Granger poses for his final official portrait as associate vice chancellor for research and SGSHS dean, among other roles. Jay Ferchaud/ UMMC Communications
Granger poses for his final official portrait as associate vice chancellor for research and SGSHS dean, among other roles.
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Granger retires after 33 years at UMMC

Published on Monday, June 26, 2023

By: Andrea Wright Dilworth, awdilworth@umc.edu

Dr. Joey Granger pulls out his iPhone and swells with pride as he swipes through scenic family photos, including him with wife Linda – whom he calls his girlfriend – in Paris, and their six grandchildren and three children at Orange Beach, Alabama.

The beaming faces peeking from his cell phone’s library are the reason he’s decided June 30 is R-Day: when he hangs up his campus ID badge and coveted parking decal and says farewell to the manifold roles he masterfully juggles at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

Granger and wife Linda surrounded by their six grandchildren at the beach this year.
Granger and wife Linda surrounded by their six grandchildren at the beach this year.

After 33 years at UMMC, the Billy S. Guyton Distinguished Professor who wears many hats – not to mention a Cajun apron and occasional Mardi Gras mask that pay homage to his roots – is retiring.

His why now is simple: “To enjoy spending more time traveling to Europe and beaches with my wife and visiting our kids and grandkids and extended family, play a little more golf, and of course my weekly poker tournament with friends.” 

If you count his doctoral training at UMMC – which he does – Granger has spent 36 years here, albeit an eight-year lapse. The Mayo Clinic lured him away as a newly minted PhD to begin his career as a National Institutes of Health trainee and later, assistant professor of physiology and biophysics. Four years later, he was appointed assistant professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School and soon thereafter, associate professor.

He would return after receiving a call from his mentor, Dr. John Hall, Arthur C. Guyton Professor and Chair, and not leave again. Until now.

Granger and wife Linda celebrate his retirement with his former mentor, Dr. John Hall. Joe Ellis/ UMMC Communications
Granger and wife Linda celebrate his retirement with his former mentor, Dr. John Hall.

“I would not change any of it,” said Granger, a native of Erath, Louisiana. “It is a great place to spend a career. I always saw so much potential in UMMC, and there is so much more to accomplish.”

Those who have worked with him, for him, and over him, as well as those who’ve learned from him, say he is an integral thread woven in the fabric of the Medical Center.

A prolific researcher, Granger has brought more than $50 million in extramural funding to the Medical Center and published more than 300 manuscripts, which have been cited more than 25,000 times.

Portrait of Dr. LouAnn Woodward

“Dr. Granger has helped set the bar as one of the Medical Center’s most accomplished researchers and grant writers,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs. “His ability to lead, innovate, research, mentor and recruit with such mastery has made his job look easy. I am grateful for his selflessness over the years in taking on multiple leadership roles and helping to bring national and international acclaim to our research mission, and I wish him the best in his retirement.” 

Perhaps most indicative of his impact at the Medical Center are the five torches he is carrying: associate vice chancellor for research, dean of the School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences, and director of three programs: Cardiovascular-Renal Research Center, Center for Clinical and Translational Research, and Hypertension and Cardiovascular Disease Training Program.

Dr. Scott Rodgers, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and chief academic officer, said it’s hard to imagine UMMC without Granger’s steady hand, visionary ideas and transformative mindset.

Portrait of Dr. Scott Rodgers

“Dr. Granger is one of those people who walk the halls and define the UMMC culture by their very presence,” said Rodgers. “He is respected and greatly admired for the longstanding quality of his research programs as well as for his superb leadership of the School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences.”

Hall, his doctoral mentor, said Granger’s leadership of the SGSHS has been transformational and that his research, especially in the fields of preeclampsia and hypertension, has been recognized internationally with the highest honors by organizations including the American Heart Association.

Then and now: Granger with Dr. John Hall in 1996 and 2023.
Then and now: Granger with Dr. John Hall in 1996 and 2023.

“Joey has established a legacy of excellence in leadership, research, education and mentoring,” said Hall. “But, perhaps his most important legacy at UMMC is his outstanding mentorship of many young scientists and health care professionals who themselves have become excellent researchers, educators and leaders in academia.

“I am extremely grateful to Joey for his many contributions to the department, to UMMC, to Mississippi and to the international scientific community. However, I am perhaps most grateful for his friendship over the past 44 years.”

Dr. Sydney Murphy, who succeeds Granger as SGSHS dean on July 1 and was one of his many graduate mentees, said it was his trailblazing research on preeclampsia that began over 25 years ago that helped UMMC become one of the top five NIH-funded institutions in the country in that area.

Following in his footsteps won’t be easy, but she believes he has trained her well, including his perspective to “focus on the big picture.” 

Portrait of Dr. Sydney Murphy

“If I’ve heard him say that once, I’ve heard him say it one thousand times,” said Murphy. “It didn’t matter if we were discussing mechanisms of action of a signaling peptide or policy review. Zooming out provides a perspective that allows one to simplify the issue and focus on the intended goal.”

That philosophy has served Granger well, who drew a blank when asked about obstacles he’s face during his tenure.

“I never saw challenges but continued opportunities for improvement,” he said. “The leadership at UMMC has always been supportive.” 

When it comes to things that have made him proud, though, Granger cited many, including improvements to the PhD programs, the overwhelming successes of the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience and MS in Biomedical Sciences programs, and that the MD/PhD clinical scientist pipeline programs are starting to pay off.

Portrait of Hanna Broome

Dr. Hanna Broome, chief student affairs officer and SGSHS associate dean of student affairs and recruitment, said of the many nuggets she’s learned from Granger, three stand out: One, to always have an agenda for any meeting, even if it’s jotted down on a piece of paper, and two, to bring about positive change, be prepared to back up your reasoning with data, or at the very least, solid logic.

And three: “Dr. Granger has really taught me how to be a strategic thinker in higher education,” said Broome. “I have learned so much from discussions with him over the past five years. He is not only a forward thinker, but he thinks well beyond the status quo, well into the future, when he is making decisions.”

Dr. Barbara Alexander, Billy S. Guyton Distinguished Professor, considers herself fortunate to have joined Granger’s lab as a post-doctoral fellow 26 years ago just as he was beginning his preeclampsia-related research, which has had a major impact on her own research.

“Joey was also so mindful of our future career and research goals,” she said. “He not only provided training as a renal physiologist, but he also helped guide my transition toward independence, always serving as an incredible resource throughout my academic career.

“Although he is retiring, he is a mentor for life.”

Dr. Gene Bidwell, his associate vice chancellor for research successor, said Granger, who helped him craft his first NIH-funded grant, has also been a great mentor in preparing him for his new role.

Portrait of Dr. Gene Bidwell

“Joey was also a great role model for how to mentor trainees,” said Bidwell. “He has done an unbelievable job of supporting numerous people’s careers, and I have strived to model that in supporting my own trainees as they leave my lab and launch their own careers.”

Dr. Birdie LaMarca, chair of pharmacology, said one thing unrelated to research that makes Granger special is that he’s a genuinely caring person who treats everyone with respect and kindness.

Portrait of Dr. Birdie LaMarca

“One time, our housekeeper fell sick in new Guyton, and he ran to the hospital, got a wheelchair and personally escorted her to the ER and made sure she was cared for,” remembered LaMarca. “He didn't call someone or tell someone else to do that; he did it because he wanted to be sure she got the help she needed. He's been that way in every role he's played at UMMC. And he makes you laugh while doing it. The laughter and smile and kindness of Dr. Granger is what will be missed here every day in the halls of UMMC.”

Another thing that will be missed: Granger’s annual Holiday Open House, where he served as chef. 

Granger adds his special seasonings to a dish for the annual SGSHS open house last November, his way of saying “thank you” to supporters. Jay Ferchaud/ UMMC Communications

Granger adds his special seasonings to a dish for the annual SGSHS open house last November, his way of saying “thank you” to supporters.

“It was definitely Dr. Granger’s way of saying thank you,” said Shanna Moulds, SGSHS operations manager. “He lets us know we are here to serve our students.” 

As for Granger, there’s no shortage of things he’ll miss, but chief among them are “the people I work with.”