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Transcript: Portrait Unveiled of Former NLM Director Lindberg (February 10, 2016)

[Don Ellison:] Good afternoon and welcome on behalf of the National Library of Medicine and the Friends of the National Library of Medicine, at this time it's my pleasure to bring to the microphone the acting director of the Library Betsy Humphreys.


[Betsy Humphreys:] Thank you, Don, and let me add my welcome to his. It's great to see so many of you here, a terrific group of the National Library of Medicine's staff, no better group in the world in my opinion, and many of our friends of the National Library of Medicine, board members, well-wishers of Don and Mary, and this is an exciting and interesting event for us. As I think many of you know, it is a tradition here at the National Library of Medicine and its predecessors that directors of the National Library of Medicine be memorialized in portraits, which are then hung in prominent positions in the Library. And, of course, Don Lindberg is the longest serving director of the National Library of Medicine. I think people felt that probably John Shaw Billings would retain that accolade for a long time, but, no, he really left at the end of 30 years. Don, of course, longer than that. So obviously we need to have a picture of Don to hang in the Library, but in this case we are doubly blessed because we have a picture not only of Don but a picture of Don and Mary Lindberg.

Many of you – I remember the day we welcomed them, both of them, and also their son John I think was with them as well – when Don was sworn in in the auditorium in there, and we all met them, and we thought Don was going to be great, and people were reserving their opinions about whether he was going to be good and easy to work with, but everybody immediately knew that they loved Mary. [Laughter] So there was no hesitation, everyone loved Mary. So we have been very blessed to have such an outstanding leader. We have on past occasions tried to enumerate what happened on his watch and the wonderful things that he made happen while he was here at NLM, and I'm not going to do that again today, but suffice it to say that we are a totally different institution than we were when he arrived. We have a much broader scope and effect. We were terrific when he arrived, and we have obviously a great deal more to be proud of in terms of fulfilling the basic mission which is to get information out to the world and benefit the progress of medicine and the public health. So he has been an outstanding civil servant and somebody who has really made a huge difference in access to information around the world. So, naturally, we want to have a great picture of him in the National Library of Medicine and also because he's a totally visual person, and he thinks in pictures, and he loves pictures, whether still or moving, and so it is even better that we are going to have a great picture of Don and Mary to stay with the National Library of Medicine into the future. And the reason we have this to do is in large part due to the wonderful support and activities of the Friends of the National Library of Medicine, and Glen Campbell, the chairman, is going to say a few words now.


[Glen Campbell:] Yes, it is great to see so many people here, and I also would like to add my welcome and my thanks to all of you. It is quite, quite, quite a length of time that it took to get here today in terms of the portrait being ready for its unveiling, and we are thrilled. It is my honor and my privilege as the chair to express appreciation and gratitude to those who made all of this come together today.

First, I must note that every single person to whom I went for help with regard to this portrait answered immediately and with the greatest enthusiasm, which I really do think speaks to just the high regard in which Dr. Lindberg and Mrs. Lindberg – Don and Mary to so many of you – are held at the Library but also in the communities in which I work. It has been a pleasure to have everybody participate, and I also want to name a few of them, and I know today is Ash Wednesday, so a sin of omission might be mine today by not listing everybody, but I'm going to just thank the portrait committee first for an incredible job, and particularly Barbara Redman who is here and Ken Walker and Dennis Cryer, and Betsy Humphreys at the Library who has been so tremendously helpful to us, and Pat Carson who has been so helpful to us, and Ronica Lu of the Friends who has been helpful to us, and the selection and the commissioning of the portrait was done with a tremendous amount of attention and care as well, and we were so grateful to settle—not settle but select very carefully Bradley Stevens, the artist who has done this incredible portrait of these two wonderful people.

And I wonder if Brad, you could just stand up so that people could see you and acknowledge you. [Applause] Brad's very collaborative process with the Friends, with getting to know us and getting to know what we cared about in how it is that the Lindbergs were portrayed, was critical to the success of this magnificent portrait, and we are grateful for that. I encourage any of you who are here at the reception afterwards to talk with him about the process if you're not too overwhelmed, because I think that it really speaks so well to it.

So this process and how the portrait came to be are also going to be outlined in a wonderful video that Anne Altemus and John Harrington put together and that – in just a minute. But before we go there, I would like to acknowledge the donors, so many donors who contributed so generously, magnificently and generously to the portrait fund that we had set up and also to the framing fund. You'll see this is a beautifully selected, elegantly simple frame to have around this beautiful portrait. So I'm going to thank the donors as many of them are here today. I don't want to single them out because they asked me not to, but we are very grateful for very, very generous contributions from some of the people here, and we are very grateful to the whole Board of the Friends of the National Library of Medicine. I'm going to come back up at the end of this to say a few more words, but right now I am going to step aside so you can see the wonderful video that talks about how this portrait came to be.


[Lindberg Portrait Video begins]

[Music playing]

[Bradley Stevens:] Portrait painting should transcend photography and there's a timeless quality about a painting as opposed to a photographic image of somebody, which is an infinitesimal snapshot in time. Whereas a painting, you spend a lot of time with somebody, you get a better feel for their whole personage.

[Music playing]

[Bradley Stevens: ] The challenge of portraiture is how do you capture somebody in one image. So when you're with somebody, you're studying them, but trying to not make them feel self-conscious, and you're looking at their gestures, the way they carry themselves, the mannerisms, and you try to put that down on canvas. I try to be very bold with my brush strokes and application of paint. Even though you're making a realistic representation of somebody, it should have texture and build up of paint and hard and soft edges, and it's that lusciousness of paint. I do a lot of different things, but I always come back to portraiture, because I think it's in many ways the pinnacle of all the subject matters I do.

[Betsy Humphreys:] NLM has an enormous picture collection, and it does include some formal portraits, but the only ones that are displayed are people who had really important roles in the history of the Library. It's absolutely fitting that we would have a portrait of Don Lindberg as one of the major figures in the development of NLM and his services. We're excited about the fact that this portrait is different from the others in the inclusion in the portrait of Mary Lindberg.

[Bradley Stevens:] When I first met Dr. Lindberg and Mary, I liked them immediately, felt comfortable with them. And that always makes it nice for a portrait commission because you can imagine that's not always the case. Mary was very at ease and just kind of assumed a great pose, and I said, wow, that's wonderful. And then I was fussing with Dr. Lindberg a little bit and it was okay, but I knew it wasn't perfect, and so I was packing up, and I happened to glance up and he was in this pose that I knew right away that was it. And I said freeze, and I got all of my equipment back out and captured him at that moment.

[Glen Campbell:] The Friends of the National Library of Medicine are pleased to present this portrait as a tribute to Dr. and Mrs. Lindberg. When people come to the Library, they'll be able to see this portrait, which truly represents the unique partnership that Dr. and Mary Lindberg -- Don and Mary as they're known to many -- had as they transformed the Library over the past 30 years.

[Music playing]

[Video ends]


[Glen Campbell:] Okay, so now a big moment, a bigger moment. Don, John – there they are for an unveiling. [Applause] I think it truly, truly captures the wonderful couple that we all know and love here at the Library. I would like to ask them to come up and say a few words.

[Don Lindberg:] Come on. Let's see if we got a good likeness. [Applause] Well, I hardly need to say that this is a wonderful event for Mary and me. We're particularly grateful to see old friends from the boards and the previous boards and college and even kindergarten – [Laughter]

[Mary Lindberg:] That's right.

[Don Lindberg:] – here. And a host of wonderful people connected with NLM and our work. Every single day here was for me a wonderful event. I don't regret any one of them, and I rejected all advice to be disdainful of federals and federal service, because I knew better. I knew that the best and smartest people in medical computing were right here, and the speaker last night more or less confirmed that in her view from the departmental level. So if I were to go around and thank each of you who would – probably couldn't stand for it – and I couldn't stand up, but I do have to thank Mary [Applause and laughter] for all of her help and winning ways. But actually jobs are really a job of a couple. With or without that support, you just are suddenly worried about, golly, it's getting you know towards suppertime, I've got to call and make excuses or something or here's the wonderful person I'm going to bring home with very little announcement. [Laughter] And Mary always greeted those wonderful people with wonderful hospitality and good cooking. You know I had a bargain. So did I get anything wrong?

[Mary Lindberg:] Not so far.


[Don Lindberg:] Well, the day is young. So again I think particular thanks to Glen Campbell and the Friends of NLM and other donors of this good cause. I guess we're timely in that the papers, at least the ones I read, are full of people being angry that the Congress bought some portraits. They didn't buy this one, however, so we're escaping in good fettle and with a good reputation left for me and for the institution.

Just in pausing, I do want to say, though, that the creation of the Friends of NLM has been a godsend. I mean at the time I came, we couldn't buy you know a cup of coffee for the distinguished visitors who constantly come to NLM. So that's a bad thing. So the Friends have been a wonderful help in many, many ways. But mixing us, the feds, researchers, and the university, company people has been a pleasure. I mean it doesn't seem like it was a miraculous discovery. It's rather obvious and fun, and as I say, I've liked every day of it.

On the other hand, federal agencies are surprisingly fragile. I mean it is possible to – and they did – walk away from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology just down the street, the finest path [?] organization in the world bar none, head and shoulders above anything else. They got involved in base closure, which you know – remote possibility I suppose for NIH, but we're a base. Anyway, it's possible to damage fine institutions in government, quickly, so let's all guard against that, and my only threat is if you're not good to NLM, I'm going to come back and haunt you.


[Don Lindberg:] Okay?

[Mary Lindberg:] Okay.


[Mary Lindberg:] A very few words.

[Don Lindberg:] Yes.

[Mary Lindberg:] They said few words, and I am in favor of that. Years ago, the wives used to hand out materials at the meetings, and I remember we were at a meeting – and now they have wonderful trained people to do this but – we were in a meeting in San Francisco, and I was sitting up at the table with the folders, and I noticed a gentleman standing at the elevators back against the wall, and all of a sudden, he came striding across the lobby, and he held out his hand to me, and he said, "I am Dr. Martin Cummings. I am the director of the National Library of Medicine, and I understand you're the reason Don Lindberg won't come to Washington."


[Mary Lindberg:] And it only took me a minute to say, 'Dr. Cummings, if Don Lindberg decides to go to Washington, he'll go to Washington.'


[Mary Lindberg:] And I'm so happy he did. You have become our family, and we'll be glad to always be in the Reading Room to remind you that this is a wonderful, wonderful place, and we've enjoyed every moment of being here. Thank you.

[Don Lindberg:] I know, good work.


[Glen Campbell:] Just a few words more, and I am so glad that Dr. Lindberg decided to come to Washington as well, and that you were with him. This is really a unique partnership as this portrait so adequately depicts, and Betsy referenced earlier that we have talked a good deal this past year about the contributions that Dr. Lindberg has made to the transformation of the Library. This library is accessed globally by clinicians, by clinical researchers, basic researchers, all in very different fashion and with much better ease and with much better results because of the efforts of Dr. Lindberg and the team of people that he has lead and worked here over the past 30 years. It has been a tremendous transformation, one that has improved health care outcomes and improved patient care, so when people come to the Library – and people do still come to libraries. We were talking about this last night. People come to libraries for a number of reasons, and they will continue to come here, and when they come here, this portrait will inspire as this couple has inspired us, this beautiful, intelligent, caring, loving couple that I – my niece has this word that she calls "framily," which is a combination of friends and family. They have created a culture here that is a family. This is a government institution, but this is a family at the National Library of Medicine because of Don and Mary Lindberg and the contributions they've made here. What an honor and a privilege to have this portrait now up on the wall there so that all can see your unique partnership and feel the effects of what it's done. So on behalf of the Friends and everybody here today, thank you again very much for all of your good contributions, your service, and your good cheer while you did it. It's been a pleasure to work with you.


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