Co-Workers Praise Ivins as Top Researcher, Mentor to Young Scientists

By Anne Hull
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 7, 2008

Bruce E. Ivins was the type of colleague who would leave a package of M&Ms on the desk of his frazzled boss. He was a "Survivor" junkie who loved deconstructing the latest episode at work. He was known for his groundbreaking development of new-generation vaccines for anthrax but he also kept a flatulence machine in his office that he mischievously operated by remote control with unsuspecting co-workers.

On the same day the FBI released hundreds of pages of chilling investigative documents to support its conclusion that Ivins was responsible for the anthrax attacks in 2001 that killed five people, a starkly different version of the scientist was remembered and celebrated yesterday at a private memorial service at Fort Detrick, the Army base in Frederick where he worked.

More than 200 mourners filled a small chapel not far from the lab Ivins used for nearly three decades. The tone of the service was one of unmitigated support and loyalty for the researcher, and there was no mention of the accusations against him or the darkness that enveloped the final months of his life before he died on July 29. Many in the chapel wept as a singer stood at a piano next to the altar and sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

Five eulogists, all of whom worked closely with Ivins, praised him as a scientist and friend. Col. John Skvorak, the commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, said that Ivins was a top-notch researcher and generous mentor to younger scientists, always full of questions. Lt. Col. Bret Purcell, another Army scientist, struggled to maintain composure as he spoke of Ivins's unyielding dedication to the lab where he worked and the people who worked with him.

Ivins's wife, Diane, and their two children, Amanda and Andrew, both 24, sat in the front row and were greeted by Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, the commander of Fort Detrick. The family was presented with a dozen red roses by a tearful lab technician who worked alongside Ivins.

Ivins came to USAMRIID in 1980, specializing in the genetics and immunology of Bacillus anthracis. He was a recipient of the Defense Department's highest honor given to a civilian. But at the service he was remembered for the joy he brought others: his juggling; teaching another scientist's son how to ride a unicycle; and giving Patricia Worsham, the deputy chief of the bacteriology division, a purple T-shirt that said, "The Queen Is Not Amused." Mourners laughed as Worsham held up the T-shirt.

Many soldiers and Ivins's fellow researchers filled the pews, including those who found the allegations against him inconceivable. "I'm so angry," one of them said to another, waiting for the service to begin. "I'm so angry." A statement issued later in the day by Ivins's attorneys concluded: "No one who attended [the] service could believe that Dr. Ivins committed any crime."

According to the program, "Ivins mentored a number of young scientists during his career. He was known for his patience and enthusiasm for science." He also ate strange concoctions for lunch at his desk, a memory that brought laughter at the service, as did the mention of the time he wore military camouflage and went to a Halloween party as a member of the Village People. But a quiet sadness ended the funeral as those gathered softly sang "Amazing Grace."

Leaving the sanctuary, mourners passed a photo collage of Ivins, posing with his fellow researchers or playfully wearing a sombrero. In almost every picture, he was smiling and surrounded by people.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company