Mark Guyer, NHGRI founding member and Deputy Director, hangs up his federal hat

July 8, 2014
A big change has occurred at NHGRI this summer. Founding staff member, Dr. Mark Guyer, formally retired from federal service on June 30. For most of his time at NHGRI, Mark was a key leader of the Extramural Research Program; most recently, he was the NHGRI Deputy Director. Much could be said of Mark's career in the federal government. For example, I could describe his critical role in the Human Genome Project, or name the many genomics programs that he has helped to establish and nurture, or tell you about the vital role he has played as a trusted advisor to me and other NHGRI leadership. Instead, I will use this opportunity to share some thoughts about Mark from other people that he has worked with over the course of his impressive career.

Mark Guyer (4 photos)

I reached out to genomics colleagues to get their perspectives on Mark and his retirement. While not surprised, I was fondly impressed by their glowing words, such as: unflappable, steady, insightful, dedicated, innovative, talented, judgment, skill, impact, pillar, invaluable, patience, leadership, diplomacy, thoughtful, empathy, wisdom, creative, and humor. Such words were put forward to describe Mark and his contributions to science, and every one of them is accurate.

I was particularly struck by one comment from Dr. Rick Myers, Director of the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology:

"[Mark was an] extremely important leader since the beginning, quietly injecting wisdom, strategy, and counseling to the myriad grantees and other players in the genomics field." ~ Rick Myers

And this comment stood out from Dr. David Valle, Director of the Institute of Genetic Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine:

"All of us in genetics and genomics owe [Mark] a tremendous debt of gratitude for [his] dedication, wisdom, fairness, commitment to excellence and equanimity over the decades of exciting (and occasionally stressful!) growth..." ~ Dave Valle

I learned some interesting NHGRI history at Mark's retirement event, which also celebrated the retirement of Jane Peterson, former Associate Director of NHGRI's Extramural Research Program. Dr. Elke Jordan, former NHGRI Deputy Director, explained that Mark was a "hard recruitment" for NHGRI, "he thought about it for a long time before saying 'yes'."
What a different Institute this would be if Mark had not decided to join NHGRI! I will also share some lyrics from a song adapted and performed by NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins at Mark's retirement event:

"...[I was] amazed by all that he knew...without him we'd been in the dark...what [he] added to science is vast..." ~ Francis Collins
From Left to Right: Eric Green, Jane Peterson, Mark Guyer, Elke Jordan, and Francis Collins at the retirement event for Mark and Jane.
Group photo

Mark's guidance has also nurtured the careers of many NHGRI employees. As Dr. Elise Feingold put it, "it's hard to overstate [his] influence on my career and the careers of all of the NHGRI extramural staff members over the years. [His] wisdom, experience, creativity, and patience... have been invaluable to us and have served as the bedrock upon which the success of NHGRI's extramural programs has been built."

All of these glowing comments leave little room for me to add my own thoughts. I have worked with Mark on many NHGRI projects, starting with the Human Genome Project and including many other challenging endeavors (notably the writing of the 2004 and 2011 NHGRI strategic plans). His intelligence, insightfulness, and humor have enriched my experience at NHGRI. It is a profound understatement to say that Mark Guyer's contributions to NHGRI and genomics are immense. I am certain that his influence will be felt for quite some time.

Photo on the Left: Mark Guyer exhibiting 'G-nome' Institute spirit.
Photo on the Right: Eric Green, Mark Guyer, and Jane Peterson in Cape Town, South Africa at an H3Africa meeting.

A final note... While Mark did 'hang up his federal hat' and formally retired from federal service, he does plan to continue to work part-time as a consultant on some key NIH and NHGRI programs, including the Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) project and the Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) initiative. So fortunately, we are not completely losing Mark's involvement in genomics research.

For more information on Marks' achievements, see the recent NHGRI news feature at genome.gov/27558113.

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Posted: August 5, 2014