John A. Williams
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John A. Williams

I was born in 1941 in Des Moines, Iowa, moved with my family while my father served in WWII ending up in Iowa City where my father was teaching at the University. At age 7 we moved to Ellensburg, Washington, an agricultural town where my father was Chair of Social Sciences and Business at Central Washington College of Education. There was an authentic college community and I took advantage of being a faculty child. I learned to use the College library, and was introduced to the sciences by being shown how to make paraffin embedded slides using a bolt, nut and razor. I cultured pond water with hay and looked at its organisms with an early 20th century brass microscope obtained from a family physician. I also developed a love of the outdoors as it was easy to get to. I became a pre Med student at Central Washington (then a State University) and graduated in 1962, a year after starting my studies at the University of Washington Medical School. Serendipity took me to the laboratory of J. Walter Woodbury in Physiology and Biophysics and I decided to earn a PhD degree with my thesis research on the electrophysiology of the thyroid gland. Becoming a physician was no longer my goal and I decided to become a full time medical scientist. After graduating in 1968, I held three different postdoctoral positions at Utah, the NIH to fulfill my military obligation, and finally as a Helen Hay Whitney fellow at Cambridge, UK.

I began my faculty career in the Department of Physiology at the University of California, San Francisco in 1973 under Fran Ganong, and was promoted to Professor in 1979. In San Francisco I also served as Professor of Medicine, Vice-Chair of Physiology and Co-Director of the Laboratory of Cell Biology at Mount Zion Hospital where I had a productive collaboration and friendship with Ira Goldfine. In 1987 I moved to Michigan as Professor and Chair of Physiology and I served in this capacity for nearly 21 years. I enjoyed recruiting and mentoring junior faculty in addition to mentoring over 70 students and fellows during my career. Many former trainees are Professors, Division Chiefs and Departmental Chairs around the world. Since 2009 I have been the Horace W. Davenport Professor of Physiology and in 2017 began a phased retirement program. I have enjoyed teaching medical and graduate students and working with GI fellows at both UCSF and Michigan.

My research over the last 46 years has focused on the exocrine pancreas and its regulation by gastrointestinal hormones and has led to over 400 publications. This led to service on NIH study sections and as Editor or Associate Editor of five prominent journals. I am the founding Editor of the Pancreapedia, an open access, electronic knowledge base and last year we published a major reference book on pancreatitis. I have been President of two scientific societies the APS and the American Pancreatic Association and have received a number of awards for science and service.

The APS has been an important part of my career development. I had already been going to meetings as a student and fellow and joined in 1973 as a new faculty member. I helped organize a fall meeting of APS with an excursion to the wine country. My big step into national science came when APS appointed me Editor of AJP:GI and Liver. This led to subsequent committee service, election to Council and then election as President.

Outside of academic life, I have been blessed with 52 years of marriage to Christa Williams, two children, five grandchildren and one great grandson. We are members of the Ann Arbor Friends meeting and I am a former Board member at Friends School in Detroit and am currently Clerk of the Board of Michigan Friends Center. We enjoy travel, outdoor activities and bird watching as well as spending time at our beach house on Samish Island in Washington State.


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