NOV. 1, 2004 | Colleagues, students, friends and family celebrated the life and work of Phillip Leon Rayford, Ph.D., Thursday, packing the auditorium of the Biomedical Research Center Building II, which was dedicated in honor of the former chairman of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics and former associate dean for minority affairs at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).
In an emotional ceremony Oct. 21 that brought attendees to both tears and laughter, Rayford was remembered as a nationally recognized scientist, a dedicated member of the UAMS faculty, a mentor to minority students and all students desiring to excel and a loving husband. Rayford died in 2002 at the age of 75.
During his 18-year tenure at UAMS from 1980-1998, Rayford made significant contributions to his department, to the university and to the state. Among the departmental achievements under his leadership, the Department of Physiology and Biophysics began receiving considerably more outside grant support for research. He received the UAMS College of Medicine Distinguished Faculty Award in 1994.
Thursday’s ceremony included the dedication of the auditorium, a distinguished guest lecture, presentation of the first Phillip Leon Rayford Endowed Scholarship Fund and the unveiling of a portrait of Rayford, which will hang in the hallway outside the auditorium.
UAMS Chancellor I. Dodd Wilson, M.D., noted during the dedication that the new auditorium was too small for the number of people who came out to honor Rayford’s life, but is a perfect size for the intimate lectures to be held there. The facility seats 87 people, but more than 150 squeezed into the space, lining the walls and crowding around the entrance.
“Dr. Rayford had a strong commitment to the success of UAMS in fulfilling its mission to teach, to heal, to search and to serve,” said
Gerry Rayford joined UAMS as an education coordinator for hospitalized children under the department of child psychiatry, which eventually moved to Arkansas Children’s Hospital. She retired in 1990 as assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry in the UAMS College of Medicine.
“He and Gerry were like parents to these students,”
E. Albert Reece, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., vice chancellor and dean of the UAMS College of Medicine, said Rayford’s care and concern for his students and other faculty extended past his retirement, to the point that he was asked to come back as assistant to the dean. Reece said Rayford continued to come to UAMS after his retirement, so much that Reece told him, “You’re already here; you might as well get paid to be here.” They had discussed extending his career into fund-raising for the
“He was such a gentle person, but he had a fierce desire for excellence,” Reece remembered.
Thomas Bruce, M.D., professor of medicine and dean emeritus, professor of health policy and management for the UAMS College of Public Health and associate dean of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, described Rayford as a “splendid teacher and articulate speaker” and recalled how he was determined to recruit Rayford to come to UAMS from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. He said he quickly figured out that it was Gerry Rayford who he needed to convince. After lunching at the Governor’s Mansion with Bill and Hillary Clinton and talking about how she could advance her work in child psychiatry, Bruce said the decision was made.
“It was Gerry who brought Phil to
Gerry Rayford presented the inaugural Phillip L. Rayford Endowed Scholarship to Frederick D. Johnson Jr., a freshman medical student from Hope. The scholarship will be presented annually to a student who expresses an interest in physiology and endocrinology.
“I want you to know he is looking down at you and if you ever feel a little nudge…” she hinted as she presented Johnson with the scholarship.