Job Well Done

March 5, 2003

David Leiva

Calvin Lanclos stood by and casually listened as Andrew Lackner read off one accolade after another. Lanclos couldn't quite put his finger on it, but it all sounded vaguely familiar. Why shouldn't it? It came from his recent employee evaluation. With several hundred people piled into the Abita Quail Farm, Lackner, director of the Tulane National Primate Research Center, presented Lanclos with the center's "Staff Employee of the Year" award at the annual holiday party in December.

The achievement was a first for Lanclos, a medical research specia ist in the microbiology and imm-unology division, and marked the revival of an honor that had been dormant for more than a decade. His procedures, work and dedication got him noticed.

"Calvin was ultimately chosen because of his obscurity," quipped executive secretary Rita Duck, who sat on the selection committee. That obscurity comes with the territory. His job doesn't call for regular office hours, so there's not a lot of interaction in the lunchroom. In fact, it's pretty common to find him at night in the flow cytometry laboratoryalso known as "the cave"running blood samples.

Alone, with only a jug of coffee and a boom box tuned to WWNO. Sometimes, he might go unnoticed for weeks. Others were happy just to see the award return, which Lackner, who signed on in October 2001, had made a priority.

"Anything we can do to inspire our staff is our duty," said Mary Little, Staff Advisory Council chair and medical research technician at the primate center. "It makes us proud of where we work."

A form, based upon the one used for the Tulane Staff Excellence Award, circulated throughout the center. Staff members nominated seven of their peers, and a seven-person committee carefully reviewed the nominations before selecting Lanclos. The tough part was getting him to attend the party. In 17 years, Lanclos had never made the end-of-the-year party because he had always left town to visit his family, who still live in his hometown of Opelousas.

This time, though, the staff got creative. "I told him we needed to have a good showing at the party because it was Dr. Lackner's first as the director," recalled a chuckling and soft-spoken Louis Martin, a research scientist and Lanclos' immediate supervisor. It was Martin who wrote a supporting letter after Preston Marx, the division chair, nominated Lanclos. The four-month process culminated on Dec. 20, with one surprised research specialist.

But, truth is, if it hadn't been for a bit of bad luck, Lanclos might never have worked a day at the primate center. In the mid-'70s, fresh out of college with a business degree from the University of Louisiana Lafayette, he ran a large retail outlet in Gretna before being promoted to a Metairie location. But a bad breakan injury to his lumbar diskrequired surgery.

Unable to endure the long hours on his feet, he returned to school, initially taking graduate-level English and creative-writing courses, but increasingly he gravitated to the sciences, a strong suit dating to his high school days when he was class valedictorian. Lanclos considered a bachelor's in science but eventually left the university to earn a two-year degree as a medical technician at a local vo- tech school. Then fate intervened.

Six months after graduation, at the suggestion of a relative, Lanclos interviewed with Martin, then the division chair, for a position at the primate center. That was in 1985. Today, Lanclos splits 12-hour shifts in the lab with Julie Bruhn, also a medical research specialist.

"It's the same technology [as in 1985], but the specific experiments are constantly changing," he said. But some things never change. Like the personal reward and sense of fulfillment. "You usually find someone in the arts who is happy [with his or her job]," he said. "You don't usually find that in the day-to-day grind. But I do here."

David Leiva can be reached at

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000