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Bob Hoover Celebrated in Retirement Event

, by Jennifer K. Loukissas, M.P.P.

Robert N. Hoover, M.D., Sc.D., who retired in 2020 after 48 years of service to the National Cancer Institute, returned to the Shady Grove campus on Friday, March 15, 2024, for a celebration of his career and achievements. Dr. Hoover was joined by all four of his children and several of his grandchildren. Former colleagues and friends packed the Joseph F. Fraumeni Jr., Conference Room.

The afternoon included several short talks by former colleagues and mentees and current DCEG scientific staff. Two themes connected each of the talks: Dr. Hoover’s commitment to mentoring and his visionary, collaborative approach to research decades before the term ‘team science’ was in vogue. Stephen J. Chanock, M.D., Director, welcomed the attendees and expressed his “hope [that this] will become an annual event: Bob Hoover Day.”

Shelia Zahm, Sc.D., former Deputy Director, talked about Dr. Hoover’s major scientific findings and his pioneering innovations in designing and executing epidemiologic studies which transformed the field and facilitated large-scale science. Dr. Zahm also presented on behalf of former colleague Dr. Thomas Mason who was unable to travel to Maryland for the event. Dr. Mason and Dr. Hoover had collaborated on the landmark U.S. cancer atlas, published in the late 1970s, which led to in-depth investigations into cancer hot spots that revealed environmental and occupational causes for the excesses. 

Dr. John Boice, research professor of medicine in the Department of Epidemiology at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, talked about Dr. Hoover’s leadership and support for the Division’s distinctive program of radiation epidemiology, and serenaded the audience to “Epidemiology,” a parody of the ballad “Lemon Tree,” in honor of the population science. Dr. Boice was accompanied on guitar and voice by his wife, Jennifer.

Patricia Hartge, Sc.D., former Deputy Director of the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Program, reflected on Dr. Hoover’s wisdom in knowing when epidemiology is the best method to address questions on cancer etiology and prescience in creating the infrastructure necessary for informative resources, such as converting the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal Screening (PLC) Study into the preeminent longitudinal cohort with serial blood collections. To this day, PLCO (the O was added later), yields tremendous data for the investigation of biomarkers of exposure and links to cancer.

The DES Story: Lessons Learned

Dr. Robert Hoover discusses a followup study of diethylstilbestrol (DES), a drug once prescribed to pregnant women. (Video produced and edited by Natalie Giannosa)

Gretchen Gierach, Ph.D., M.P.H., Director, Integrative Tumor Epidemiology Branch, talked about Dr. Hoover’s research on exogenous hormones, in particular his study of the long-term health effects of exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) among women who took the drug during a pregnancy and among their offspring who were exposed in utero. She recommended attendees watch the 2011 video of Dr. Hoover describing the study and findings from his landmark paper in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Dr. Lauren Houghton, assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, New York, New York, was Dr. Hoover’s last postdoctoral fellow. Under his mentorship, she transitioned from the field of anthropology to epidemiology and conducted research on international variation in endogenous hormones, building upon what she learned from Dr. Hoover. She spoke extensively about Dr. Hoover’s mentoring and echoed the other speakers who all referred to his adage, “we cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails,” which was inscribed on a tile in his office at the NCI and epitomizes his approach to science, mentoring, and life.

Dr. Chanock gave the closing presentation, thanking Dr. Hoover for his mentorship and remarking on their lasting friendship. At the close of the formal program, Dr. Hoover addressed the crowd with his characteristic wit and humility and was met with a standing ovation. His eldest son, Brian, thanked the NCI on behalf the family before Dr. Chanock invited everyone to join for a social hour and refreshments. Jill Koshiol, Ph.D., senior investigator in the Infections and Immunoepidemiology Branch, played the harp and was accompanied by many attendees, singing Irish folk songs.