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Dr. Marila Cordeiro-Stone’s Introduction of Dr. Joe W. Grisham


I am honored by the opportunity to speak to you today about the Jonathan B. Howes Lifetime Achievement Award selection and the 2018 recipient.

The Retired Faculty Association established this award in 2015 to recognize a retired faculty member of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, whose contributions throughout his or her career:

  • Included service and achievements both within the University and beyond in the wider community
  • Consistently exceeded the professional expectations for faculty
  • Has been recognized by faculty and administrator colleagues for his or her judgment, ethical values, and courage in the pursuit of worthy goals.

As you already know, this year’s recipient of the Jonathan Howes Lifetime Achievement Award is Dr. Joe W. Grisham.

Before I present to you any information about the 2018 awardee, I must make an important disclosure:

I am greatly indebted to this year’s awardee for welcoming me as a faculty member at UNC-Chapel Hill, and for his continuous encouragement and support throughout the development of my research, teaching and training careers.

Dr. Joe Grisham earned his BA in Chemistry and the MD degrees from Vanderbilt University and completed residency training in Pathology at Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes Hospital in Saint Louis, Missouri. At the start of his professional career, Dr. Grisham engaged in his first service project as Visiting Instructor of Pathology at Makerere Medical College of the University of East Africa, in Kampala, Uganda.

Upon his return from Africa, Washington University School of Medicine offered Dr. Grisham a tenure-track faculty position in the Department of Pathology, where he quickly climbed the academic ladder, reaching in just 8 years the rank of Professor. Four years later, the UNC School of Medicine was successful in recruiting Dr. Grisham to serve as Professor and Chair of the Department of Pathology, a position he kept from 1973 to 1999.

Dr. Grisham proved to be an extraordinary clinical pathologist, researcher, educator, and administrator. In parallel to demanding clinical services, he was able to maintain a productive research laboratory, training several young investigators and publishing hundreds of scientific papers in top-tier journals; these publications are broadly recognized by the scientific community as integral parts to the foundation of our current knowledge of molecular mechanisms of initiation and development of liver cancer.

Dr. Grisham also made one of his priorities to expand and strengthen graduate student training at UNC-Chapel Hill. During his tenure as Chair, the number of PhD in Pathology degrees awarded by UNC-Chapel Hill increased significantly. Such an accomplishment was not only due to his strong support of the training program itself, but his extraordinary efforts toward expanding the depth and breadth of the research mission of the Department of Pathology. As an example, he was successful in recruiting Dr. Oliver Smithies, the first UNC Nobel Laureate, and his wife, Dr. Nobuyo Maeda, who independently built exceptional research and training programs on her own merits.

As a matter of fact, Dr. Grisham was an exceptional champion of the need to increase faculty diversity by hiring more women, as well as ethnic and racial minorities. Soon after he became Chair, the number of women in the Department of Pathology increased at a rate not seen previously in any other department in the School of Medicine or even in the majority of departments in the other sectors of the university.

Dr. Grisham also displayed a unique style of leadership and guidance. He had a keen sense for recognizing the potential of each faculty member, either male or female, and knowing instinctively the academic activities in which he or she would be most successful. So, he gently nudged us in those directions! In my case, he encouraged me to participate in academia beyond teaching and research and get more involved in graduate education and faculty governance. He nurtured faculty members to expand their professional experiences by sending them to other universities in the US and abroad for further specialization or to assume administrative positions. Four of them became successful Chairs of Pathology Departments: Dr. Stephen C. Peiper at the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, Dr. David Walker at the University of Texas at Galveston, Dr. Robert Reddick at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and Dr. Charles Jeanette here at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Dr. Grisham was also an innovator in the areas of medical education and residency/fellowship training programs in Pathology. He insisted that both research and clinical faculty, alongside residents, participated in the teaching of medical students. Such side-by-side teaching experience was not only beneficial to the students, but also enhanced the competence of the faculty in both the clinical and the research arenas. It certainly helped me place my basic research in the broader context of disease mechanisms and compete successfully for NIH grants.

At the administrative level, he improved the organizational structure of the close relationship between the University and UNC Hospitals. Grisham, in partnership with Dr. Bill McLendon, oversaw the merging of the School of Medicine’s Department of Pathology and the Hospital’s Division of Laboratory Medicine to form the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. In the UNC Hospitals, the Department’s anatomic pathology services were combined with the clinical pathology services to form what is known today as the McLendon Clinical Laboratories.

Dr. Grisham’s influence and contributions were not restricted to his department and the School of Medicine. He served in numerous advisory, executive, steering, and search committees, and also served as a member of the Faculty Council. Beyond the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he participated in scientific advisory boards for both government institutions (EPA, NIH), and industrial research organizations, and also served as a member of the North Carolina Governor’s Board of Science and Technology.

Dr. Grisham made major contributions to editorial boards of scientific journals, professional societies, and review committees. His standing among the scientific elite is reflected, for example, by his election as President of the American Association of Pathologists (AAP) and President of the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology (FASEB). He was also invited to serve as a consultant for the International Agency for Cancer Research, which is part of the World Health Organization, and after stepping down from being Chair of the UNC Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Dr. Grisham spent 4 years at National Institutes of Health, exploring ways to advance further our understanding of liver cancer development.

In recognition of his outstanding professional career, Dr. Grisham has been honored with invitations to deliver special presentations, among them the Norma Berryhill Distinguished Lecture at UNC-Chapel Hill and the Paul Brinkley Lecture at the University of Texas Medical Branch (Galveston, TX), and was named Kenan Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in 1992. Noteworthy among his awards to date are the Distinguished Alumni Award from Vanderbilt University (1994) and The Order of the Long Leaf Pine from the State of North Carolina (1996).

As recognized by the Jonathan B. Howes Lifetime Achievement Award, Dr. Grisham’s contributions to UNC-Chapel Hill, the State of North Carolina, and national/international scientific communities have “consistently exceeded the professional expectations for faculty.” His long tenure as Chair of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine clearly demonstrates that Dr. Grisham’s “judgment, ethical values, and courage in the pursuit of worthy goals” have been recognized by his faculty colleagues and by the administration of the School of Medicine and UNC-Chapel Hill. Although in a very different professional field, Dr. Grisham’s career clearly emulated that of the late Jonathan Howes, in whose honor the RFA established this award.