Quiet commitment

Colleagues describe Farwell Award co-winner Bernedine Lund as 'the glue that holds everything together'
Bernedine Lund
Bernedine Lund has spent 26 years caring, nurturing and supporting life at the Center — from plants to the people, who respect her accomplishments and appreciate her sincere and thoughtful demeanor. Lund serves as a liaison between the scientific and operational needs of researchers for the Woman's Health Initiative. She has been keeping the landmark study organized since 1993. Photo by Dean Forbes

Juggling a lot of responsibility comes naturally to Bernedine Lund. And it's a good thing, because as the technical director of one of the world's largest clinical trials, she has a lot on her plate.

In her position at the Women's Health Initiative, Lund serves as a liaison between the scientific and operational needs for researchers. WHI is a 15-year, multimillion dollar project that focuses on strategies for preventing heart disease, breast and colorectal cancer, and osteoporotic fractures in postmenopausal women. The study is extensive; there have been about 1,000 staff involved and more than 160,000 participants nationwide. People who work with Lund say she has her fingerprints on nearly all of it.

"There are few decisions made, documents designed or reports generated that have not originated with, been edited by or received the stamp of approval from Bernedine," said Doris Nodtvedt, project manager at WHI Clinical Coordinating Center.

Lund, who has been with the Center since 1980, has been keeping the WHI study organized since 1993. This has been an especially challenging year for the Clinical Coordinating Center; the clinical trial ended last September, and the staff faced the arduous task of moving the study into the extension phase. Helping to make it all happen was the unassuming Lund, quietly keeping track of all the details — and her colleagues took note.

A perfect candidate

For the past 12 years, the Margaret T. Farwell Award has been presented to a non-faculty staff member who significantly contributed to the work of the Public Health Sciences Division. So earlier this year, when the nominations were under way, WHI faculty and staff felt that Lund was a perfect candidate. "As soon as we received the request for nominations, there was a lot of excitement and support for Bernedine among the managers and staff," Nodtvedt said. Lund shares the 2006 Farwell Award with Sandy Walbrek.

Described by colleagues during the nomination process as the glue that holds everything together, Lund modestly believes that doing her job isn't anything special. She said that keeping track of so much complex data is just a part of her. "I feel like I'm just being me," Lund said.

Records and relationships

One of her responsibilities is to work with 40 clinical centers to supply the investigators with all of the specimens needed for ancillary studies. At any given time, there are about 20 ancillary studies using blood specimens, and those studies draw blood from a repository of 4.5 million samples, which Lund has helped organize since 1993. To keep track of it all, she developed a color-coded chart — updated several times a month — of ancillary studies with data on the number of samples needed, the DNA, plasma and pull numbers. For some, it might be dizzying to deal with that much information, but Lund has a different take. "That's the part I like, trying to create something that helps us track what we're doing," she said.

While maintaining records is a crucial part of her work, Lund's colleagues felt her ability to work with people was just as important. "Those who know Bernedine respect her accomplishments and appreciate her sincere and thoughtful demeanor. She is as concerned with people as she is with the job," Nodtvedt said. "A self-professed introvert, Bernedine has worked hard to increase her personal awareness of others and has become a real advocate for staff, smoothing over more difficult situations than most of us would care to admit."

Lund agrees that her work is a nice mix of professionalism with personal touches. "I really like it when I can help people. I think I help people in terms of being efficient in their work. And what I appreciate even more is that they see me as somebody they can come and talk to about problems," she said.

According to one colleague, her caring nature toward people extends to other living things as well. An avid gardener, Lund's office walls are covered with pictures of flowers. As stated in a nomination form from Deb Bessette, an administrative coordinator in the Cancer Prevention Program, "I have known Bernedine for more than 20 years. I used to watch her crawl out her office window at the Westlund Building to water the rhododendrons on the patio. The door to the patio was always locked and the poor rhodys would get pretty wilted. Everyone who knows Bernedine knows her love of plants and birds, and well, I guess, of most living creatures."

Long history of contributions

That nurturing spirit also helps colleagues set priorities and move forward with their work. "I look at my job as making sure that other people have what they need to get their jobs done," she said.

Lund has a long history of making contributions to the Center. Twenty-six years ago, while a graduate student in the University of Washington's biostatistics program at University of Washington, she began working as a research assistant for statistical analysis and quality control at the Center. Information was handled a little differently then, which makes her laugh. "I didn't know anything about computers at that time. That was back in 1980, and we actually got data from the cancer centers on tape — big tape," she said.

Since those days, many changes have taken place at the Center. But one thing will remain a constant. Lund plans to see the WHI study through to the end, which is scheduled for 2011. She doesn't see how it could be any other way. "I just feel incredibly fortunate to be placed at the Center. I can't imagine working any place else. It feels like a second home to me, and I'm just impressed with the quality of people who work here and the dedication that people have."

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