Editor’s Note: During my years as a Business news reporter for The Oklahoman, I had the opportunity to interview Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation scientist Robert Floyd, Ph.D., several times. He has since retired and written an autobiography, which I’ve read and written this review.
In the beginning, Robert Floyd, Ph.D., was a farm boy whose family grew tobacco on their Kentucky homestead.
But they couldn’t keep him down on the farm.
Dr. Floyd eventually became a world-renowned bioscientist, and for the last 34 years of his career pursued discoveries of groundbreaking compounds at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
In his autobiography released earlier this year, Dr. Floyd describes the journey that took him from the family farm on Calvary Ridge in central Kentucky to college, then to graduate school and on to post-doc positions. In 1974, he came to Oklahoma City and the OMRF.
I met Dr. Floyd late in his career when I was a life science reporter for The Oklahoman in the early 2000s. I’m pretty sure we first met at a BIO International Conference in San Francisco.
I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Floyd several times over the years and learned about the groundbreaking compounds he discovered in his OMRF laboratory that today are being used to treat deadly brain cancers and hearing loss.
But I knew nothing about his rural roots and how he came to Oklahoma until he provided me a copy of his autobiography, A Thinker and Seeker: My Journey to Be a Biomedical Scientist, (BrownWalker Press, 364 pages).
In his book, Dr. Floyd separates his journey into three sections, beginning with life on the farm, then his pursuit of higher education and life as a post-doc, concluding with his years as an OMRF scientist.
Dr. Floyd goes deep into Floyd family history and his own experiences growing up on a working Kentucky farm. I even learned from his book how the tobacco leaves are harvested by hand, then cured in a drying barn before being shipped to an auction house.
After a high school education that didn’t serve him especially well, particularly in math skills, Dr. Floyd enrolled at the University of Kentucky. His goal was to become a high school agriculture teacher like his uncle Frank Williams.
But he discovered plant pathology as a UK senior and decided to go to graduate school at Kentucky to pursue a master’s degree in agronomy. From there, he moved to Purdue University, where he earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry.
The next phase of the book follows Dr. Floyd through various post-doc assignments, including one at Washington University in St. Louis, where he worked with Barry Commoner, who was a well known and often times controversial environmentalist.
Dr. Floyd also shares a lot about his personal life, how he met and married his wife, Marlene, the houses they bought and sold along the way, and a couple of harrowing cross-country automobile trips they took as they moved from one assignment to another.
The final section of the book is a year-by-year look at Dr. Floyd’s career at OMRF. We learn how he was hired, the focus of his research and how he became a respected and sought after scientist who traveled and spoke to conferences all over the world.
His laboratory was continually funded through the OMRF years by National Institutes of Health research grants. Eventually, he became an NIH grant reviewer himself who considered grant applications from other scientists throughout the U.S.
Since Dr. Floyd is someone I’ve known professionally for almost 20 years, I read this book with interest. I found the chapter on his family’s history and his life on the farm especially fascinating.