University of Florida’s Seventh President, Robert Marston, Dies

Published: March 14th, 1999

Category: InsideUF

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Dr. Robert Quarles Marston, physician, educator, former director of the National Institutes of Health and the seventh president of the University of Florida, died of cancer today at Hospice of North Central Florida in Gainesville. He was 76.

“Bob Marston served the University of Florida during a critical decade in its history,” said UF President John Lombardi. “During those years, under his inspired guidance, the university committed itself to participating in the national conversation of major universities. His wisdom and experience, drawn from his work in Washington and at other institutions throughout the United States, gave him a perspective that, combined with his exceptional academic instincts, informed his work at the University of Florida. His health care background helped him see the tremendous potential of a reorganized Shands [at UF medical center] and an enhanced Health Sciences Center.”

Marston was NIH director from 1968 to 1973 and UF president from 1974 to 1984.

Born in Toano, Va., on Feb. 12, 1923, Marston earned his bachelor’s degree from Virginia Military Institute in 1943. After receiving his doctor of medicine from the Medical College of Virginia in 1947, he attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. At Oxford, he earned a research degree, working with Nobel prizewinner Howard Florey, and Dr. Norman Heatley and other key members of the team that developed penicillin.

After an internship at Johns Hopkins Hospital and a year’s residency at Vanderbilt University Hospital, Marston was stationed at NIH from 1951 to 1953 as a member of the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project, conducting research on the role of infection after whole body irradiation. He completed his residency at the Medical College of Virginia the following year.

With a grant from the Markle Foundation to support gifted practitioners planning to further their careers in academic medicine, Marston served on the faculty at the Medical College of Virginia for three years and as assistant professor of bacteriology and immunology at the University of Minnesota for a year. He returned to the Medical College of Virginia in 1959 as associate professor of medicine and assistant dean for student affairs.

In 1961, Marston became director of the University of Mississippi Medical Center and dean of the School of Medicine in Jackson, Miss., and was appointed vice chancellor there in 1965. Under his leadership, the first blacks were admitted to Mississippi’s medical college and new national standards were set for the peaceful integration of academic health centers.

In 1966, Marston went to the NIH as an associate director and director of the newly created Division of Regional Medical Programs. In April 1968, he was named administrator of the Health Services and Mental Health Administration, under a departmental reorganization. He became director of NIH on Sept. 1, 1968.

“His five-year tenure was marked by the bitter political battle over the location and direction of the federally legislated War on Cancer, with the possible destruction of the organizational and leadership integrity of the NIH,” said John F. Sherman, former deputy director of NIH. “Despite changing and conflicting instructions from within the executive branch, Marston held firmly to the position that the removal of the National Cancer Institute from the NIH would cause serious harm not only to the long-term productivity of research on cancer but would be greatly detrimental to the nation’s biomedical research.”

Marston left NIH in April 1973 to become a scholar-in-residence at the University of Virginia. He also was named the first distinguished fellow of the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Science. The following year, he was named president of the University of Florida.

During his 10 years as president at Florida, UF became one of the nation’s 10 largest universities and one of the three most comprehensive in academic programs, with significant growth in academic quality, research activity and reputation. Marston’s many accomplishments included the establishment of a nonprofit corporation for Shands hospital, helping establish the state’s Eminent Scholars Program, dramatically increasing the university’s private support, developing programs to attract National Merit and Achievement Scholars and laying the ground work for the university’s membership in the Association of American Universities.

After stepping down as president in 1984, Marston became an eminent scholar at Virginia Military Institute, where he later served on the governing board. After a year, he returned to the UF faculty and worked with graduate students, conducted research and presented papers for the departments of medicine and fisheries and aquaculture. Adding to his more than 50 other scholarly publications, he co-edited the book “Medical Effects of Nuclear War” for the National Academy of Sciences and chaired the Safety Advisory Committee for the Clean-up of Three Mile Island. He chaired the Florida Marine Fishery Commission, which regulates and protects the state marine resources.

A leader in national educational and medical organizations, he was president of the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, a Distinguished Service Member of the Association of American Medical Colleges and a two-term member of the governing board of the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences.

His many honors and awards included more than half-dozen honorary degrees and the state Legislature’s naming of the University of Florida’s science library in his honor.

Marston lived on a farm in Alachua. His wife, Ann, died in July 1998. He is survived by his children, Ann Wright Peace of Tappahannock, Va., the Rev. Dr. Robert D. Marston of Newport News, Va., and W. Wesley Marston of Gainesville; and six grandchildren.

Private burial will be in Tappahannock, and a memorial is being planned at the University of Florida in April. The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Ann Carter Garnett Marston Visiting Lectureship in Fine Arts or the Marston Science Library at the University of Florida. Additional information is available from the University of Florida Foundation, P.O. Box 14425, Gainesville, FL 32604, or by telephone, (352) 392-1691.

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