December 2009

Jupiter Rising

A few weeks later, he received an e-mail from the same recruiter telling him about the Scripps Florida project, and by then he had received notice that he would be back stateside in February, so he decided to find out more. “And God bless the U.S. government, because the defense operators arranged a call from Iraq to the San Diego Naval Yard and got me connected with Dr. Lerner. We spoke at length, and, since I was planning on taking my wife and son to Disney World when I got back, he told me, ‘While you’re down there, drive over to Palm Beach, and we’ll talk some more.’”

“It was kind of funny,” Orf continues. “Before that meeting, I thought about Florida more as a place to retire than a place to start a new career, but, after hearing about how Scripps’ enterprise could lead this major scientific vision that Florida had, I readily signed on.”

Of course, then came the challenge of getting others to sign too, which could be tricky, especially in the early days when Scripps Florida was more promise than substance.

Harry Orf
Harry Orf, Scripps Florida’s operations director, surveys the scene outside his office. Despite some initial delays, the Scripps campus in Jupiter is now operational.

Patrick R. Griffin, chairman of the molecular therapeutics department and one of three faculty members who arrived in Florida before Orf, recalls those early times. During his recruitment visit, the facilities tour consisted of driving by an orchard that had a big fence with a sign that said “Do Not Enter,” and he was told that his initial research space would be half a bench in a laboratory at Florida Atlantic University’s Boca Raton campus. 

“I basically had to take it on faith that everything— the buildings, funding, recruiting— would work out,” he says. Still, Griffin, then running a small biotech company called ExSAR Corp., was looking for something different, and Scripps’ pre-existing reputation eventually swayed him.

And while there were a few other bumps in the road, like an environmental lawsuit over the initial proposed site that delayed building construction, the recruiting progress has been strong, and Scripps has more than 30 out of 60 investigator positions filled and more than 350 staff overall. As Orf says jokingly, “It feels like we bring in someone new every week.”

 

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