In Memoriam:  Branche, William C.

In Memoriam: Branche, William C.


William C. Branche, Jr. PhD, ASM Member, died on January 3, 2012.  

After 42 years of federal service, William C. “Bill” Branche, Jr., retired in 2000.  His federal service included his contributions as a Scientific Review Administrator (SRA) at the NIH for 22 years and his laboratory research accomplishments at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center where he worked for 20 years. During his many years as a microbiologist, Branche served on many NIH committees; he was a very active member of ASM, he taught at the collegiate level and he volunteered for many civic and community athletic events.  Following his retirement, he remained active with ASM, and continued his community and academic involvements.  A dedicated microbiology professional and a dedicated mentor, Branche touched and enhanced the lives of many.

Born September 5, 1934 in Washington, DC, Branche graduated from DC’s Dunbar High School in 1952.  In 1956, he earned his BS degree in biology (with honors) from Ohio Wesleyan University.  Later, he earned an MS degree in bacteriology from George Washington University and a Ph.D. in microbiology from the Catholic University of America.

In 1958, Branche began his career as a virologist at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the Department of Bacterial Diseases.  Subsequently, he was promoted to Chief of the Gastroenteritis Section and then to Chief of the Neissseria meningitides Serology Section.  Eventually, he was promoted to Chief of the Infectious Diseases Service Laboratory.  When allergies forced Branche to relinquish his love for laboratory research, he joined Walter Reed’s headquarters as a Health Scientist Administrator.  During his 20-year tenure at Walter Reed, Branche published many articles on Escherichia coli, Shigella fleneri, Neisseria gonorrhea and meningococcal infections.

Branche began his NIH service in 1979 during the inception of the Bacteriology and Mycology 2 (BM2) Study Section in the Infectious Diseases and Microbiology Integrated Review where he served as SRA until his retirement.  He was a dedicated mentor to many junior and seasoned microbiology researchers; and he ensured their representation on his study sections which gave them opportunities to learn the review process.  Many ASM members as well as non-members and others in microbiological research benefited from his scientific expertise and his dedication to ensuring the fairness of the review process.  When he retired in 2000, past and present members of his study section attended the celebration and made presentations of their research data. At the celebration, former ASM Secretary, Anne Morris Hooke of Miami University of Ohio had this to say, while speaking on the behalf of many (as quoted from the March 6, 2001 NIH Record article): “Working with Branche and the members of the BM2 was by far the most enjoyable study section experience I have had...He is an inspiration to all scientists, young or old, black, white and brindle. He kept himself abreast of the technical aspects of our discipline by spending time each year — at his own expense — in someone's lab, he gave of himself as a mentor on the personal level and as a community volunteer in countless activities, he welcomed newcomers with open arms and made us all members of the BM2 family." 

Also, while working at the NIH, Branche was a dedicated contributor to the NIH Extramural Associates (EA) Program.  The EA Program encourages women’s colleges and institutions with predominantly underrepresented minority student enrollments to increase their participation in research by NIH and other federal agencies. Branche served on the EA Advisory Board for several years and also served as chairperson of the EA Board. He conceived the development and training grant program for EA eligible institutions and voluntarily managed the ad hoc committee that reviewed these grant applications. He was also a mentor to those in the EA residency program and participated in many of the related conferences and workshops developed for EA participants. For his many outstanding contributions, he received an NIH Merit Award in 1989 "for superior resourcefulness in fostering improved relationships with the extramural research community and within the NIH."

Branche was a very active member of ASM and worked tirelessly to advance the participation of underrepresented minorities in all phases of the Society’s programs.  His interest and dedication did not go unnoticed.  In 1994 former ASM president Gail Cassell, University of Alabama, Birmingham and then chair of ASM’s Minority Task Force (MTF) appointed Branche to the MTF.  Branche’s long-standing membership in ASM, along with his breadth of knowledge of Society operations together with his familiarity with the credentials of many underrepresented members, made him a key member who provided reliable and valuable input to discussion issues and recommendations.  ASM’s current diversity and inclusion successes can be attributed, in part, to Branche’s significant contributions while serving on ASM’s MTF.

In addition to Branche’s NIH, Walter Reed and ASM work, he was very involved with academic teaching and community events. During the early 1970s, Branche taught biology in the evening program at the Federal City College (now University of the District of Columbia) and after retirement, he taught microbiology to nursing students at the Prince George’s Community College. Branche coached girl soccer teams for the South Bowie Boys and Girls Club, judged local high school science fairs, officiated at swim meets, and served as the president of the Pointer Ridge Swim and Racquet Club in Bowie, MD for 12 years.  He also served as a member of the Board of Directors for Queen Anne School in Upper Marlboro, MD.