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James Winton holding fishing pole sitting on log in foggy beach

Honoring the moments that changed a life

By Katharine de Baun

James Winton (Ph.D. ’81)

James Winton (Ph.D. ’81) remains grateful for how a single microbiology course changed his life. After serving as an officer in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, Winton arrived on campus in the winter of 1971-2 to take some pre-med courses. His first microbiology class struck a spark, and his second, Pathogenic Microbiology, flamed a passion that lasted a lifetime.

The class was taught by John Fryer, the OSU distinguished professor of microbiology, a renowned educator who helped build the foundation for the science of fish diseases and won the Lloyd Carter Award for Outstanding and Inspirational Teaching in Science, among many other national and international awards. Fryer was “charismatic and engaging,” reflects Winton, “able to pull disparate materials and stories together and make you want to know more.”

Fryer’s course fueled Winton’s growing interests. The world of fish pathogens and host defenses combined his long-held love of fish and his interest in medicine. The epiphany came one night when Winton was studying for a Pathogenic Microbiology exam: “I always had to cram hard the night before exams, but when I started going through my notes at 9 p.m. I thought, ‘I know all this stuff!’ – and realized I had absorbed it without conscious effort because it was so interesting.“

Thanks to this eureka moment, Winton dropped his pre-med plans and pursued instead a Ph.D. in microbiology in Fryer’s lab, serving as a teaching assistant in a variety of microbiology courses and as a substitute lecturer for 400-level courses in pathogenic microbiology, virology and fish diseases – areas that would be the center of his research interests for the next 40 years. During his graduate studies, he moved to the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport to help design and run the new facility that would house Dr. Fryer’s research program in marine fish diseases.

After graduating in 1981, Winton remained on the faculty in the Department of Microbiology as a research associate until 1986, when he was recruited to lead the fish health research program at what is now the U.S. Geological Survey’s Western Fisheries Research Center (WFRC) in Seattle, Washington. During a long and fruitful career, Winton published more than 200 scientific papers on topics ranging from viral, bacterial and parasitic infections of fish in the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes, Europe and Asia. As both a federal research scientist and an affiliate professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington, Winton established many academic, industry and government partnerships to bolster fish health around the world, mentored dozens of young scientists and visitors and played a leadership role in establishing the WFRC as an internationally recognized center for fish health research.

Throughout his career, Winton has always been generous with his time and knowledge:

“Even with his stature as an internationally recognized expert in his field, Dr. Winton has always chosen to be open and share his expertise with everyone” said WFRC director Dr. Jill Rolland. “This has led to many incredible collaborations with people interested in fish health nationally and internationally and continues to make WFRC a destination for professors on sabbatical, grad students and folks wanting to do internships with us.”

Retired as of 2017, Winton remains a WFRC Senior Scientist Emeritus and spends a few hours most days working on papers or pursuing experiments that still interest him. When not at the lab, he enjoys reading, fishing, gardening and taking care of a yellow Labrador retriever. He looks forward to his wife’s retirement from her job as a research scientist at the National Marine Fisheries Service laboratory in Seattle and his son’s graduation from Columbia University in New York, where he is pursuing a B.S. in engineering.

Grateful for how much a single microbiology course changed his life, as well as the benefits of a wide and diverse education, Winton feels passionately about giving back:

“It’s important to honor those individuals and institutions that made a difference in your life and to assist those who work in areas you feel are important. Whether it’s time or money, your involvement is critical for ‘paying it forward’ to benefit future generations.”

The College is grateful for Winton’s generous contributions to the John L. Fryer Scholarship Endowment Fund in the Department of Microbiology as well as to his mother for funding the Winton Housing facility at the Marine Science Center and for establishing the Harriet M. Winton Scholarship. She funded the scholarship in appreciation to Fryer for introducing her son to the study of fish diseases and for his mentorship during Winton’s time in the Department of Microbiology.

Read more stories about: alumni and friends, microbiology, scholarships