Editor’s Preamble to the Profile of Robert Jennings
I have known Bob Jennings for more than 30 years. In the late 1970s, when I started working in the field of cardioprotection,1 he was already an icon because of his seminal contributions to our understanding of reperfusion injury and his classic studies of the transmural progression of cell death from endocardium to epicardium during coronary artery occlusion. More than 30 years later, my admiration for this man is as strong as it was at that time. This, in itself, is a remarkable statement about his stature.
What are the traits that I admire most in Jennings? First, he is one of the few investigators whose data I always believe. This is because I know the thoroughness of his work, the quality of his measurements, and the rigor of his approach. Invariably, he interprets his data parsimoniously. In his papers, you will not find premature conclusions based on insufficient evidence, nor extrapolations, exaggerations, unwarranted emphasis, or generalizations. He is the anti-hype. If one had to choose one word to describe his work, it would be solidity. Sadly, this is not a common virtue in today’s world of science, where so many rush to be the first even when the data are not sufficiently solid, in compliance with the abominable — but, alas, widely adhered to — principle that it is more important to be first than to be right.
Second, Jennings has remained remarkably focused on reperfusion injury and cardioprotection for more than 5 decades. As I often tell my colleagues, focus is one of the hallmarks of a great investigator. He has virtuously resisted the temptation to jump on the hottest bandwagon du jour. Unlike many others, he has not changed his interests in order to chase the latest fad.
Third, in the late 1980s, at the peak of the frenzy about reperfusion injury (when almost every week you could read another paper claiming that antioxidant therapies limit myocardial infarct size), Jennings had the virtue of publishing negative, but rigorous, studies that counteracted a torrent of positive (and often methodologically flawed) reports, bringing reason and moderation to the field. When he found that antioxidants and antineutrophil interventions failed to reduce infarct size, he had the fortitude to complete this line of studies and publish them even though they were negative. I find this to be utterly admirable. The truth is just as important when it is negative as when it is positive.
My admiration for Jennings, however, transcends his scientific accomplishments, for I find his human qualities to be just as remarkable and refreshing as his scientific attributes. This is quite obvious to anyone who has interacted with him. He is what I consider a true gentleman — a man of total integrity and fairness. His unassuming, down-to-earth, simple style, coupled with his warm and engaging manners, make him a pleasure to interact with. One of his most striking features is that he never gets mad. Or maybe he does, but he manages not to show it. Even under very stressful conditions, even in situations that test one’s patience, I have never seen him lose his calm and his gentlemanly composure.
Jennings is one of those beautiful people who make the world move forward. The problem is that we don’t have enough of them. If there were more Jennings, how much better off we would be!
This Editor’s Preamble was originally published as part of the interview with Robert Jennings for the Circulation Research series Profiles in Cardiovascular Science. The original article is available online at http://circres.ahajournals.org/content/109/5/482.full
- © 2015 American Heart Association, Inc.