Robert R. Fenichel

Raymond J. Lipicky

3 May 1933 — 16 February 2018 

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    Ray was a big man.  

    About 20 years ago, Ray and I were at an FDA-related meeting in Rome, and we had a long, late dinner at a restaurant that someone had recommended.  The restaurant was in a poorly-lit part of town, and when we left the restaurant, the narrow streets were almost empty. As the two of us walked back toward our hotel, I was glad not to be alone.  For a block or two, the only person we came upon was an elderly ragged Dickensian woman selling flowers, down to her last little bouquet.  Ray bought it, and we walked on. He looked a little silly with the flowers, but he was pleased by the purchase.  Then we came upon a young couple, almost stumbling because they were holding each other so fondly.  Ray gave them the flowers.  The act was so perfect that I almost cried.

    Ray was physically big, too.

    Sandi Garrett says

I remember being [at a meeting] in Paris with Ray, and after an exhausting day of beta blockers we all went to Cirque de Soleil.  From the stage the performer threw an imaginary light beam into the audience.  From the balcony, Ray "caught" the beam in his large hands and "tossed it back" with the agility and grace of a dancer. Indeed he was a big man, with the heart and a gentle soul of a child.

    Ray was a scientist.  That is, he enjoyed having been wrong.

    At FDA, Ray's scientific attitude sometimes ran against headwinds.  He never described his attitude in so many words, but he might have said that the fun of science was the fun of having been wrong.  That was, after all, the necessary precursor to discovering that something was true when you — and everyone else — used to think it was false.  At FDA, and even more so in FDA-regulated industry, knowing something new today was all very well, but not having known and announced it yesterday was sometimes difficult.  Hadn't the discovery been suspected before?  Of course it had, but the official answer was often evasive.  Ray was never evasive. 

   Shaw Chen says

At one IND meeting with a sponsor, I was surprised to hear RL reverse what he said during our internal pre-meeting.  So I asked him right after why he changed his mind.  He said without a pause, “I guess I chickened out”.

    Sometimes Ray's nonchalance about having been wrong was disconcerting.  Our Division often met with representatives of one or another pharmaceutical company to discuss one of the company's pending applications.  Every now and then, Ray would open such a meeting by summarizing what he said was his overview of the application:  "This is a drug for hypertension, not much different from other drugs in its class, except that it kills more people."  Sometimes that was rather an exaggeration of his reading of the data, but sometimes not,  It always got the company's attention, to say the least.  Before any voiced response from the company, Ray would continue. "Now, tell me why I'm full of shit."  He meant that.

    Peter Kowey says

In 1983, during my first FDA Cardiorenal Advisory Committee meeting, I, as a young pup only a year out of my training, had the audacity to express an opinion about the results of a clinical trial then under discussion.  I was startled when a very large man, with slicked back black hair, a weird plaid jacket, and a clip-on tie asked me to state those data that supported my presumptive statement.  I managed an inane response that was clearly inadequate, which only caused the man to smile and nod, having made his point without embarrassing me.

I learned later that day who that man was.  I made a point to introduce myself and apologize for my naïveté.  He told me to relax; things would get better.  They assuredly did, because for the next several years, I let Ray teach me more about clinical science than I had any right to expect.  I learned how to be critical without being antagonistic, to ask tough questions without trying to bolster my ego.  But what I could never do as well as Ray, and I doubt no one ever will, was to cut to the core of a clinical issue with startling alacrity, and to ask the most important question at the beginning of any scenario, no matter how complicated.

Ray, we will miss your insight, your sense of humor, and your dedication to the truth, no matter the consequences.

    Other people will need to describe Ray's work as a bench scientist.  Michael McCann, Ray's medical-school classmate, tells how Ray was recruited to take a year between his sophomore and junior years for an NIH project.  

Ray published original papers on the K/Na potentials in the isolated giant squid axon.  Can you just see in your mind's eye this big guy making glass pipettes small enough for single cell insertion?  Well, he did, and he became quite famous among his classmates in our junior year.   

In his lab at Woods Hole, Ray was still threading glass-cased electrodes into squid axons several decades later.

    Ray was a manager.

    Shaw Chen says

On one of my early days, the pharmtox reviewer told me [that the drug I was reviewing] caused intravascular hemolysis in some animals.   I went straight to Ray for advice on the regulatory action we should take, but he refused to give me an answer.  He said “You are paid with medical officers’ salary to make judgment and decision.  Go figure it out yourself.” 

I was invited to sit in a committee to draft guidelines for safety reviews.  Ray let me do it but said, “For stupid reviewers, the Guideline won’t work, and for the smart ones, it is not needed.”  I told the committee chair that I kind of agreed with Ray.  I was never again asked to join any Center-wide initiative.

[Sometimes] I reached conclusions about the NDAs that were different from Ray’s.  In many other places, disagreeing with your boss would be risky and could make your life miserable.  But in Ray’s Division, we were allowed to write down whatever we thought.  And unlike some other supervisors I knew in the Agency, Ray never asked us to change our reviews when he disagreed.  He simply wrote his own reasoning in his Division Director’s memo.  We were expected to defend our scientific arguments, but never forced to conform to his position.  In those years, I never feared his punishment for disagreeing, nor felt that my job was in any way threatened when that happened.

   Just as reviewers in other Divisions were often required to revise their reviews to confirm the conclusions of their Division Directors, Ray was occasionally urged to revise his reviews to confirm conclusions reached at the Office level or even higher.  Ray never did.  He simply did not sign statements that he thought were factually false, or that misrepresented his opinions.  He loved FDA, but (unlike some others) he let it be known that his love was not blind.

 Some final pictures

Norman Stockbridge visited Ray around Christmas 2017.  Ray's health was failing, but he remained playful and eager for new experience.  With Norman and family members, in the course of a few days he visited Busch Gardens, went deep-sea fishing, rode in a helicopter, and otherwise enjoyed himself.  His spirit never faded.



    (Also, see the eulogies here and here.)



Page revised: 03/22/2019 12:10