Honoring Roger Glass, MD, PhD: A Leader in Global Health Here and Abroad

image of Robert Glass, MD, receiving an award from NIH Director Lawrence A. Tabak, DDS, PhD

On February 7, I had the honor of attending and speaking at a Celebration of Dr. Roger I. Glass in the Ruth Kirschstein Auditorium on the main NIH campus to pay tribute to my dear colleague, Dr. Roger Glass. Roger is transitioning from his remarkable tenure as Director of the NIH Fogarty International Center to a senior scientist emeritus at Fogarty who will promote diversity and equity in its programs, work with NIH leadership to expand engagement in global health, and reinforce existing partnerships abroad. As the longest-serving director of Fogarty, Roger expanded NIH’s global health footprint and partnered with all NIH Institutes and Centers to advance global health research in support of the NIH mission to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability in the United States and around the world.

Every complex organization survives because of connectors. Connectors are critical employees, maybe leaders, who metaphorically walk across an organization to find talent, engage others in their dreams and pursuits, and inspire visions that could only be accomplished through partnerships with that person. NIH has a superb connector, and Roger Glass is his name.

As Director of the Fogarty International Center, Roger recognized that he could leverage the power of NIH into international efforts through engagement and partnership. He is an outstanding talent finder. Many of us have heard the phrase, “I have someone who would like to meet you,” only to find ourselves days or weeks later engaged in some pursuit across the world that helped us advance our own Institute or Center’s goals while also advancing knowledge around the world. Connectors like Roger have an uncanny knack for recognizing skills and values and linking them to global needs.

Roger had a special relationship with the National Library of Medicine and its directors. He forged a bond with Donald A.B. Lindberg, MD, my predecessor, and from that emerged the African Journals Partnership Project, investments in medical informatics training in sub-Saharan Africa, and satellite links to places in need of high-quality medical information around the world. In the early 1990s, Roger and NLM worked closely together to make sure that our electronic biomedical citation databases were available around the world—providing global access to up-to-date biomedical information. This partnership was also instrumental in making sure that our world-class genomics repositories reflected diversity around the world and that they remain open and available to the world’s scientists. When I joined NLM, Roger extended this same type of partnership to me—one that I truly value and will sorely miss. His efforts included inviting me to address the Fogarty Advisory Board, engaging me in many NIH research training and scientific meetings, and consistently drawing heavily on NLM’s resources in data science to address global needs, most recently in the DS-I Africa project.

Connectors are effective not only because they can leverage the business of an organization, but because they also know how to forge strong interpersonal connections among people within an organization. Within weeks of my arrival at NIH, Roger reached out and invited me to dinner with a few colleagues from NIH leadership. Turns out we were all vagabonds living in DC alone, away from family and friends. This turned out to be a great way to get to know those very colleagues whose partnership and support we would need to advance the mission of NIH. After almost seven years, we still meet for dinner about every 6 to 8 weeks—not only enjoying the camaraderie of friends, but also exchanging ideas on ways to make NIH continue to work for science! At our last dinner in January, 7 of us gathered at a table for 8, holding space in honor of the connector who connected us!

So, I say to my dear friend and colleague “All the best for the next.” We will toast you at every gathering and will always save a seat!

Patricia Flatley Brennan, RN, PhD

Director, National Library of Medicine

Dr. Brennan is the Director of the NIH National Library of Medicine, a leader in biomedical informatics and computational health data science research and the world’s largest biomedical library. Under her leadership, NLM has grown its intramural and extramural research enterprise, extended stakeholders’ access to credible and reliable health information, and acquired and preserved biomedical literature using cutting-edge digital research and outreach. Read more about Dr. Brennan.

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