Remembering Longtime MARC Branch Chief Adolphus “Tol” Toliver


Adolphus Toliver, Ph.D.We were very sad to learn of the death of Adolphus Toliver, Ph.D., on March 26. Dr. Toliver–or Tol, as he preferred to be called–was a staunch supporter of diversity. His vision and dedication to increasing the participation of underrepresented minority students in biomedical research resulted in the development and improvement of many NIH programs.

Tol joined NIH in 1975 as the executive secretary of the biochemistry study section in the former Division of Research Grants (now the Center for Scientific Review). He was instrumental in assessing the emerging areas of biochemistry and molecular biology, which resulted in the creation of two new study sections, and increasing the participation of women and underrepresented minorities in his study section. Tol also advised innumerable young biochemists who became successful grant writers and prominent researchers.

In 1994, Tol joined NIGMS as chief of the Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) Branch. In this position, he found his true calling, because he was a great and natural mentor and was able to continue to touch the lives and careers of many, especially those participating in the MARC program.

Tol’s contributions as an exec sec and as MARC Branch chief will have a lasting impact on science and the scientific community on many levels. However, he will probably be best remembered as the “father” of the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS)  Link to external web site. Now in its 13th year, ABRCMS has grown to a 4-day event that was attended last year by more than 3,300 student and other participants from across the nation.

Many of you have written to express your thoughts on what Dr. Toliver’s guidance and teachings meant personally and professionally, and I encourage you to share them here as well. I think Dr. Peter Lipke from Brooklyn College summed up how many of us feel when he stated that “in Dr. Toliver we have lost a true champion in all the senses of the word.”

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24 Replies to “Remembering Longtime MARC Branch Chief Adolphus “Tol” Toliver”

  1. Toliver was a great friend, ally, and role model. He came up with the idea for the PREP program, ran the MARC program, and was interested in all the MORE programs. I met Toliver at a meeting for new faculty sponsored by ASCB in 1989 (I think). Since that time, I saw Toliver in many different settings – always encouraging us and our students to take the high road, to think creatively, and to do our very best. He was always welcoming. I remember one time, after a talk I gave about dichos or sayings – he said that his grandmother always told him to remember, “It wasn’t what they called you, it was what you answered to” that said who you were. Rest in Peace, Tol.

  2. Tol, you were a wonderful mentor to me and to many of my colleagues. Your legacy lives on in the students we were able to serve, many of whom have become leaders in their field. Thank you for your years of dedication.

  3. Through his leadership of NIGMS programs, Dr. Toliver enabled the scientific career paths of generations of young students and faculty across the nation. His efforts have contributed to the development of a modern and inclusive biomedical research workforce that can respond to the needs of the 21st century. We will miss him.

  4. Dr Toliver’s influence upon the shaping of the diversity agenda of this nation’s biomedical workforce will come to be seen as iconic. I am one of many who stand in my space in large measure to the influence of Dr Tol. Rest in peace and eternal thanks.

  5. I remember Tol well from my stint at NIGMS–now almost a decade ago. In the old-fashioned phrase, but very appropriate in this case, he was a gentleman and a scholar. Had very high standards, but was very warm and considerate.

  6. I will always remember Tol for his timely wisdom and his robust perseverance to enhance the training of our minority students nationwide. I knew Tol for over 30 years and always respected him for his “individualized” approach in helping our students and faculty. His “open door” policy gave me confidence to call his office when I needed his advice in developing and implementing the IMSD program at Loma Linda University. His seasoned wisdom and professionalism will always be missed. I hope is that we all immortalize his legacy by renewing our dedication to inclusion and diversity in our respective institutions.

  7. Dr Toliver will surely be missed. He was so instrumental in helping us have the MARC program for 29 years. He was always readily available to address any concerns we had and was a very strong supporter of these programs. Our condolences go out to his family. Friends at Barry University

  8. Dr. T. He was a true mentor and I learned a lot from his guidance since I was an undergrad and when I was a Bridges PI in Puerto Rico. I will always cherish his wisdom on how to overcome obstacles, perceptions and prejudice, as well as his constant advice to be better. I will never forget our many conversations about everything during my time in MORE. He was my colleague, mentor and friend, he now joins the good people upstairs.

  9. I met Tol in 1976 when he invited me to join a study section that evaluated postdoctoral fellowship applications. There were about seven of us on the committee and Tol invited entirely young faculty to participate – many of whom I remained close friends with through my career. Later Tol invited me to join the Biochemistry Study Section which was populated mostly by true heavyweights at the time, many of them quite opinionated, and provided a very different experience. My main image of Tol was that he was tremendously competent. It was a time of great expansion in biochemistry, and at NIH. The grant reviewing mechanisms were changing rapidly as many new investigators entered the field, and as biochemistry itself expanded into new areas. Tol made a major contribution by successfully facilitating these changes, always with tact, humor, and impeccable politeness.

  10. I join with so many others who knew Dr. Tol as a mentor, friend, teacher and colleague in offering my deepest sympathy on his passing. He was my hero who I looked forward seeing at the ABRCMS every year. I will always remember him as someone who kept me focused during MARC application submission and advised me to keep my eyes on the prize at all times. Although it is little consolation at this sad time, it should be of some satisfaction to know that in his passing we can celebrate the end of a very long and productive life. The measure of a life well-lived is through the many lives he touched and the void he leave behind. His sense of humor and politeness shall be missed.

  11. We lost a true mentor who believed in diversity. Long time ago he visited our labs on campus with Hinda. He came to Columbia, SC for a meeting. He encouraged us to continue biomedical research to promote minority participation. He will be missed by all of us in the field.
    May his soul rest in peace.

  12. Back in his days with BIO and mine as an applicant, back when Exec Secs, edited together the reviewer comments and wrote the entire summary statement, I appreciated the pink sheets I received from Tol, for their clarity and forthrightness. He had the guts to say I should take my NIH training and go do something else! It was good advice. Tol helped lead the scientific community through the revolutionary period in biochemistry that gave birth to molecular biology, cloning, and much that followed. During 18 years, he recruited hundreds of reviewers, and wrote 1,000s of summary statements, leaving a permanent mark on the scientific landscape. His name was near the top of the seniority tree at DRG before he moved to NIGMS. An entire generation of biochemists, especially enzymologiests, owe him big time.

  13. I was greatly saddened to read of the passing of Tol, someone I respected greatly and a person I counted as a close friend. He touched so many lives and was a true mentor to so many. I met Tol in June of 1971 at the biochemistry annual meeting in San Francisco when I was just beginning my postdoctoral studies. We met at a party one evening; Tol was a faculty member at UC Davis at the time. Out of the blue, I think in 1975, when I was a young faculty member at the University of Texas at Austin i got this call from Tol, who had obviously followed my career, and asked if I would help on an ad hoc basis at the Biochemistry study section. Needless to say, when I got to the meeting I was very nervous, with so many big shots on the panel. Tol was just wonderful in easing the tension and I was so relieved that I didn’t make a fool of myself. This, and subsequent review panels and site visits helped me immensely in learning how the system worked and I can say, without hesitation, that these early experiences and Tol’s mentorship gave me such a boost in confidence that they had a long lasting effect on my career. Indeed, when Tol became involved with the MARC program I was so pleased to have the opportunity to help his efforts to involve minority institutions become involved in the research enterprise.

    We have lost a true gentleman of science, a person who touched so many lives, and a person who always had fun while doing his work. RIP my friend.

  14. Tol has been a true “comrade” on diversity initiatives.

    We need more folks like him to support URM training and

  15. Dr. Toliver was a man led by his dreams, that make them a reality for many people, particularly under-served students. Every time I talked with him, his soft, wise and illuminating words served me well and eased my concerns while showing me a new perspective and strategy. Dr. Toliver, thanks for your life and contributions to Puerto Rican students. All of us, at URGREAT-Program from Universidad del Este, will honor you by working hard, with savviness and perseverance in pursuit of a better future which embraces and cherish diversity and justice.

  16. I had the pleasure of knowing Tol since his site visit to our MARC program at Montana State University in the early 90’s. He has been a staunch supporter of diversity in the biomedical sciences and a constant source of support for efforts to promote biomedical science careers for American Indians. He will be greatly missed.

  17. “Your mentor does not haveto look like you!!” That was Tol, passing on a generous tip to a young reviewer while on tedious site visit trips on the west coast several years ago. His calmness was amazing, given the challenge he faced: convincing the academy that creativity can be brought to efforts focused on increasing URMs in biomedical research careers. Our country and of course the biomed community has lost an amazing person who showed us all there does not have to be a trade off between being a mentor and a scientist.

  18. Today, I am saddened to learn of Dr. Adolphus Toliver’s passing four weeks ago. I first met Tol, (as he was known to his colleagues), in 1989, when we were both appointed members of the ASBMB Education Committee, and where we met several times in a span of a few years. Always speaking when appropriate, Tol was an example of carefully chosen words and sound advice as a friend. Later, and already within the XXI century, I had the privilege of professionally interacting with him more closely, and with more regularity, for six more years: first as a member of the MARC Study Section of NIGMS at NIH; and later as the chair of the same federal research proposal review panel where, together with other colleagues, we also coincided on more than a dozen NIH site visits across the USA. He will definitely be missed. I am just thankful that I had a chance to meet him as well as to share his passion for confirming and expanding diversity across the biomedical research workforce nationwide.

  19. I was very sad to learn of the death of Adolphus Toliver. I worked with Tol on the Biochemistry Study Section from 1975 to 1978; I never worked with anyone better at his job than Tol. All of us who worked with him greatly respected him…he made the Biochemistry Study Section a very special venue for all of us and a model for how grant evaluation should be carried out. Tol had the wonderful and rare ability of getting the best out of all of us; this is true leadership. My time spent with Tol is among the most memorable of my career; he made my life better for knowing him. Tol was truly one of a kind and I hold his memory in my heart. It is very sad for me to know that he is no longer with us.

  20. I am a former MARC Fellow (1992-1994) from Wayne State University. I met Dr. Toliver years later while attending an ABRCMS Meeting. I certainly would not be where I am without the MARC program.

  21. I remember Tol with affection, respect and admiration. As with many others, I am an alumnus of the Biochemistry Study Section which Tol invited me to join in 1978. He was a mentor and role model. He infused the review process with an absolute sense of fairness and diligence, and guided the study section with wisdom and a mastery of developing consensus. I learned a great deal from him, but above all, he was a friend.

  22. I met Dr. Toliver as an undergraduate student at Virginia Union University when I was in the MARC program. I kept in touch with him through my Ph.D. and Post-Doc Training and he always had words of encouragement. He was great friend and mentor. I am proud to say he was one of the people who helped me get to where I am today.

  23. I grew up in Northwest Alabama and did my undergraduate degree in Chemistry at a small state college (then Florence State College, now the University of North Alabama). At that time, the college was segregated and our first Black student was enrolled by court order during my Sophomore year, a young man named Wendel Wilkie Gunn who studied Physics. He proved to be a delightful highly competent individual and an outstanding student at Florence State, and subsequently had a distinguished career.
    I first met Tol when I arrived at the Department of Biological Science at Purdue in the fall of 1965 to study for the PhD degree under Professor and Department Head, Henry Koffler. One of the first classes that new graduate students took, who had not studied for their undergraduate degree at Purdue, was a course in Cell Biology taught by Fred Neidhardt. Toliver was an instructor for the lab part of the course and he was superb. He was extremely knowledgeable and made it a fun and lively class. At that time, I do not recall having many black graduate students as classmates. However, in 1966, another young Black man from Alabama arrived to study with Professor Fred Neidhardt, Luther Williams, who would go on to have a distinguished career in science and administration.
    Following completion of my PhD, I did 4 years of postgraduate study at The Albert Einstein College of Medicine in NYC. Following this, I accepted a position at the University of Kansas School of Medicine at Kansas City, KS in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Subsequently, I served as an ad hoc member of NIH grant review study sessions where I reconnected with Tol. I was invited to become a member of the Biochemistry Study Section chaired by Toliver where I served from 1990-1994. Those were delightful years. Tol ran the study section with great skill and humor and we worked very hard but had a great time. He also had the ability to arrange different locations for meetings on occasion. One of my most memorable was in Durango, Colorado. Tol was a gentleman, a scholar, and a superb scientist and administrator. I am most pleased to have known him.

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