On January 16, 2018, the Lung Cancer Research Program (LCRP) lost a valuable Programmatic Panel member, Dr. Ralph Paxton. Dr. Paxton was first diagnosed with both lung and prostate cancer in 2007, but eventually passed away in his home surrounded by family and friends after courageously battling pancreatic cancer for ten months.
Dr. Paxton had a productive career as a biochemistry, physiology, and pharmacology professor at Texas Tech University and Auburn University. He received several grants and awards from the American Diabetes Association, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Scott Richey Foundation, the American Heart Association, and many others. His achievements led him to his second career as a Scientific Review Administrator for the NIH in 2005 and then for the Office of Research and Development with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in 2006. His work at the VA was very prominent, particularly because he was an Army Veteran. In 2015, he retired from the VA; however, his journey in the research field continued in a different capacity. He joined the Lung Cancer Initiative of North Carolina, advocating for funding of lung cancer research.
In 2014, Dr. Paxton answered the call for the LCRP when it was seeking VA representation on its programmatic review panel to aid in understanding the VA’s lung cancer research priorities and funding landscape. Right away, Dr. Paxton exceeded expectations, because he was able to offer his perspective as the VA cancer research program’s Portfolio Manager and Senior Scientific Officer with scientific expertise in biochemistry, and in addition, he provided a unique viewpoint in panel discussions due to his experiences as a Veteran and a lung cancer survivor. While on the LCRP’s programmatic panel, Dr. Paxton’s wealth of experiences bolstered him to serve as an active voice for accelerating and challenging lung cancer research for the benefit of Veterans and Service members.
His dedication to the lung cancer research field was evident in the time he spent in completing his reviews, which were detailed and comprehensive, and openly articulating any questions or comments during discussions, thereby ensuring the LCRP programmatic panel thoroughly evaluated all promising applications. Dr. Paxton was an invaluable programmatic panel member until his passing.
Dr. Paxton will be remembered for his numerous contributions to the LCRP and to the scientific community at large. Dr. Ralph Paxton, you will be missed. His LCRP Programmatic Panel colleagues remember his steadfastness and his strong moral compass.
Reflections on Dr. Paxton:
“Ralph Paxton was the embodiment of what is the LCRP. As a programmatic panel member he always asked the tough questions during reviews to help ensure that what the program funded would not only be of the highest quality science but would also have a significant impact on the priorities the LCRP was looking to address in our efforts to eventually see a world where lung cancer is eradicated. He would always note the research efforts supported by other funding organizations and ask how the LCRP could best work with and leverage its efforts with what is already being supported by these organizations. I personally always looked forward to our review meetings when I could catch up with Ralph and his recent exploits. He had a love and passion for life that enriched everyone’s life who met him and made him unforgettable. We could have not asked for a better representative of the scientific, Veteran and consumer communities to participate with the LCRP.”
— Dr. Marielena McGuire, LCRP Program Manager
“Ralph held nothing back. He came to each meeting of the LCRP Programmatic Panel with a passion to find the best science to improve lung cancer treatment for Veterans, Service members, and all citizens affected by this disease. He pushed us to consider the studies that would bring advances more rapidly to the clinic. His critical questioning always reminded us that interesting science should be fully supported if we could see a clear pathway to touching those living with lung cancer right now. I will miss his fearless intensity and sense of purpose. His was a strong voice for those living with lung cancer. As we continue our mission, I know his inspiration will stay with us and that voice will never be far from our hearts.”
— LTC (Dr.) David C. Van Echo, FY18-FY19 Chair, LCRP Programmatic Panel
“Dr. Paxton's insights and clarity were incredibly valuable to the Committee as it considered how best to fight lung cancer. His knowledge and passion were inspiring to everyone.”
— Dr. Dani S. Zander, FY16-FY17 Chair Emeritus, LCRP Programmatic Panel
“I knew I liked Ralph from the first time I met him. He had an air about him that communicated his happy, fun-loving but slightly mischievous manner. While I unfortunately didn't have enough time to get to know him really well, it doesn't surprise me now to find out that he had a pretty varied and full life. To see that he had a love of motorcycles makes perfect sense to me and confirms that he had a very true personality that I could easily appreciate, even in our fairly limited relationship. He didn't mind expressing an opposing opinion, and I came to appreciate the value in his very straightforward style. It certainly made me realize aspects of my own opinions that I might need to review a little more critically. He was a great person to be around, and I am glad to have had the chance to work with him. We will miss his contribution to both the science and the general comradery of the LCRP.”
— Dr. Dan Merrick, LCRP Programmatic Panel
“A man of passion and dedication. We were lucky to have known him.”
— Mr. David Sturges, LCRP Programmatic Panel
“Dr. Paxton was a true team player. He was always willing to go above and beyond, no matter how late in the night, to help ensure applications were adequately reviewed for a fair assessment by the Programmatic Panel. His dedication to the lung cancer research field and passion for life itself could be felt by all around him. I unfortunately did not know him outside the scope of LCRP, but I’m sure he brightened many people’s lives with his vibrant nature, as he did in every interaction we had.”
— Dr. Janet Hsu, LCRP Scientific Manager
“Ralph Paxton was the quintessential teacher of molecular and cancer biology. Although he was full of hilarity and even sublime moments, teaching was very important to him. He could take complex concepts and explain them that made them easier to understand and learn. He was great in conversations and knowledgeable in various topics due to his scholarship. His Socratic debates were unequal and he often used it to tackle the most difficult issues particularly in cancer research and science management. He brought passion to the tasks on hand and cared deeply for those affected by cancer, especially lung cancer of which he was a survivor.
Ralph had a ready heart for friendship with committed people who shared his passions which led often to robust loyalty of friends who caught his spirit. He had readiness of heart, a lightness of spirit and an earthiness of humor. He was a man who loved life, his family, riding his motorcycle and time spent in the company of friends. Ralph spent many long days and evenings working to improve the lives of Veterans and those affected with cancer. His passing was too soon and leaves us with broken hearts, but we take comfort that he is now delivered from the burden of the flesh and is now in a presence that provides rest from all his labors. We treasure his friendship and our memories of him.”
— Dr. Kenute Myrie, Scientific Program Manager of Oncology, Office of Research and Development, US Department of Veterans Affairs
Last updated Monday, January 3, 2022