OBITUARY

Dr. William Robert "Bill" Brinkley

May 31, 1936November 11, 2020
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Dr. William Robert (“Bill”) Brinkley, passed away on Wednesday, November 11, 2020, following declining health in recent years. He was 84 years old. Bill was born in Weldon, Texas, on May 31, 1936, to Lee and Roxie Saline (Bass) Brinkley. Bill spent his early years exploring the Piney Woods of East Texas in and around the towns of Conroe and Willis, where he attended primary through high school. Bill was the youngest of five siblings.

In 1959, Bill earned his undergraduate degree in Biology from Sam Houston State University, where he later taught Biology and maintained the school's small natural history museum. He received a Master's Degree in Biology under Dr. James "Jimmy" Long in 1961. Bill earned his PhD in the lab of John H. D. Bryan at Iowa State University in 1964, followed by NIH post-doctoral training with Tao-Chiuh Hsu at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (1964-1965), where he was an Assistant and Associate Professor of Biology until 1972. Bill then accepted a position as Professor of Cell Biology at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (1972-77), where he also acted as Director of the NIH Comprehensive Cancer Center (1975-77). Bill then served as Professor of Cell Biology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas (1977-85). In 1986, Bill relocated to Birmingham, Alabama, to accept positions as Professor and Chairman of Cell Biology at the University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB), as well as the Director of the Gregory Fleming James Cystic Fibrosis Research Center (1986-91). Bill returned to his Texas roots (and Baylor College of Medicine) in 1991, to become Professor and Vice Chairman in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Vice President for Graduate Sciences, and Dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. From 2004-2010, Bill also served as Senior Vice President for Graduate Sciences. Bill concluded his career as Dean Emeritus of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Baylor College of Medicine.

Among his numerous accolades, Bill was a member of the Institute of Medicine and served as President of organizations including the American Society for Cell Biology, the International Federation for Cell Biology, and the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. His contributions to the field were significant and included over 150 peer-reviewed publications. He served on numerous journal editorial boards, including Journal of Cell Biology and Cell, and was longtime Editor-in-Chief of Cell Motility and the Cytoskeleton. Among his many prestigious awards, Bill received the National Medal for Science Advocacy from the Australian Society for Medical Research and a Merit Award from the National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, for his research on cell division and genomic instability in tumor cells. In 2014, Bill was awarded the E.B. Wilson Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the American Society for Cell Biology. For the duration of his career, he enjoyed sustained funding from the NIH and other foundations.

The thrust of Bill’s research focused on characterizing how human cells divide and defining the mitotic apparatus, a cellular structure that separates the genome during mitosis. Bill may have been best known for characterizing and visualizing the kinetochore, a complex protein structure that guides chromosomes to split evenly between daughter cells during the mitosis and meiosis stages of cell division. He also made key contributions in cellular replication and developmental biology. Throughout his career, Bill touched the lives of numerous scientists and students as a collaborator, mentor, and friend. Bill always took great pride in watching his research family flourish.

Beyond his professional accomplishments, his devotion to his wife, son, and students will be remembered as his most significant contribution. Bill was a passionate naturalist and enjoyed hunting, fishing, nature photography, and taxidermy.

Bill is preceded in death by his father Lee, mother Roxie, sister Doris, brother Lee (“Sonny”), sister Helen, and brother Gordon (“Buck”). He is survived by his loving wife Shirley of Houston and son Kevin of Oakland, California. He is also survived by many nieces, nephews, friends and colleagues.

A visitation will be held from 5-7pm on Friday, November 20 at Metcalf Funeral Home, 1801 E. White Oak Terrace, Conroe, TX 77304. A graveside service will be held at 10am on Saturday, November 21 at the County Line Cemetery, FM 3081 and Brown Road, Willis, TX. 77378. For those who will not be able to attend, the service will be available through Facebook Livestream. Please click on the link under service information. In the event of inclement weather, the graveside service will be moved to the chapel at Metcalf Funeral Home.

In lieu of flowers, the family encourages those wishing to make charitable contributions in Bill’s memory to donate to the Alzheimer’s Association (Alz.org), the County Line Cemetery Association (P.O. Box 1635 Conroe, Texas 77305), or a charity of their choice.

Fond memories and expressions of sympathy may be shared with the Brinkley family by clicking the "Add a Memory" tab.

  • FAMILY

  • Shirley Brinkley, Wife
  • Kevin Brinkley, Son
  • Numerous nieces, nephews, other family members and a host of friends and colleagues are also left to treasure his memory.

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Services

  • Visitation

    Friday, November 20, 2020

  • Graveside Service and Interment

    Saturday, November 21, 2020

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Memories

Dr. William Robert "Bill" Brinkley

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Gaye Wise

November 24, 2020

Shirley and Kevin, I was so sorry to hear that you lost Bill. I fondly remember Bill and Shirley living in my Grandmother Graham’s rent house next door to her on Longmire in Conroe when they were in school at Sam Houston. I think that is when I discovered the kinship connection to Shirley through the Dean side of our heritage.

I know you will dearly miss Bill. I remember him as a lovely man. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

Gaye Wise

Michael Jones

November 21, 2020

I have very fond memories of Uncle Billy. I went and spent time with him at his home. We went fishing one day in the bay and we saw a shark, Uncle Billy took the boat paddle and hit the shark on the head.
We also had a great time deer hunting, . I have great memories that I will cherish forever.
Aunt Shirley and Kevin , We send Condolences , Love , and Prayers

Love , Mike & Tina Jones

Ray Zinkowski

November 21, 2020

Wow, so many memories of Dr. B, don't know where to start. I was his first graduate student in 1986 at UAB and the only one to graduate when he left in 1991. He was such a good mentor. We published a lot of papers together and spent so much time trying to figure out the structure of the kinetochore. Together, we figured out the 3-D structure of the kinetochore and published key parers on this. So much excitement on each and every discovery. He was also on my wife's graduate committee (Patty) and a great mentor to her in EM techniques and cell biology. We were both under his wing and he always looked out for us. And, he was so important in forwarding our scientific careers, it was unbelievable. He tried to recruit me to Baylor, but instead I did the BioTech path. He supported me with this and always wanted to know what was happening and giving me scientific advice. It's just amazing how Bill was so supportive of his students. I have so many photos of us, but that was in the pre digital world, so it will take some time to find them, scan them and post them. But in the mean time, I want to offer my condolences to Shirley, Kevin, Mike and the rest of the family. Patty and I are so sad that Bill passed, we thought he would live forever, but, he will in our memories and prayers. Thank you Dr. B, you will always be cherished and not forgotten in our household.

Lynn Zechiedrich

November 21, 2020

Here is a lovely photo of Bill that was shot by Baylor College of Medicine's incomparable photographer Lindsey Lampp in 2011 at a reception honoring his outstanding service to the College. That smile! This photo sums Bill in a word: joy.

Sari Brenner Mahon

November 21, 2020

Bill was an excellent scientist, wonderful mentor to me, a friend and colleague for life. I will think of him often, and smile with the memory.

Gayle Slaughter

November 19, 2020

Bill Brinkley, PhD was a rare combination of nature enthusiast, innovative scientist, great storyteller and visionary who worked to make his ideas reality. His enthusiasm for understanding and explaining cell division and its role in cancer cemented his international reputation. None of us will forget his insightful and hilarious stories about being one of the only US scientists visited by the Director of the Moscow Cardiology Institute on the first US/Russian research exchange. Bill wanted to make this visitor feel at home, so he told him that Russia might not be a bad place to work, but he couldn’t give up hunting. The Director told him that if he came to Russia, he would take him on a great hunting trip. Before he knew it, Bill was being instructed by the State Department on protocol for his trip. Yes, he went hunting with the best scope he had ever seen and a laugh-until-you-cried story of the adventure.

Bill was one of the first scientists to realize that we needed to educate and woo Congress to increase funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). As President of the American Society of Cell Biologists he created a Public Policy Committee and hired 2 experts to develop the Congressional Biomedical Caucus and introduce them to scientists, many of whom were Nobel Prize winners. Most representatives had no idea that the NIH funded grants for research and education in their states. He helped found Research!American that polled citizens and showed Congress how much people supported biomedical funding. He led the successful move to double the NIH budget in 5 years.

He helped create GREAT, the first national group for leaders in biomedical graduate programs affiliated with US medical schools and served as its President. That organization n improved training programs for the next generation of scientists, one of his true passions.

Thank you, Shirley and Kevin for sharing Bill with us.

Gayle Slaughter

November 19, 2020

Bill Brinkley, PhD was a rare combination of nature enthusiast, innovative scientist, great storyteller and visionary who worked to make his ideas reality. His enthusiasm for understanding and explaining cell division and its role in cancer cemented his international reputation. None of us will forget his insightful and hilarious stories about being one of the only US scientists visited by the Director of the Moscow Cardiology Institute on the first US/Russian research exchange. Bill wanted to make this visitor feel at home, so he told him that Russia might not be a bad place to work, but he couldn’t give up hunting. The Director told him that if he came to Russia, he would take him on a great hunting trip. Soon Bill was being instructed by the State Department on protocol for his trip. Yes, he went hunting with the best scope he had ever seen and a laugh-until-you-cried story of the adventure.

Bill was one of the first scientists to realize that we needed to educate and woo Congress to increase funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). As President of the American Society of Cell Biologists he created a Public Policy Committee and hired 2 experts to develop the Congressional Biomedical Caucus and introduce them to scientists, many of whom were Nobel Prize winners. Most representatives had no idea that the NIH funded grants for research and education in their states. He helped found Research!American that polled citizens and showed Congress how much people supported biomedical funding. He led the successful move to double the NIH budget in 5 years.

He helped create GREAT, the first group for leaders in biomedical graduate programs affiliated with US medical schools and served as its President. GREAT helped improve training programs for the next generation of scientists, one of Bill's passions.

Thank you, Shirley and Kevin for sharing Bill with us.

Rebecca Hall

November 18, 2020

Bill was not only an inspirational scientist, but also the quintessential mentor for so many of us that went on to careers in research and medicine. He was an advisor on my thesis committee even when he must have been so very busy with his duties as Dean of the Graduate School at BCM. He never gave up on me and continued to be my mentor as I navigated my career, and eventually found my way many years later. The true value of the early insight into research advocacy and opportunities to learn that he gave became clear to me to as a grew. I am so thankful to have met him and been one of the mentees he helped out of the pure kindness of his heart with many entertaining stories about armadillos and one unfortunate cat along the way. Thank you, Bill. The world misses you.

Nicol Williams

November 18, 2020

Words cannot express , You will be forever missed ,(Doc) , It was an honor taking care of you you made me feel like a family member and for that I will forever be grateful . I’ll always miss you naming each bird on our evening walks , something I could never do without your help . So spread your wings and fly. Your caregiver

Bill Schrader

November 17, 2020

I was saddened to learn of Bill's death. We had been colleagues and close friends for all of his years at Baylor. In his latter time as dean of the Graduate School, I had the privilege of being his assistant dean. So as both his employee and fellow faculty member in the original "Cell Biology" department I got to see his easy abilities to deal with complicated issues on both the scientific and educational fronts. He helped build a world-class effort in microscopy of cells, with key recruits and his own hands-on work.
He was also the best raconteur I've ever known! I'm sure many of his best stories had been "stretched" a bit, but the listener always went along for the ride to the punchline. One quick recollection in his memory: On a cold New Years Day at his Lake Livingston house, he and his nephew watched a buck deer come out of the woods and enter the lake from Bill's lawn. The water was cold, the lake was wide! Bill & co. decided they HAD to get his boat down and rescue the deer! They reached the deer and lassoed him to the side of their boat to tow him back. A nearby fisherman watched as they returned and hollered [according to Bill] "WHATCHACATCHHIMON?" --Pure Bill! I'll miss him..
Fond thoughts to Shirley and Kevin from Bill and Phyllis Schrader [now long away from Houston] at this difficult time.

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