John Tooze, VP of scientific and facility operations, retires


John Tooze, known as much for his wry British wit as for the immense role he’s had in shaping the university’s scientific infrastructure over the last eight years, retired from his position as vice president of scientific and facility operations in May 2013.

Dr. Tooze leaves a lasting mark on the university, having directed the construction of the Collaborative Research Center, the expansion and modernization of the animal research facility and the restoration of Welch Hall, among other projects.

“One of John’s great talents is his ability to communicate with people from all walks of life,” says Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Rockefeller’s president. “His insightful and direct nature has enabled him to engage effectively with architects and designers, construction crews, faculty members and administrators, trustees and his own staff. We have enjoyed his superb sense of humor. He has been a wonderful colleague.”

Dr. Tooze began his time at Rockefeller in 2004 as a consultant to President Paul Nurse, who had known him for more than 20 years. He advised Dr. Nurse to establish a scientific advisory committee for the university’s resource centers and proposed a merger of the gene array and genotyping resource centers into a single Genomics Resource Center. In 2005, Dr. Tooze joined the administration full-time, overseeing the majority of the university’s support departments — Information Technology, Planning and Construction, Security, Plant Operations, the Rockefeller University Press and the Comparative Bioscience Center, among others. It was a portfolio with over 460 staff.

“John is a man of great intellect, wide interests and boundless energy who always manages to get things done properly, on time and on budget,” says Dr. Nurse. “The transformation of the Rockefeller north campus was due to his efforts and will be a lasting tribute to his time here. It was both a huge pleasure and a humor to work with him.”

Among the employees he managed and the faculty he supported, his signature style of handling requests garnered respect.

“When requesting help from John, I learned that patience was key,” says Sohail Tavazoie, Leon Hess Assistant Professor and head of the Elizabeth and Vincent Meyer Laboratory of Systems Cancer Biology, who spoke at Dr. Tooze’s retirement farewell in June. “He was quick to reject requests, but within 10 minutes, he would figure out an alternative and more frugal solution.”

Dr. Tooze’s prolific career path prepared him well for the many projects he undertook at Rockefeller. After receiving his Ph.D. in biophysics from the University of London in 1965, he spent two years as a postdoc in Jim Watson’s laboratory at Harvard University. Branching out into scientific publishing, Dr. Tooze worked for Nature for several years in the late 1960s. He then went on to hold a number of scientific administrative positions, including at the European Molecular Biology Organization in Heidelberg, Germany, where he helped establish and became executive editor of The EMBO Journal. Dr. Tooze eventually became director of support services at Cancer Research UK, formerly the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, where he worked with Dr. Nurse.

Throughout his career, Dr. Tooze continued to write, authoring a number of textbooks, including DNA Tumour Viruses; Recombinant DNA: A Short Course, with Dr. Watson; Introduction to Protein Structure; and The DNA Story, on the history of gene cloning, also with Dr. Watson. In 1986 he was honored with the EMBO Gold Medal for his role in promoting molecular biology in Europe, and in 1994 he was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society of London, a rare distinction for a science administrator.