Tributes to Barbara Gordon, ASBMB executive director, on her retirement

ASBMB Today Staff
Feb. 24, 2021

Barbara Gordon, who worked at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology for almost 50 years, retired in late February. (See ASBMB President Toni Antalis' announcement.) Below, society members and former staff share their memories and appreciation.

Courtesy of Ralph Bradshaw
Barbara Gordon and Penny Bradshaw in Siena, Italy, in 2002.

The ASBMB-PB (post Barbara)

For some of us, this is a concept that is not really imaginable even though we knew that it was bound to happen someday. I really never have known the society without her presence in some role; I joined the ASBMB (in those days, the ASBC) in 1971, and she began on the staff in 1972, working on the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Over the next nearly 50 years, as her responsibilities grew and my involvement in the society deepened, we worked, planned and schemed with various colleagues and staff on innumerable projects, committees and governance activities involving both the society and JBC — far too many to list here, but I note a few favorites: launching the online version of JBC and creating High Wire Press with Chuck Hancock, Herb Tabor, Bob Simoni, John Sack and Mike Keller; writing the 100-year history of the ASBMB and shepherding it through the publication process; and, perhaps the best, launching Molecular & Cellular Proteomics and nursing it through its growing pains, particularly during the first 10 years.

This last effort spanned the time when Barbara took over as executive director of the ASBMB. MCP really just had begun when Chuck Hancock, Barbara's predecessor, announced his retirement and the society began a serious search for a replacement. With a brand-new journal on my hands (with all the issues and problems associated with that), this decision was of crucial importance to me; I needed an executive director who understood academic publishing and could provide the support and leadership necessary to allow it to succeed. Frighteningly, when the final interviews were scheduled, I discovered I couldn't be there in person, so I sat down and wrote probably the most impassioned letter of my career, literally begging the search committee to select Barbara. They did, and the rest is history.

Over the years, I have shared countless hours in committee meetings, dinners (both good and bad), and not just a few nightcaps with Barbara. As a result, she became not only a colleague but a friend (with my wife too), and I have enjoyed several social occasions with her and/or her husband Jerry.

Blessed with a special southern charm and innate enthusiasm, she was an indispensable part of any team (no matter who that was nor what the project or activity was), at ease in almost any setting, and able to maintain a rapport with scientists at all levels, even though she herself was not formally trained as such. When Barbara asked you to do something you didn’t feel put upon, you felt good about being asked. Although I always maintained Chuck Hancock was going to be a hard act to follow, Barbara not only filled his shoes but set new standards of accomplishment that will be a challenge for future directors to match (but that is a good thing). The ASBMB has flourished under her guidance and probably will continue to do so but it won’t be quite the same when she is gone.

My best wishes to Barbara for a glorious, relaxed and well-earned retirement (and Penny and I look forward to seeing her in Charleston when we visit our daughter).

Ralph Bradshaw, University of California, Irvine

Courtesy of Ralph Bradshaw
Ralph Bradshaw, Penny Bradshaw, Barbara Gordon and Barbara's sister Kay in Versailles, France, at the first Human Proteome
Organization Congress, 2002.

'Years of dedication'

Dear Barbara,

Thank you for your leadership, thoughtfulness and years of dedication to high-quality BMB education!

With best wishes and congratulations on your retirement,

Ludmila Tyler, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Educational and Professional Development Committee 

Our appreciation of Barbara Gordon

We first met Barbara in 2004 (16 years ago!) at the Boston ASBMB meeting. After a session in the afternoon/evening, we went to the entrance of the convention center and discovered that it was raining cats and dogs. We were not dressed for this. However, Barbara, who is always prepared for every eventuality, was there standing in the rain with umbrellas and escorted us, and many others, to taxis. That was a very strong message that Barbara was a very special and caring person at the ASBMB.

Since that time, Barbara has helped us organize a large conference in Banff. Importantly, she also took over organization of the Deuel Conference on Lipids, which was faltering, and it is now a hugely successful annual meeting. We always have treasured our opportunities to interact with you, Barbara; thanks so much for all you have done for so many scientists over all these years.

We wish you the very best in your retirement years.

Dennis and Jean Vance, University of Alberta

Courtesy of Judith Bond
Pictured, from left, are Bettie Sue Masters, Barbara Gordon, Judith Bond and Debora Foguel (former president of the Brazilian Biochemical Society) at an Experimental Biology meeting in April 2011.

Of thee we sing, Barbara —

Dear Barbara,

The two of us have known and been admirers of your commitment and outstanding service to the ASBMB and JBC for the last three and a half decades! We have worked with you on innumerable domestic committees and activities (from committees on equal opportunities for women, to Council, to associate editor meetings, to public affairs, to centennial committees and celebrations, to the Membership Committee) and international programs (Promoting Research Opportunities for Latin American Biochemists and the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology), and we have traveled the world with you.

For every one of those committees and activities, you were central to the logistics, decisions, function and successes. You have been the catalyst for promoting collegial interactions, strengthening trainee and diversity programs, and promoting international collaborations. By organizing and participating in scientific and social activities for scientists around the world, you provided the know-how to get things done. You have been THE source of information about the society and about the people involved with the society due to your long commitment. Your energy and insight have been invaluable to the society and journals and to the staff and volunteers.

As former presidents of the ASBMB, we appreciate the support and organizational skills that you provided for us as novices in that leadership position. It was clear that your heart and soul were in the society's success through appropriate management and your selection of personnel. It is hard to imagine the ASBMB and JBC without you. You deserve every minute of a full, happy retirement, and we look forward to seeing you (if only on Zooms) in afternoons and evenings, since we know you are not a morning person.

Thanks, Barbara, for all you have given us and for your warm and continuing friendship.

Judith Bond, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
ASBMB past president

Bettie Sue Masters, Duke University Medical Center
ASBMB past president

'A snowball of events'

I still remember when I first met Barbara; it was on a walk from a meeting venue to a restaurant for a dinner celebrating the first day of the ASBMB grant writing workshop in Washington, D.C. We had struck up a conversation about our mutual interests in the intersection of science and politics. Not only was it a fascinating conversation, but Barbara remembered our conversation. After the workshop was over, she took the time to introduce me to the ASBMB staff who manage the Public Affairs Advisory Committee. My interactions with Barbara started a snowball of events that eventually led to my service on the PAAC.

Over the years, I have been able to see Barbara at PAAC meetings and Experimental Biology meetings, and every time, despite her incredibly busy schedule, she always took time to talk with me and still remembered details about my family. It was clear every time I talked with Barbara that she truly cared about how I was doing as a person. It is incredibly rare to meet someone like Barbara who is so genuine, kind, perennially happy and always incredibly generous with their time.

I am greatly appreciative of the opportunities through ASBMB, and I can trace all of these opportunities back to Barbara, to her kindness and to her incredible support. I cannot express enough how much I appreciate Barbara and her generosity and kindness. Thank you, Barbara!

Rick Page, Miami University
Public Affairs Advisory Committee

'The friendly face of the ASBMB'

Barbara has been the friendly face of the ASBMB for as long as I can remember. She has moved the society through many new transitions and has shepherded its growth to the robust society it is today. Service to the ASBMB members has always been her highest priority. We certainly will miss her but wish her all the best in her well-deserved retirement.

Enjoy Charleston!

Toni Antalis, University of Maryland
ASBMB president

'Like an old friend'

I have two memories of Barbara that stand out. First would be the times when committees would meet and we would have dinner together. Barbara often came with us and was always warm and fun to talk to. She felt like an old friend from the first time I met her. The other memory I have of Barbara would be seeing her at EB meetings. Here again Barbara always made me feel like she knew me, knew where I was from and knew my story, like an old friend. Barbara, thank you for making me feel welcome in a society and community that I've always valued. Enjoy your retirement.

John T. Tansey, Otterbein University
Science Outreach and Communication Committee

'Though thick and thin'

Dear Barbara,

You are the spirit of the ASBMB! I have been privileged to be involved with the leadership of the ASBMB since before you became executive director and through your entire tenure. I am in awe of how you dealt with everyone with whom you came in contact. Your dedication and open embracing of ASBMB members has contributed so much to its success. Through thick and thin, you have had the most positive attitude imaginable. I had the privilege to observe close up between sessions at the last Deuel Conference how you navigated the impending COVID-19 epidemic and led FASEB to make the brave decision to cancel the 2020 annual meeting as well as the subsequent decisions in dealing with these most challenging times for the society and the journals.

For me, it has been a personal pleasure to work with you on everything from national meetings to the Journal of Lipid Research and council. I have especially enjoyed the numerous events, dinners and social hours we have enjoyed around the country these last couple of decades. I hope we will be able to stay in touch in the future.

I know you have been looking forward to your retirement on the beach in Charleston and your well-deserved escape from the daily challenges of a bunch of rowdy scientists! I wish you the best.

Best personal regards,

Edward A. Dennis, University of California, San Diego

Fun at the annual meeting

Barbara Gordon, center, behind sign, poses with staff members at the 2015 ASBMB Annual Meeting.

'A welcoming place'

Barbara has been a fantastic leader on many levels. She made the ASBMB a place where a bench scientist could excel in science policy while making the society a welcoming place for me and my family. She expertly handled the needs of members without compromising the society's mission and purpose. I have learned so much from her and wish her the very best in a well-deserved retirement.

Chris Pickett, Rescuing Biomedical Research
Former ASBMB policy fellow

'I use those lessons daily'


Congratulations on your impending retirement! I am so happy for you. I look forward to seeing all the forthcoming fun pictures. That said, I am sad to see you go. I will miss you greatly. I can't tell you how much I learned from you while I was at the ASBMB. I use those lessons daily in my current job and even in my personal life. I am so grateful to you. I am sure you have touched so many other lives like this as well.

Erica Gobrogge, Van Andel Institute
Membership Committee

'The best administrator ever'

Barbara has been an amazing leader for the ASBMB Deuel Conference on Lipids. Barbara is one of a kind, the best administrator ever. She combines extraordinary intellect with great decision-making, patience, kindness, cheerfulness, breathtaking diligence and an amazing positive attitude. Barbara is radiant. I have so many cherished memories. I will miss her immensely, but my heart is warmed by imagining how much joy and happiness she will bring to family and friends in the years to come.

Stephen Young, UCLA
Deuel Board

Dinner with the Tabors

Many ASBMB members have fond memories of sharing good meals and fine wine with Barbara Gordon. Here she is with, from left, John Exton of Vanderbilt University, a former JBC associate editor, Celia White Tabor and Herb Tabor, longtime editor-in-chief of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Cheers and happy trails, Barbara!

I feel so lucky to have been part of the ASBMB while you were executive director. I remember back in 2008 or 2009 (or whenever it was) when Ellis Bell recruited me to serve on the EPD. I asked him about the expectations, and he said, "You will work really hard, but then Barbara treats us really well."

He could not have been more correct. Barbara did push us hard — she prompted us to challenge our assumptions and think outside the box. She played devil's advocate when warranted and cheerleader when we were on the road to getting it right. And she gave us a healthy dose of reality when our academic sensibilities started leading us down the garden path.

And after all that — after hours of making and unmaking decisions, often in one of the meeting rooms at the Marriott across from the White Flint metro — she took us out for an amazing dinner, and ordered incredible wines, and even allowed me to invite my brother and sister-in-law as my plus-one.

My favorite memory of Barbara is probably a dinner on Coronado Island when we were planning a San Diego meeting. Barbara took us to an amazing Italian restaurant that offered a panoramic view of downtown San Diego, and she introduced us — well, at least me — to Amarone. One word: Wow!

So cheers and happy trails, Barbara! You've left enormous shoes to fill. Thank you for the generous and creative spirit you've brought to the ASBMB. I look forward to hoisting a glass or two on your deck in Charleston as we watch our puppies play in the surf!

Suzanne Barbour, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
ASBMB Council, Minority Affairs Committee

'For all you have done'

Barbara —

Wishing you all the best on your next adventure!

With gratitude for all you have done for us biochemists,

Susan Baserga, Yale University
Women in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Committee chair, Public Affairs Advisory Committee

'All the best'

Thanks for all you have done and made possible, Barbara.

Enjoy your new adventure and stay healthy.

All the best,

Kim Orth, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
Awards Committee and Nominating Committee

Courtesy of Geoff Hunt
Members of what was then the ASBMB Public Outreach Committee (Science Outreach and Communication Committee) sample Hurricanes on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Pictured, clockwise from bottom left, are Niki Woitowich (in boa), Jeanne Garbarino, Ed Eisenstein, Geoff Hunt, Edwin Li, Teaster Baird Jr., Barbara Gordon, Teresa Evans Moore and Susanna Greer.

'The life of the party'

My favorite memories of Barbara are from when we would travel together for meetings. We'd work, do our jobs and get through the serious stuff. But once that stuff was over, I always wanted to know where Barbara was going to be, because she was the life of the party. Football games, blues clubs, the Grand Ole Opry, Bourbon Street: Wherever there was fun to be had, Barbara was smack in the middle of it.

At the office, I feel like she had to actively hold herself back from just having fun all the time. Now that she's retiring, I hope she gets to enjoy herself 24/7.

Geoff Hunt, American Society for Microbiology
Former ASBMB manager of public outreach

Courtesy of Geoff Hunt
Enjoying a Chicago Bears game at Soldier Field are, from left, Geoff Hunt, Ben Corb, Barbara Gordon and her son Brian.

'The Audrey Hepburn of the society'

Barbara Gordon wasn't just the executive director of ASBMB; she also has been the Audrey Hepburn of the society. She is dignified, possesses impeccable taste, is good humored and articulate, and thus has been a persuasive and admired leader. Her impression on all of us has been indelible, and I'm particularly grateful for her trust and belief in me.

Thank you, Barbara, for all you touched. All best wishes in your next adventure.

Ed Eisenstein, University of Maryland
Membership Committee chair

'Aspirational courage, confidence and character'

It's hard to describe the impact Barbara has had on the ASBMB, much less on me personally. Most importantly, I would like Barbara to know how motivating it has been to me to see her lead the ASBMB with aspirational courage, confidence and character. I admire her leadership and decision-making and am grateful for the advice she's shared that has shaped my own professional career.

Barbara, you will be sorely missed!

Susanna Greer, American Cancer Society
ASBMB Council, Finance Committee

A good listener

Barbara Gordon has always been interested in hearing about everyone's work, family lives and interests. She's pictured here with an unidentified man, at left, and Alan Goodridge of Ohio State, a former Journal of Biological Chemistry associate editor.

'I am incredibly grateful'

Dear Barbara,

Congratulations on your retirement — the ASBMB will not be the same without you at the helm! I am so appreciative of everything you have done for the society, particularly as it relates to science outreach, science policy and professional development.

As a trainee, the ASBMB provided me with experiences and opportunities that led me to my current career path and helped me build a robust network of mentors, colleagues and friends. I can say confidently that my professional success is due, in large part, to the ASBMB — and for that I am incredibly grateful.

Many thanks to you, Barbara! Cheers to an enjoyable and relaxing retirement!

My very best, 

Niki Woitowich, Northwestern University
Committee on Science Outreach and Communication chair

'The go-to person'

Barbara's dedication to the ASBMB over the decades is truly amazing! Everyone knew she was the go-to person for all things related to the ASBMB. She will be sorely missed!

Kelly G. Ten Hagen, National Institutes of Health
ASBMB Council, Women in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Committee

'A caring face on the society'

Barbara Gordon has been the face of the ASBMB ever since I joined. Her warm personality and sense of humor have put a caring face on the society that will be hard to match. I will miss the chats at the PAAC dinner and the "sidebars" in the corridors at the annual meeting and particularly her big smile.

Susan Forsburg, University of Southern California
Public Affairs Advisory Committee

Courtesy of Joan Geiling
In October 2010, members of the ASBMB staff went to Charm City Cakes in Baltimore to explore
the possibility of a specialty cake for an annual meeting event. The knockout mouse cake
didn't make the cut, but posing during the visit are Joan Geiling, Jessica Homa (then ASBMB
marketing director), baker Duff Goldman and his associate, and Barbara Gordon.

'A generous teacher'

On one particular Saturday, Barbara and I thought it would be fun to bring our dogs to the office to keep us company. The memory of canine chaos as Wiggum, Turk and Zoey bounded through the halls of the historic Beaumont House has made us laugh again and again.

Thank you, Barbara, for being a generous teacher and mentor through my meeting planning career. Congrats on your well-earned retirement!

Joan Geiling
Former ASBMB meetings director

'The utmost gratitude'

Dear Barbara,

Congratulations on your upcoming retirement! Your dedication to the ASBMB and JBC has contributed significantly to the success of all the members. I know that I am not alone when I say that I have the utmost gratitude for all you have done to help me, from everyday interactions to long-term planning. You have been a trusted colleague, and we all will miss you greatly.

Thank you for all of your hard work, and good luck in the next exciting chapter of your life.

Again, congratulations on your retirement. I wish you all the best.

Kevin Campbell, University of Iowa
Awards Committee

'No. 1 in my book'

Dear Barbara,

I always enjoyed working with you on the organizations of the ASBMB centennial meeting, the annual and satellite meetings, and the editorial boards of the JLR and JBC. You always helped me with whatever obstacles I encountered or directed me to someone who could help. I especially enjoyed all the social events like the AE dinners and of course the awards dinners at the annual meeting. I always will value the conversations about our families.

You are No. 1 in my book; I'll miss you dearly.  

George Carman, Rutgers University
Journal of Lipid Research associate editor


'A hard act to follow'

I'm going to miss Barbara's cheery disposition a huge amount. I really admire her "everything is doable" attitude and look back with considerable nostalgia on some of the interesting and wide-ranging conversations we have had over the years while driving back to wherever we needed to be next after attending Deuel conferences. She's going to be a hard act to follow!

Kerry-Ann Rye, University of New South Wales Sydney
Journal of Lipid Research co-editor-in-chief

'Empathetic leadership'

As the ASBMB's executive director, Barbara embodied empathetic leadership long before it became a hot trend in business executive coaching. I learned so much about being generous, kind, fair and sensible as a leader from Barbara. I also learned from her that there is a true joy to uncorking a wine bottle and hearing the cork go pop that no boxed wine can replicate.

Rajendrani Mukhopadhyay, Chemical & Engineering News
Former ASBMB Today managing editor

'A great legacy'


I always have valued how much gratitude you have shown to members who volunteer their time for the many activities of the ASBMB. Our society is its members, and your support of these activities and the people who do the work is a great legacy.

Terri Kinzy, Western Michigan University
Public Affairs Advisory Committee chair


Special delivery

Dear Barbara,

Retirement? Let's keep this simple …

Wake up every morning and do something that makes you happy. Do everything possible to protect your health.

All the best in your next adventure.

Merle Olson, University of Texas Health Science Center

'Candid and easygoing'

Although I only met Barbara once, she left a lasting impression! I was truly inspired by her commitment to the ASBMB and her candid and easygoing personality that made everyone feel welcome. She will be missed!

Carlos Lopez, Vanderbilt University
Minority Affairs Committee

A helper

Well known for her love of babies and small children, Barbara Gordon poses here with Dick Hanson of Case Western, who served as ASBMB president and a JBC associate editor, and Sophia Gull, daughter of Kelly Ann Gull, a former ASBMB meetings and education director.

'She believed during those times when we wrestled with doubts'

All ASBMB members owe Barbara Gordon enormous gratitude as she retires from her position as executive director of the society. But perhaps the most appreciative are those of us in the educational community. Barbara has helped to make scientist–educators a core constituency of the ASBMB and education a central aspect of the society's mission.

From the days when educational programming was relegated to one inconvenient time slot at the national meeting, we now find ourselves with education as one of the main themes. The society now sponsors a biennial small meeting devoted to student-centered learning, while the undergraduate poster session has grown to oversubscription. Leaders in education are honored with a society award and with the designation of ASBMB education fellow. BMB education research is emerging as an area of serious scholarship, with members beginning to understand that how students learn is even more important than what they learn. And the jewel in the crown is the accreditation program for undergraduate programs and certification of degrees.

All of these activities sprang from our members' interest and efforts, but none would have been possible without Barbara. She has provided enthusiastic support and necessary resources at every stage. She believed during those times when we wrestled with doubts. She knows everyone and could always suggest members to be recruited to committees and panels. She has been generous with funding and staff time when needed. Barbara has been a true partner in raising the profile of education within the society, and we have been privileged to work with her.

Pete Kennelly, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Membership Committee

Adele Wolfson, Wellesley College

Respect and trust

Barbara definitely qualifies as one of the more special friends in my life. We got to know each other when the ASBMB Lipid Research Division started. She'll tell you that was an "interesting" time, but we quickly grew to respect and trust each other, which then developed into a wonderful friendship that I now cherish.

We've shared a lot of dinners together and especially share a love for Amarone wine! I have too many memories to pick a favorite, and we laugh a lot!

I sure hope our friendship continues even in her retirement.

Daniel M. Raben, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Meetings Committee chair

Courtesy of Fred Guengerich
Herb Tabor, Barbara Gordon and Fred Guengerich at the Tabor house at the National Institutes of Health shortly before Tabor's 101st birthday.

'Her goal was to emphasize members'

I remember meeting Barbara in the last millennium (i.e., before 2000) when I was a member of the editorial board at JBC. She was running the operation when Herb Tabor was editor-in-chief. Later, when I was on the ASBMB Council, Barbara got the job of heading the ASBMB when Chuck Hancock retired. I recall that she stated her goal was to emphasize the members ("It's their society"), and I believe that she has done that.

Perhaps the event with Barbara I will remember most is a morning in June 2015 when I was acting as deputy editor at JBC. I had just parked my car at the airport, about to leave for a meeting in Japan. When I got out my iPhone to note my parking spot, there was a message from Barbara telling me Steve McKnight (then ASBMB president) needed to talk to me. I had a sinking feeling about what it was about. I had to take over as editor of JBC for a year, and there were a lot of interactions with Barbara. But she got publications director Nancy Rodnan back in the fold at the ASBMB!

I always got along well with Barbara, and we will miss her. All the best, Barbara, in whatever you do now!

Fred Guengerich, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine
Journal of Biological Chemistry deputy editor


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