Mary Frances Picciano, Senior Nutrition Research Scientist at the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), died on August 29, 2010, after a long battle with cancer. The staff of ODS mourns the loss of our valued colleague, who was a proficient researcher, skilled educator, and even-tempered, fun-loving friend. She is survived by her husband, John Milner, Ph.D. (Chief of the Nutritional Science Research Group, Division of Cancer Prevention, National Cancer Institute), daughter, son, mother, and two brothers.
ODS Director Paul Coates speaks for our office with his words: "Mary Frances was that remarkable combination of gifted scientist, committed teacher, and beautiful person whom you meet only now and then. She was always a strong proponent of bringing the best science to bear on our work, and nowhere was this more evident than with vitamin D."
Dr. Picciano first came to ODS in 1999 as a Visiting Scientist, then joined ODS in 2001 as a Senior Research Scientist and Director of the ODS Training and Career Development Program. Among her innovations was creation of an ODS Research Seminar Series as well as the Dietary Supplement Research Practicum, a five-day annual course to provide fundamental scientific knowledge of dietary supplements to academicians and their advanced students. Dr. Picciano also directed the ODS Vitamin D Initiative, a comprehensive, multifaceted effort to synthesize available research on this nutrient, identify research needs and challenges, and evaluate their application to public health policy. Earlier this year she received the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director's Award "in recognition of exceptional leadership resulting in a broader understanding of vitamin D that will benefit the public health."
During her career, Dr. Picciano collaborated with dozens of investigators on scientific projects covering the full range of human nutrition science from very basic studies through human clinical trials. According to Dr. Johanna Dwyer, Senior Scientist at ODS and a long-time colleague, "Mary Frances was remarkably bright and generous, yet intellectually humble in spite of her encyclopedic knowledge of the field, and a great joy to work with."
Prior to joining ODS, Mary Frances Picciano was a Professor of Nutrition at Pennsylvania State University and, earlier, Professor of Nutrition in Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests emphasized nutrition and dietary requirements for pregnant women, infants, and children. She was a member of several professional organizations, numerous advisory boards and review panels, and on the editorial boards of four journals. Dr. Picciano co-authored a textbook titled Human Nutrition and co-edited two other books in her areas of research. She served on the National Academy of Science's Subcommittee on Nutrition During Lactation and was President of the International Society for Research in Human Milk and Lactation.
Dr. Picciano was especially proud of opportunities to mentor graduate students during her career and to follow their careers in academia and in the public and private sectors. "I am continually impressed with the substantial weight keen mentoring imparts on career choices and sustained professional achievement," she wrote. Among her protégés is Dr. Regan Bailey, who was a doctoral student at Penn State, a postdoctoral research fellow at ODS in 2007-2009, and now a nutritional epidemiologist at ODS. "Mary Frances is one of a kind," remembers Dr. Bailey. "As a mentor, she not only imparted her scientific influence but also was a supportive, nurturing friend willing to go the extra mile to help. She worked tirelessly to promote learning opportunities for young scientists."
Earlier this year, Dr. Picciano received the David Kritchevsky Career Achievement Award in Nutrition from the American Society for Nutrition "in recognition of an outstanding career in nutrition." She was also awarded the 2010 Macy-Gyorgy Award from the International Society for Research in Human Milk and Lactation for "outstanding, original scientific contributions to the study of human milk and lactation."
"Outstanding" and "original" are truly words to describe Mary Frances Picciano as both a scientist and person. According to her friend and colleague, Dr. Elizabeth Yetley, "Mary Frances was a determined and effective proponent of sound science in the furtherance of public health nutrition, often having to delve into scientific areas that were new to her to fully develop the scientific basis for a public health issue. This is a rare, but much needed, commitment from a member of the scientific community, and her efforts were remarkably effective and much appreciated." Here at ODS, we will miss Mary Frances dearly, treasure the opportunities we had to work and socialize with her, and remember her as a shining star in the life of our office.