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Remembering My Mentor, Dr. Howard W. Jones, Jr.

By David Kreiner, MD

August 4th, 2017 at 6:14 pm


I first met Howard W. Jones Jr, when I was 29 years old while still an obstetrics and gynecology resident in 1984.  It is now two years since his passing at the age of 104 and his legacy lives on ever greater with each passing year.

He interviewed me back then for a fellowship position in Reproductive Endocrinology/Infertility and IVF at the Jones Institute in Norfolk, Va., the first successful IVF center in the Western Hemisphere.  I was in awe of this 74-year-old statesman of the IVF/Infertility world.  He was after all famous in the field even before Elizabeth Carr was delivered on Dec. 28, 1981, that first IVF success that Howard W. Jones Jr. and his wife Georgeanna were responsible for in the United States.

In the 1950’s, it was HWJ Jr. who biopsied the cervical cancer of Henrietta Lacks who was made famous from the book and movie, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”.  These cells from his biopsy were later utilized in nearly all scientific experiments for the next several decades.

In the 1960’s HWJ Jr. opened the first gender reassignment surgery clinic in the U.S. as well as performing pioneering work on ambiguous genitalia.

In 1965, he and Robert Edwards, the Nobel Prize winner for the world’s first successful IVF birth of Louise Brown, fertilized the first human egg.

In 1975, at the age of 65, Howard W. Jones Jr. was forced to retire from Johns Hopkins.  Ultimately, in 1978, Dr. Howard and Georgeanna retired to Norfolk, VA where he planned to work part-time as Emeritus Professor at the local medical school.  All this changed when Robert Edwards succeeded in creating the first successful IVF that resulted in Louise Brown.

Local journalists, aware of Dr. Jones’s reputation and past work with Prof. Edwards interviewed Howard.  At the conclusion of the interview the journalist asked Dr. Jones what it would take to perform IVF in Norfolk to which he simply replied “money”. The next day a former patient pledged that money and within 2 years the first successful IVF program west of the Atlantic was up and running and quickly became arguably the world’s most successful IVF program.

In his final decades Dr. Howard dedicated himself to promoting IVF as a successful medical treatment for those otherwise unable to conceive and to exploring bioethics in the field of reproduction.  Howard Jones never retired as he loved his work and recognized purpose and the satisfaction of achieving his life’s goals in his endeavors.

At a speech he gave during a celebration of his 100th birthday in a huge gathering of hundreds of professionals in the field, he quoted a professor of his at Amherst College from 80 years earlier, Robert Frost.  These seven lines, he said, exemplify, for him, the way to live:

My object in living is to unite 
My avocation and my vocation 
As my two eyes make one in sight. 
Only where love and need are one, 
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done 
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

I have aspired to live my life and career as Dr. Howard had taught me. When I am asked what I do for a living I smile and ramble on about feeling privileged to do what I love…helping those in need build families. By doing so I truly feel my endeavors perpetuate Dr. Howard’s standard of making a significant impact on the future of humanity.

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