Remembering Longtime CBB Division Director Catherine Lewis

Dr. Catherine D. Lewis

It is with a heavy heart that I share with you the passing of Catherine D. Lewis, former director of the NIGMS Division of Cell Biology and Biophysics. As previously posted, Cathy retired in January after more than 30 years of service at NIH. Although already on the horizon, her plans for retirement were accelerated by a diagnosis of cancer and the need to focus her energies on trying to beat it. Unfortunately, she died just six months later, on July 12.

As noted already, Cathy made many contributions to the scientific community and over a lifetime made many friends. She regularly participated in meetings of the American Society for Cell Biology and the Biophysical Society, but also in more intimate gatherings of scientists such as FASEB and Gordon Research Conferences. She was always interested to hear about research advances and willing to provide guidance about NIH processes. She was equally comfortable engaging non-scientific audiences about the research supported by her division.

Cathy personally managed a robust grant portfolio of cutting-edge research in the fields of nanoscience and single molecule methods. Earlier in her NIGMS career, she managed grants in genetics and developmental biology, as well as grants in structural biology that led to the first crystal structures of the ribosome. She also helped oversee the Institute’s initiatives aimed at advancing structural genomics, improving methods for cellular imaging, creating a library of cell images and, most recently, supporting resources for cryo-EM and cryo-EM tomography.

Within NIH, Cathy was known for her work ethic and her ability to make people feel at ease. She managed a division responsible for more than 1,300 grants, and did so with grace, patience and a sunny smile.

9 comments on “Remembering Longtime CBB Division Director Catherine Lewis

  1. I came to know Cathy most intensively during my service on the NIGMS advisory council. She was a wonderfully well-informed, rigorous yet sympathetic program officer and colleague. Personally she was delightful, and I recall social moment during Biophysical Society meetings during which I enjoyed her company and learned a lot. Pace Cathy.

  2. Very sorry to hear that Cathy Lewis has passed away. In the late 1980s, I was a postdoc down the hall when Cathy was completing a postdoc with Gary Felsenfeld. Cathy was definitely a wonderful and peaceful person for everyone around her in the NIDDK Laboratory of Molecular Biology. Perhaps fifteen years later, I was extramural and spoke with her by phone about a grant. She was always a positive force not only for research, but in the broadest sense, for everyone around her. Thank you for your calm and peaceful memories, Cathy. Condolences to the family members.

  3. Saddened to hear of the passing of Cathy Lewis. As a graduate student interested in non-B DNA structures I studied her papers with Gary Felsenfeld on an unusual string of 16 Gs in the promoter of a chicken beta globin gene. Later, I was pleased to discover that someone with this background was my Program Officer for my first NIH grant. I recall her on several occasions taking the time to clarify how things work at NIH for a neophyte PI, and to offer sage advice on the potential outcomes of different strategies for future grant submissions. Her kindness and patience was very much appreciated.

  4. I’m sorry to hear this sad news. Like Mike and Jeff, I met Cathy when she was a postdoc with Gary Felsenfeld; I was working with Bob Simpson. When I took a position as an independent PI in 1993, I remember waiting to receive, by mail, the score on my first grant application. Finally I called Cathy, who was my program officer, to see if she had my score. She began telling me how well I had done, especially for a new PI, and finally I asked her, What was my score? She thought I already knew. (The grant was funded.) She was a very helpful program officer and I enjoyed seeing her at meetings early in my career, and am glad to read of her very successful time at NIGMS.

  5. Im very shocked to read this, and wish I could send some small comfort to those most close to Cathy. She may have passed, but it seems she never aged. Her picture here looks exactly like 1987-9 when I had the fortune to see her on a daily basis by just looking across the bench. I never worked with Cathy extramural, but later on I learned that she had a great reputation as a program officer. As a young scientist, she was a complete joy to work with, and she quietly, softly, had a very significant impact on all of our work. A very kind and thoughtful friend.

  6. Terrible, terrible news! I have had a grant through the Cell Biology and Biophysics Division (CB&B) of NIGMS for over 30 year, and served on several CB&B grant-heavy Study Sections, both of which brought me into contract with Cathy and her Division’s Program Officers. But it was during my time on the NIGMS Advisory Council that I got to ‘look under the hood’ as it were at the workings of the CB&B Division of NIGMS. Cathy had an amazing ability to quietly oversee the dispersal of $$ for an astonishingly broad portfolio of applications, and to work with talented and committed Program Officers and with those of us who passed through the Advisory Board. She had such poise, always listened respectfully, and made difficult decisions (especially as $$ ebbed and flowed through the NIH). She did not have a strong ego and never dominated a discussion, but let people air their views. She was always an advocate for junior scientists, and promoted diversity. Very, very sad to hear that she is no longer with us, especially when she had deservedly entered retirement. I miss her!

  7. Such sad news. Cathy was program director for my first grant as a junior (and clueless) PI, and I couldn’t have wished for a better one. I have come to appreciate her tremendous scientific insight, guidance, and care for ‘her’ scientists even more when serving on Council. She was one strong woman, and will be missed. What a loss!

  8. I am shocked and deeply saddened by the untimely passing of Cathy Lewis. I was a postdoc with Cathy in Gary Felsenfeld’s lab at the NIH in the mid-1980’s. Cathy was a wonderful colleague and friend with whom I shared many adventures both in the cold room running the FPLC and outside the lab. When I left Gary’s lab, Cathy kindly kept me informed about a mutual friend at NIH who was battling cancer and later passed away at a young age. Throughout the decades, Cathy and I kept in touch infrequently but when we did get together we always picked up just where we had left off with lots of laughter and stories as if we were postdocs again. Cathy was ageless both in spirit and in her always beautiful, smiling face. She had a genuine grace, kindness, and caring for everyone. She also had remarkable intelligence and integrity. Although we didn’t see each other very much, I miss her terribly. My heartfelt condolences go out to her lovely children, family and colleagues for this untimely loss. Cathy, you gave so much of your best self and we were all very fortunate to know you. You will always be in our hearts.

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