences and later an Atomic Energy Commission Fellowship. Other students were from the several branches of the military and many came from abroad. Initially, only master's degrees in radiation biology were offered. PhD degrees were offered in biophysics and in the medical school disciplines, but none in the radiation sciences, so Newell began an effort to establish the world's first PhD program in radiation biology. Newell was a wonderful mentor for a graduate student. He provided just the right amount of guidance so that our research was clearly our own, but we couldn't go too far astray.

As a leader in the education of health physicists and radiation biologists, Newell chaired and served on several educational committees with Elda Anderson and others who helped to expand the health physics fellowship program from two to 17 universities and from two to nine national laboratories. Newell estimated that the AEC awarded about 3,300 fellowships in nuclear energy.

Newell's contributions to radiation protection were not confined to education. He carried on an active research program that provided a basis for the training of his graduate students. They benefited from his interests in understanding the basic mechanisms involved in radiation effects on living tissue and from his work on polonium.

In the mid-1950s, with the graduate training program well established, Newell became head of the Radioactive Inhalation Section in the Pharmacology Division. This was his first large research program. He and colleagues developed a facility for safe and controlled exposures of animals to aerosols of alpha-emitting radionuclides. This "Alpha Lab" was a model for facilities built at Hanford for studies of plutonium and later at the Lovelace Foundation in Albuquerque for fission product studies.

In 1955 through 1957, Newell was project director of field studies for the AEC and the military to understand the potential for inhalation of radionuclides released to the environment. Robert Thomas, Newell's second graduate student, was a program director on these studies.

From 1959 until he retired in 1975, Newell was associate dean for (all) graduate studies in the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. This greatly expanded his administrative responsibilities and decreased his research activities. He also held an appointment as professor of radiation biology and biophysics and of pharmacology and toxicology.

At age 65, in 1975, Newell had to take mandatory retirement. In 1977, after assessing their options, Newell and Grace decided to move to San Diego. Grace had suffered a stroke in 1971 during the time Newell was president of the Health Physics Society (HPS), so they had already experienced the disadvantages of a wheelchair existence during a snowy Rochester winter. Further, they had visited their daughter, Susan, and family in the San Diego area and enjoyed the pleasant and healthful climate. Newell accepted an appointment as adjunct professor of community medicine and radiology at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine in La Jolla. This gave Newell a base of operations, relatively close to his home and Grace, from where he pursued his interests with the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP), authored papers, and gave occasional lectures. The San Diego Chapter of the HPS, led by Marty McDougall, essentially adopted Newell as one of its own. Marty made certain that Newell's knowledge and experience were utilized throughout southern California. In 1993 Newell was similarly adopted by the Northern California and Sierra Nevada Chapters, with Marcia Hartman leading the organization of the J. Newell Stannard Lecture Series, in which an invited lecture is given annually in April at a combined meeting of the two chapters.

As soon as it was possible after her stroke, Grace accompanied Newell on much of his travel and this continued after they moved to San Diego. They were both greatly admired and respected for this because of the special effort it required. Grace began to have new health problems and passed away in 1991. Newell never thought he would remarry, but Helena Woodhouse changed his mind. They were married 24 January 1994. Not surprisingly, Newell was again adopted; this time by all of Helena's extended family. They and Newell's family have a close and very supportive relationship.

Newell was an author or coauthor of more than 150 publications. His truly major publication was Radioactivity and Health–A History. It was published in 1988 when he was in San Diego. In this 2,000-page scholarly volume, Newell accumulated and distilled nearly all of the world's knowledge of the health and environmental aspects of radionuclides.

Newell served on and chaired numerous commissions and committees of the National Academy of Sciences and of the Atomic Energy Commission and other agencies. He was a longtime member of the NCRP. His contributions to the NCRP are described in a beautiful memoriam by Dr. Warren Sinclair, past president of the NCRP. It is published on the NCRP Web site. Newell was elected an honorary member in 1979 and gave the 14th Lauriston S. Taylor Lecture, "Radiation Protection and the Internal Emitter Saga," in 1990.

Newell was outstanding as a committee chairman. He always had well-organized agendas and kept meetings progressing without offending those who were prone to verbosity. He was a welcome banquet speaker, giving very scholarly and thought-provoking presentations. He was an effective member of scientific committees. Regardless of the purpose, he was always well prepared.

Newell is a past president of the HPS, which honored him with the Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award, the Founders Award, and Life Membership. In 2003 he was honored by a special session at the 23rd Annual Meeting of the Society in San Diego, and the September 2003 issue of Health Physics was offered in tribute to him. Newell was a member of several other scientific and professional societies and was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In addition to his teaching and research, Newell was also a strong voice in elucidating important issues and formulating radiation protection practices. Although his focus was mostly on radionuclides, he added his wisdom to broader issues such as the contentious linear no-threshold concept: ". . . it may be somewhat naïve to expect with the complexities of biology that a single dose-response relationship would emerge the winner. This 'one-size-fits-all' process is not truly excellent radiation protection. . . ." ("On Excellence in Radiation Protection" remarks for the seventh J. Newell Stannard Lecture series at Lake Tahoe, 10 April 1999, The Newsletter June 1999). Until the very end, Newell offered thoughtful comments about the present and future direction of radiation protection and of the HPS. Although, as he said, he missed being a charter member by one year, he has been untiring in his support of the HPS.

Newell's interests always included music. He enjoyed singing in choirs and played the violin, mostly for his own pleasure after his high school days. He played tennis when he was young and, later, a little golf. With both Grace and Helena, he enjoyed dancing and cruises.

I had the wonderful and unusual privilege of knowing Newell for almost exactly 56 years, beginning in September 1949 as my teacher and professor at the University of Rochester and continuing through the years as my mentor, professional colleague, close friend, and confidant. He was close to our family. He set remarkable examples for me and others in his approach to science and life. His kind demeanor, sense of humor, consideration for others, honesty, scholarship, integrity, mentoring, and exceptional communication skills are all worthy of emulating. He was mild tempered and patient but could be firm. We have all been blessed by Newell's long life. For all these years he had become a permanent part of our lives at meetings, in our homes, on the phone, and lately by email. As much as we will miss that, his place in our lives will never be forgotten. He was an exceptional human being, a true gentleman, and a scholar.

Newell is survived by his wife Helena and her daughters, Dianne Eppler and husband Ted, Bonnie DesRosiers, and Brenda Hanisee and husband Pat; by his daughter, Susan Frazier and husband Jack; by his granddaughter, Christy Malloy and husband Phil; and by his brother Robert and wife Lettie. Newell's and Helena's combined families number six grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. Newell is also survived by Helena's niece, Valerie Hoskins, a longtime caregiver to Grace, Newell, and Helena.