Outlook: A Quarterly Newsletter of the Society of Behavorial Medicine
Spring/Summer 2009 Return to Outlook Main page >>

In Memoriam: Thomas G. Pickering

William Gerin, PhD, SBM Fellow

Our beloved colleague and friend, Tom Pickering, passed away May 14. Tom had been ill for the past several months, and the end was not unexpected. It was, as such endings go, peaceful and without pain. He leaves behind his wife Janet, and sons Robert and William.

I had the privilege of working closely with Tom for the greater part of the past three decades. He was, in fact, my post-doctoral mentor, and brought me into this field. His influence on me, and, more importantly, on the way we as a field think about the role of psychosocial factors in the development of hypertension, was, and continues to be, immense. His quiet insistence on assessment of blood pressure in the natural environment, getting it out of the clinic and the laboratory, have changed the standard for its assessment. For example, his seminal work in the study of white coat hypertension has had an impact on the way many primary care physicians and hypertension specialists regard clinic blood pressure measures. Changing the way medicine is practiced, to incorporate lessons from the field of behavioral medicine, is one of the major goals of the field, but is rarely realized. This was only one of the many areas in which Tom's influence changed the direction of the research and of the clinical translation.

In addition to his impact on the research, Tom's influence will be felt due to the many young - and often, not so young - researchers and physicians he has mentored over the years. Mostly, this was not a formal process; Tom said "no" to nobody who came seeking guidance. Whether they were officially connected with our lab carried no weight whatsoever. Tom was available to all comers.

Tom garnered a respect from his colleagues that is rare. He had a reputation for bravery and unorthodoxy in his ideas, and for meticulous and creative science. In addition, his demeanor, one of quiet courtesy and of forgiveness of the lack of such qualities in others, drew people to him, created the foundation for collaborations that spanned decades, and a range of content areas that would have represented productive careers for a platoon of investigators. There was not a researcher I ever met who was not, or would not have been, excited to work with him. Yet, underlying all this was a great humility and modesty. Losing Tom is a great personal loss for those of us who knew him, and for the field that he loved and inspired.