Everybody knew H. George Mandel, Ph.D., a faculty member in The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences’ Department of Pharmacology and Physiology for over 60 years. “Even when I went to the doctor, the doctor would ask, ‘How’s George?’” says Stella Moody, who worked with Mandel for 17 years.
And, according to SMHS faculty, staff, and students who reiterate the words “kind” and “gentle” to describe him, he wasn’t only well-known — he was also well-loved. “Dr. Mandel always had a smile on his face,” remembers Barbara McGowan, associate director of GW’s Biomedical Communications office, who knew Mandel for nearly 30 years. “You won’t find a soul on this planet who didn’t just absolutely love him. He was very special.”
So it is an understatement to say that Mandel, who – according to all sources’ best judgments, and as far as records indicate – is the longest serving faculty member in SMHS history, will be missed. Mandel passed away Friday, July 15, 2011 at age 87, at his home in Bethesda.
“It is difficult to exaggerate all that George Mandel did for our department and our school,” wrote Vincent Chiappinelli, Ph.D., interim associate dean of SMHS, associate vice provost for health affairs, and chair of the department, upon hearing the news of Mandel’s passing. “He joined GW in 1949 and continued to give lectures, run the Caucus of Basic Biomedical Science Chairs, and interview prospective students up until a few years ago. He was loved by our students, faculty, and staff. George was a gentle and sincere man who helped so many people in various stages of their careers. He made a difference and will be missed.”
Mandel joined GW in 1949 as a research associate and served as a faculty member from 1950 to 2010, including 36 years as department chair of the Department of Pharmacology prior to its merger with Physiology. After stepping down as department chair in 1996, he continued to conduct research and mentor young faculty members and medical students until 2010, when he became chair emeritus. In his letter recommending Mandel for emeritus status, Chiappinelli wrote,
“Dr. Mandel has made huge contributions to our school in many areas, including leadership, teaching, research, and service. In so many ways [he] exemplifies the ‘long and distinguished service to the University’ that is described in the faculty code when reviewing a retiring faculty member for emeritus status.”
Mandel’s love of teaching students of all levels was evident in his participation in various activities, including Problem Based Learning, a series of small group conferences in which he discussed clinical problems with first- and second-year medical students. He also organized a pharmacology discussion group elective for senior medical students. One of his mentees, Julius Axelrod, Ph.D., won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1970 for work on a class of neurotransmitters.
Equally passionate about research and policy, Mandel served as chair of the National Caucus of Basic Biomedical Science Chairs from its founding in 1991 until 2008. The caucus was a groundbreaking science policy organization comprised of leaders of science associations and chairs of basic science departments across the United States, which promoted increased funding for health research by educating political leaders about its importance in improving the health of citizens.
Mandel received numerous awards throughout his career, including the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Washington Academy of Sciences in 1958; the Golden Apple Teaching Award from the Student American Medical Association in 1969, 1985, and 1997; GW’s George Washington Award in 1998; and the 2005 Distinguished Researcher Award during GW’s 2005 Research Day. He became a member of the Society of Distinguished Teachers at SMHS in 2001.
During World War II, Mandel worked for the U.S. military as an interrogator of mostly German Prisoners of War. As a German immigrant and chemist, Mandel was recruited to “interrogate scientifically trained and experienced Germans who had been sent to this country by the military,” he told NPR in a 2008 interview about Fort Hunt, the camp where he worked. All information he and his colleagues gained — which included “discoveries in microwaves, atomic and molecular studies, jets used in German planes, and submarine technology”— was sent directly to the Pentagon according to a 2008 Washington Post article.
While Mandel and other veterans kept mum about the operation for decades, some opened up in recent years as its documents declassified. Mandel became a United States citizen in 1944.
“Dr. Mandel's contributions to GW and to this nation are immeasurable,” said Jeffrey Akman, M.D., interim vice provost for Health Affairs and dean, School of Medicine and Health Sciences. “He will be greatly missed by his colleagues and by the thousands of SMHS alumni he taught and mentored.”
He is survived by his wife Marianne, their daughters Audrey and Marcia, and four grandchildren. An endowment fund was established in Mandel’s name in 1997, when he stepped down as chair of the Department of Pharmacology . A memorial service will be held in September.
Donations may be made in Dr. Mandel's name to the National Park Service. Checks should be made out to "National Park Service" with "Fort Hunt Visitors Center" in the memo line and sent to:
700 George Washington Memorial Pkwy
McLean, VA 22101