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Our People: In Memoriam: Adolphus “Tol” Toliver

Adolphus 'Tol' Toliver
Adolphus "Tol" Toliver

Adolphus "Tol" Toliver, a prominent voice at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for active measures to support minority students and faculty pursuing careers in biology, died March 26, exactly two weeks short of his 82nd birthday. Toliver was appointed in 1994 as Chief of the MARC (Minority Access to Research Careers) Branch in the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), where he served until his retirement at the first of this year. Toliver was an ASCB member from 1991-2004 and served on the Society's Minorities Affairs Committee (MAC) from 1992-1997.

Toliver earned his bachelor's in biology at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, and a master's degree and PhD in molecular biology and biochemistry at Purdue University in Lafayette, IN. He did postdoctoral research at Kansas State University and joined the faculty at the University of California, Davis, before moving to the NIH in 1975, where he served as a scientific review administrator for the Biochemistry Study Section for the NIH Division of Research Grants, now the Center for Scientific Review.

"Tol," as he was universally known, was a familiar figure on campuses, at ASCB meetings, and at other organizational gatherings that actively supported diversity in the scientific workforce. MAC member Sandra Murray says Toliver championed the NIGMS strategy of channeling MARC grants through scientific societies such as ASCB, particularly to help minority junior faculty make the difficult transition to independent research and tenure track success. Despite or perhaps because of all the meetings he attended, "Tol" couldn't tolerate late-running schedules and long-winded speakers, recalls Murray, who is at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. "It was really something to witness," she remembers. "Tol was always in the front row and if someone was going to the podium who he knew was a long-winded speaker, you'd hear that voice after a while," says Murray, trying to mimic Toliver's impossible-to-ignore tone. 'That's MORE than enough about that.'" 

"Tol was good people," Murray says, an "Olympian" when it came to the work and the leadership required to pull together such groups as ABRCMS (Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students) and SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science).

Toliver also had a phenomenal memory for names and faces plus the stories behind them, says David Asai, now Director for Precollege and Undergraduate Science Education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, who first encountered Toliver while Asai was teaching at Purdue and trying to mentor minority students himself. "What Tol did which I think was just remarkable was that he just knew a lot of  (minority) students who were coming through the system. He really paid attention and was a good mentor to them. It wasn't just their names and faces. He would see someone at an ASCB meeting for example and he would ask, 'How's that going? You must be in your fourth year now. What are you going to do next?'"

Asai continues, "Good eye, good memory, and he was a smart guy who just didn't take on airs. He was just down to earth."

And Toliver took his Purdue connection seriously, says Asai. Toliver was named an "Old Master" by the Purdue alumni association and served on the Dean's Advisory Committee for the Purdue University School of Science. Asai recalls, "Every time I'd see Tol, we'd talk about Purdue football and how disappointing it had been recently. But we'd fix the problem. We'd talk about what they needed to do to be a winner." But Toliver followed more than football, says Asai, "Tol" followed scientific talent and he had a great eye for it.

Created on Thursday, April 4, 2013

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