For the last 15 years, Ray Turner has been one constant for the Joint Genome Institute. On July 1, 2020, that all changed. Ray’s vigilant stewardship as JGI’s Operations Deputy has come to a close as this previously retired Naval Commander retires from Berkeley Lab.
On June 24, in what was billed as a typical monthly JGI All-Hands Meeting, after a couple of perfunctory items, the agenda went off the rails – according to plan but unbeknownst to Ray and most of the rest of the 200-plus Zoom participants. While the virtual mic shifted to Ray for his introduction to his successor, Nick Everson, there was a knock at the door of Ray’s home office (garage). There, standing at a safe distance, with proper face covering, was JGI’s Administrative Services Group lead Denise Yadon, delivering the (baked) goods – a retirement cake adorned by a JGI helix motif. Ray’s wife Deb, delivered a mask for Ray to wear and a red carnation lei flown in from Maui, care of the Admin Group’s Terri Bartolome.
What proceed from there was a baker’s dozen of surprise appearances all brought in to honor and/or roast Ray. These luminaries included from the Berkeley Lab Directorate, Mike Witherell (Director), Michael Brandt (Operations Deputy), Horst Simon (Science Deputy), Jeff Blair (Chief Laboratory Counsel) and Ellen Ford (Operations Area Deputy/Berkeley Lab Deputy Chief Operating Officer).
“You define the word ‘collegial’”
“Every user facility at this Laboratory needs to have a great operations leader,” said Director Witherell in his event remarks. “I feel that is something crucial to our success, and Ray has been that. That person needs establish the culture of workforce safety and diversity and working together and making a welcoming and inclusive workplace. I think all of you have seen that in Ray and it has been especially called on in the move to the new building where that was really critical. It takes a really special person to be able to lead such an effort and Ray is that person.”
For nearly all of his 15 years of his JGI/Berkeley Lab tenure, Ray kept the 50-year-old Walnut Creek functioning at a high level as JGI transitioned from the Human Genome Project to gaining momentum as a national user facility. He did this with aplomb, managing his dedicated “Ops Team” who dealt with leaky roofs, backed-up toilets, and ground squirrel infestations while working to accommodate major changes in the technology implementation.
As the JGI’s Walnut Creek footprint continued to grow, Ray oversaw the acquisition and renovation of Building 310, adding the crowning piece of the entire 80,000 square foot, three-building campus at 2800 Mitchell Drive, which was dedicated in February 2008.
Ray won the Director’s Award for Operations in 2017 in recognition of his tireless efforts to ensure the JGI’s integration into the Biosciences Area, the successful recruitment of a new JGI Director, and towards the strategic co-localization of JGI and KBase at the Integrative Genomics Building (IGB).
Said Michael Brandt of Ray, “You took the essential nature of the vision for that building, incorporated that in the design and you oversaw the construction as well as the move from Walnut Creek to the Laboratory and you did that successfully, you did that with tremendous grace under pressure.”
Horst Simon touched upon the overheated server room and subsequent sprinkler incident at the aging Walnut Creek facility that led JGI on the path to integrating computing with NERSC. He further observed that in retirement, Ray won’t be logging the miles on a daily commute (over 100 roundtrip every day, conservatively estimated to be over 350,000 miles over 15 years). And for Ray’s prospective endeavors as a rehired retiree, he added, his offer for a carpool ride to Berkeley from the Peninsula is still good.
“I noticed right away,” said Ellen Ford about Ray’s personal impact on her, “that you started building relationships across the Laboratory, and the way that you did it really seemed to make the distance between JGI in Walnut Creek and the Berkeley Lab campus compress. It was really impressive. Over the years, you’ve been a leader, a mentor, a trusted colleague and a good friend to so many of us. For me, you define the word ‘collegial’: always fair, calm, competent, and striving for a win-win solution. You are an inspiration for those of us who are lucky enough to have worked with you over the years. During your career, I witnessed you design and model what great research support is at the Laboratory.”
Chief Counsel Jeff Blair cited Ray’s help with thorny legal issues, and invoked a military saying, “you’re the man I’d want to be in a fox hole with. You are 100 percent dependable. Your ethics always point due north.”
Joe Harkins served as project lead on the new building that would eventually rise as the IGB from the old Bevatron site. Ray knew, he said, “when to be firm on the science requirements and when to be forgiving when need be in order to bring the project home, land it. It’s your dedication to detail that has made the IGB such a wonderful facility that will serve the JGI and KBase for years to come.”
A slideshow depicting 15-years of photo memories of Ray’s tenure, preserved in a hardcover book for Ray, was debuted for the crowd before the event segued to remarks by the leadership of the DOE Office of Biological and Environmental Research: Sharlene Weatherwax; Associate Director of Science; Todd Anderson, Biological Systems Science Division Director; and Ramana Madupu, BER Program Manager for both JGI and KBase. JGI’s retired BER Program Manager, Dan Drell, and BER operations staff (retired) John Houghton also sang Ray’s praises.
“There’s just so much he’s done for JGI and the Lab”
Sharlene, referring to the ever-shifting landscape of funding Federal for programs, noted that “Ray is someone who just will get it done, because it has to be done and he believes in the mission of the JGI so much.”
JGI Director Nigel Mouncey in his remarks stated that, “the trouble with acknowledging the vast list of accomplishments achieved by Ray over these 15 years, in service to JGI, Berkeley Lab, DOE, UC and the taxpayers is that there’s just so much he’s done for JGI and the Lab. Suffice it to say: I-G-B, and that’s a good start to the conversation. That edifice is a standing monument to his – and admittedly a lot of others’ – hard work and persistence.”
Ray is succeeded at his Ops Deputy post by Nick Everson, the person Ray hired in 2007 to serve as JGI’s Business Manager. In 2012, Nick jumped the good ship JGI in favor of a step up as Ops Deputy for Berkeley Lab Material Sciences Division and then to Chief Operating Officer for the Joint BioEnergy Institute and Deputy for Operations Biological Systems & Engineering Division. “I feel so lucky that I get to have started my LBL career working for Ray as part of the JGI family, and now I get to come back and carry on and build upon the legacy of his leadership here,” Nick said. “I’m not sure that it’s going to be possible to fill these shoes. It’s going to be a tough one, but I’ll do my best. I know I owe a significant amount of my success to him.”
Biosciences Area Associate Laboratory Director Mary Maxon, among the contributors to the real-time chat during Ray’s All-Hands tribute wrote, “Thanks for all you’ve done for users around the world, DOE, Berkeley Lab, JGI, for your leadership, mentorship, and collaboration. And thanks in advance for what you will do as a rehired retiree in the future!”
In looking back at his JGI tenure, Ray said that he was pleasantly surprised to see how well the management skills he had learned during his Navy career and in private industry translated to working in operations at a science institute. “I have been extra blessed to work with such an awesome Ops Team over the years that have fun doing their job, but also take great pride in delivering the best service they can to their customers. I think they are the best in the business and will dearly miss seeing all of them on a daily basis.”
In retirement Ray hopes to spend quality time with friends and family, golfing, traveling a bit, and riding his Harley. He is rumored to soon be helping Berkeley Lab and Biosciences with BioEPIC, the building that is slated rise alongside the IGB.