The Eastern PA Branch lost one our  long time members,  Jim Prier, who passed away on August 20, 2012 at the age of 88.  Jim was a Past Present, organized the first of our long series of symposia, authored several of the branch book publications, and was active in a wide range of Branch activities until his health started to fail.   Jim was honored by the Branch in 2004 at our 9th Annual Distinguished Branch Member Lectureship.    What follows was published in materials for that program.

Biographical Sketch of Dr. James E. Prier,  Distinguished Branch Honoree

April 26, 2004
651st  Monthly Program
Eastern Pennsylvania Branch,  American Society for Microbiology

Lecture Presented by
Mark S. Birenbaum, PhD
American Association of Bioanalysts
“Are the Feds Waiving Goodbye to the CLIA Regulations of Clinical Laboratory Testing?”

Dr. Prier received his D.V.M. from Cornell University, a M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Illinois and a J.D. from Southland University in California. Needless to say Dr. Prier has had a very diverse career. This career includes a central base of veterinary science and medical microbiology which branched out into industry, academia, government service, policy, public health, business and law. This is in addition to his very significant contributions to our Branch.

A native of New York (b. Staten Island 20 July 1924) he started his professional education as a student at the Agricultural College at Cornell University with a few interruptions due to World War II and the US Army. After completing his studies in 1946 he took a brief position at Lederle Laboratories in Pearl River working on new formulations for the sulfonarnides. In 1946 he decided to go West to The University of Illinois at Urbana as a researCh veterinarian in the Department of Veterinary Pathology with permission to also enroll in the graduate school there. His next move (1950-53) was to the University of Wyoming as Chairman of the Department of Bacteriology while finishing his Ph.D. thesis in absentia. In 1953 he made the move back to his native state at the State University of New York Medical Center at Syracuse and accepted a dual appointment in the Faculty of Medicine in the Department of Microbiology and Attending Bacteriologist at City and University Hospitals. The Department also served as a branch laboratory for the New York Public Health Laboratory. Dr. Prier focused most of his attention on virology and participated in some of the key aspects of the Salk polio vaccine field testing.

He came to the Philadelphia area when he shifted his career back to industry in 1956 by accepting a position with Merck & Co., West Point, PA in charge of product developmentfor animal health. In 1960 he accepted a position as a virologist in the Department of Microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and in 1964 made a significant decision to enter the world of Public Health when he accepted the position as Assistant Director (and then Director) of the Pennsylvania State Laboratories then located in Philadelphia. He held this position until 1974 when he made the decision to become his own employer and enter the wotld of private veterinary practice. However, during this time he did not remain idle in between taking care of his animal patients. The following are just someofthe activities that filled those spare moments during the time he t:ntered private practice and the present: Attending Professor of Microbiology, Temple University; Associate Director Penndel Medical Laboratory; Professor of Microbiology and Director of Comparative Medicine Laboratory, PCOM; Director of Clinical Laboratory Program, Department of Health, New Jersey; and teaching positions at Harcum Junior College and Beaver College.

He started attending our Branch meetings in the late 1950’s and while president of the Branch (1972-3) he worked with the previous president, Herman Friedman; to get bench technicians and technologists more involved in the Branch. This resulted in a significant increase in membership. They also initiated the first Branch Symposium which was a great success and started a tradition that continues to the present. Dr. Prier wasBranch president during the 1972 ASM General Meeting when it was held in Philadelphia and has served the Branch in officer and committee positions for over forty years. This short summary does not come close in capturing his complete career.

As our Branch honoree Dr. Prier was requested to provide a detailed autobiographical sketch, the section headings he employed for this project are as follows:

The Early Years
A War Came Along
First Job
A Trip to lllinois
On to the Everlasting Hills
So, Back to Upstate New York Again
Pennsylvania Here I Come
How I Learned to Distrust Deans
My Life as a Bureaucrat
The Frightening Thought of Self-Employment
The Other Things That Keep One Busy
My Favorite Organization

What follows are a few excerpts from that autobiographical sketch. The full text is deposited in the Branch Archives. If you are interested in receiving the full text electronically please contact me at and I will e-mail you his attempt to summarize the first eight decades of this interesting series of events.

James A. Poupard


Perhaps the least noticed event of the day (20 July 1924) was that at five twenty A.M., in St. Elizabeth Hospital on Staten Island, I was born. (The estimated life span at this time was 54.1 years; glad I didn’t understand that prediction.) The fIrst acquaintance I had that day was a new intern, Dr. Leedham who was serving his first round on OB-Gyn. It is a curious coincidence that 40 years from that day Leedham and I met again when we were both Bureau Directors in the Pennsylvania Department of Health. It is postulated by some that childhood impressions have significant effect on intentional actions in later life. I do recall that, as the depression began, my father lost his business and our home property and we moved to less costly premises. And soon thereafter he became ill, presumably from a respiratory infection and I sat by his bedside as he died. Itwas a time when infectious disease touched upon us frequently. Entire families in the neighborhood died or were ill with tuberculosis. Sanitariums over-flowed with patients, and school children were examined frequently for the disease. Red and black signs were posted on houses announcing quarantine for scarlet fever and we all passed through episodes of measles, mumps chickenpox and typhoid fever. City clinics were filled with children receiving immunizations for tetanus and diphtheria and regardless cases of both were commonplace.


As a citizen of the State of New York, I was entitled to enter the Agricultural College at Cornell University without significant tuition payment. Nevertheless, I was able to enter nearly any course provided. Therefore I chose a pre-veterinary course, the nearest to a medical curriculum available. At 17 years of age I was able to enlist in the army reserves with the expectation of being called to active duty on my 18th birthday. This did occur. The army required veterinary personnel in order to provide inspection of food products and there was an inadequate number for this purpose. Therefore, eligible enlisted personnel were assigned for duty as veterinary students and after a few months I was ordered back to Cornell for this purpose. In 1945 the War was moving toward termination, and we were returned to civilian status, but allowed to finish the veterinary course at government expense.


In 1949 I made my first trip to Philadelphia in order to investigate a position at the University of Pennsylvania and an opportunity to finish my graduate studies there. I met with General KeIser who was the Dean of the Veterinary School. He referred me to the Medical School and Dr. Stuart Mudd. I sat before this imposing gentleman and learned what a tough time I would have as a graduate student. The Great Plains of Illinois seemed much more attractive, so I returned there in great haste.


My associate in the Department, (the Bacteriology Dept at the Univ. of Wyorning), Dr. Richard Thomas, was a competent microbiologist and teacher. We did find time to do a few other things such as discovering that audio stress of mice decreased resistance to bacterial infection, and that materials from a local junkyard could be used to construct an adequate lyophilizer. The latter, in fact, was described in an issue of SCIENCE. We were not smart enough to seek a patent, and one year later the Virtis Company marketed a shiny version of our contraption. Part of our teaching curriculum included studies of antimicrobials, using steel chambers in Petri dishes. One morning Thomas asked me to look over a report from a couple of guys in Philadelphia. They had simply cut out discs with a paper punch and dipped them into the antibiotic to be tested and laid them on the agar surface. The two fellows names were Bondi and Spaulding. The procedure was included in our 1952 issue of “An lllustrated Guide for Introductory Bacteriology” by Thomas and Prier, published byBurgess Publishing Co., Minneapolis. Of course, it was another coincidence that less than 10 years later I would become friends of both, and be conducting graduate studies as a member of Dr. Spaulding’s Department.

These few years’ experience taught me some important lessons. Following the example of Dr. Mueller I was impressed with the importance of teaching medical students. It was not just the elements of microbiology, but also the connection with infectious disease. We were expected to be in contact with patients as well as process laboratory materials, and discuss it all with students. This was possible with small classes ofless than 50 students. In addition, classes were attended by other faculty and performance critiqued without reservation. This was a type of teaching that no longer exists today. Now medical student life is a multiple choice existence. In 1955 it was an exercise in creativity for both student and teacher, and we all learned together. Some years later I had occasion to meet with one of these students. He had gone on to a doctorate in microbiology and a deanship at a medical school. His name is Frank Young and at the time we last met he was the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. Whether truth or not, he said that I had contributed to his choosing the path he had taken. And this is the sort of thing that made it all worth while.

The value of science faculties was based upon the amount of grant money they generated. These pressures resulted in secondary emphasis on teaching and placing it in a category of a necessary evil. My perception of these changes was that it was in danger of causing detrimental effects upon the primary objective of a teaching institution. And the administrators of our School seemed to stand in awe of both profit and esoteric science. As I result I remembered the advice, paraphrased, by my friend, Justus Mueller. This was that if you have an idea or opinion, stand up and say so. However, he never instructed me in the benefits of diplomacy. Accordingly, I published an essay and some commentaries on the deficiencies developing in academic institutions, and specifically in veterinary schools. I was advised, rather bluntly, that if I didn’t agree with policy it was time to move on.

Sales persons are a good source of information of all kind. A visit by one about this time provided the information that the Pennsylvania State Laboratory was looking for an Assistant Director. So I arranged for a meeting and five days later was offered the position. Soon after, I was also offered an Attending Professor of Microbiology position in the Medical and Graduate Schools of Temple University. And this continued for the next 12 years.

My introduction into the world of public health was not without excitement. The first lesson to master was that no segment of work in public health is without political implications. The second was that the road to success is directly related to skill innegotiation with the right persons, and the third was to be kind to your boss because he holds the axe. The laboratory was located on the grounds of the original Gennan Hospital (Lankenau) in the building that once housed the facility now known as the Fox Chase Cancer Institute, a research organization started with Wanamaker grants. The facilities were in need of renovation and over the next few years we added another building and finally moved into the neighboring building, the Henry Landis State Hospital, a tuberculosis sanitarium. After one year, the Director of the Division of Laboratories, Dr. Ralph Hogan resigned and I was appointed Director by the Secretary of Health. My experience with the Division (subsequently raised to Bureau status) and particularly its personneJ has led me to consistently take issue with anyone who criticize the quality of government public health laboratories.

For the first time in my life I was without the security of a regular salary and employer. Not to be daunted, I established one veterinary practice and bought two others. It resulting in the excitement of resolving such problems as expenses exceeding income and the insistence of the federal government that all taxes be paid on time. Also, I learned that 20 employees equals twenty daily problems. But we survived and a few years later my son joined me in practice. Later some of the business was sold and today I operate a part time remnant.

Along the way a few other things happened. Back in the early fifties I gave thought to trying to become a lawyer. It seemed to me that Clarence Darrow and a few others-were pretty cool guys. In those days one could follow in Darrow’s foot steps and qualify by reading the law with guidance and take the state bar exam. But other activities intervened and I quit, although I still have some early mementos of the effort. In the early 1980’s I discovered that although state bars required attendance in residence in ABA approved law schools, some states, including California and The District of Columbia, made exceptions. California approved schools that offered off campus studies in a special program requiring at least 4 years of study and passing examinations along the way. Since I was not able to spare time for resident study, this sounded like an alternative. Since I had no intention of practicing law (Darrow lost his appeal) it sounded like a good idea and I enrolled. After coping with the arduous task of summoning up sufficient selfdiscipline I finally received enough passing grades to qualify as an applicant for the California bar exam. It took a couple of shots or so, but one summer day in San Diego I was sworn into the bar as a full fledged attorney. Some years later I was admitted by reciprocity to the District of Columbia Bar, the second largest in the U.S. A point relevant to this back door to law is that although California permits several routes to qualification, the state bar exam is the most difficult to pass. At the two or three times I took the exam the pass rates varied from about 26% to 38%. It is a great exam for applicants to estimate the level of their stupidity and mine I estimated as quite elevated. I hope no one will ask why I did this. I haven’t the slightest idea.

Sometime in the late 1950’s I began regular attendance at the Branch meetings. In those days the Group was somewhat elitist, consisting of members of the basic research community. A good turnout would be from 25 to 40 members, meeting at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. In a good year the available funds of the Branch would reach $450.00. Nevertheless, it was a congenial group oflasting friends, as, I believe it remains today. One of the very active members of the group was Herman Friedman of Temple University. Around 1970 he became Branch President and I was to follow him after a two year tenure. We worked well together and developed plans for the future of the Branch. At the top of the agenda was to devise a method to increase membership. Up to that time, membership consisted mostly of doctoral level microbiologists at universities and colleges with a few from industry. Friedman held a position as clinical microbiologist at Albert Einstein North and had daily contact with teclmicians, associates and others who expressed interest in having an orgaruzation to help expand their information and interests. We decided to present to the Executive Committee a plan to invite all persons interested in clinical, basic, and any other area of microbiology to become members of the Branch. The membership roles grew rapidly. The next issue that came to mind was to establish some format for continuing education. Two approaches were started. One was to develop appropriate visual aid, particularly slide sets and special training sessions. The other was to initiate annual symposia on specific topics of clinical or research interest. The first was a symposium of Rubella which brought over 200 peoples from enough countries to consider it an international meeting. To say the least, it was a success. It became the procedure to publish each symposium in book form. Unfortunately, for several reasons, this was not done after the first 10 or 12 years.

Somewhere in those early years a problem developed. The National ASM Office advised us that any such educational projects must come from them and not be originated from the Branch. It was indicated that we understood their position and would take the  necessary steps to abdicate from the National, at least for these purposes. Mysteriously, the problem disappeared. In 1972 the National Meeting was held in Philadelphia, at the time I was serving a term as President of the Branch. I believe this was the last time the annual meeting was held in Philadelphia. At the time there was comment that it would not be held here again because of significant problems with the Convention Center. At that time, and perhaps now, the Eastern Pennsylvania Branch was considered to be the most active and innovative of all. Whether true or not, my personal opinion is that it is an unusual family of very competent microbiologists and one that I continue to this day to leam a great deal from. And for nearly 40 years they have been my friends


This, in very brief review, is the story of the eight decades of my life. It is neither particularly noteworthy nor is it quite yet over. Membership on four organizational boards, a relatively busy practice and some opportunities to fire barbs at my colleagues give me significant enjoyment. Also, I try hard tounderstand what has happened to microbiology as I once understood the subject. It is an impression that some change has limited merit in that it has shed the past with too great haste. For example, the Surgeon General’s statement of 1969 that all infectious disease has been conquered is supplanted by the notion that infectious diseases can be eradicated based on the World Health Organization’s political position regarding smallpox. It may be similar to the search for Iraq’s mysterious weapons of mass destruction. And I am sure that the mysterious DNA free prion has been over defined, despite the Nobel Committee’s opinion to the contrary. But I have, perhaps, had time to learn a few things: that wisdom is not part of university politics; and science and industrial priorities maybe far apart; that traveling to a quiet place and listening to the voices on the wind may give answers not found in meticulously maintained scientific records. It also may be that today’s facts may sometimes become tomorrow’s theories, and sometimes discards. And I have learned never to underestimate the cunning plans of the members Of the microbial community, for their ability to survive is beyond understanding. Certainly, the best roads to travel are those for which no end is yet known or conceived, and this is the substance of freedom.

And finally, I have learned the real value of friends and family, for they will sustain when all else is lost; It seems that everyone from retirement onward has a psychological darkness as he portends the finality of life. I really haven’t found time to consider this seriously. I did, however, touch upon the subject with tongue in cheek at a meeting on government health issues in 1990.

I closed with this comment: “Finally, if it should be true that there is a place hereafter where we all shall dwell, we might hope that a benevolent Deity has reserved a quiet seclusion for old laboratory . directors, managers and related personnel; and that it shall be devoid of regulators; commissioners, legislators and other assorted government officials. Instead may there be just the important things: a warm breeze across a green vale; a persistent cloudless sky; the laughter of a child; the sweet melody of a bird to greet each blazon mom; and in our valley, peace with 100% coverage and no deductions.” 

James E. Prier

January 10, 2004