Research lab director to retire

Published 3:10 pm Wednesday, April 27, 2011

After about a decade at the helm of the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, William “Bill” Hawkins plans to retire at the end of June.

Hawkins has served as director since March 2008 and was executive director for six years before that. Hawkins is the seventh GCRL director.

Hawkins, 64, has led the University of Southern Mississippi facility through Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

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“We’ve been on the frontlines of probably the two major environmental events in the nation over a pretty long span of time,” he said. “Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill both had pretty profound impacts.

A 25-foot high storm surge from Katrina in 2005 flooded every building with the exception of the Howse Oceanography Building and modular building behind it, he said.

“There is so much to be proud of our response,” Hawkins said. “Our faculty, scientists, students staff, everybody pitched in to get our laboratories and offices and everything back in working shape and they did that in really short order.”

Hawkins said the workload that began with the April 20, 2010, Deepwater Horizon oil spill has consumed GCRL’s resources.

All of GCRL’s senior scientists have been involved in some spill-related research, he said.

“I don’t know if many institutions can say that,” he said.

The number of buildings on the 224-acre Cedar Point site has nearly doubled. There are 15 buildings on the 50-acre Halstead campus and 16 buildings at Cedar Point, he said.

“What we’ve seen in recent years with the physical expansion of the laboratory is probably the greatest obvious change,” he said. “To see us recruit young faculty and see their programs develop and start to thrive has been really exciting.”

GCRL has also met the challenges of reduced support that has occurred as expectations rose.

“Our state budget has been flat for really a couple of decades,” he said. “We’ve got some real dedicated representatives and senators that have tried to get that up and it is really going to become critical when we expand our footprint to the Cedar Point operation.”

Despite the flat funding over the years, Hawkins said the research continues.

“I think we have the tools our scientists need to be successful,” he said. “I’m not saying we have all those tools. If anything has suffered with flat budgets, it is the ability to keep up with instrumentation.”

Hawkins came to GCRL in 1970 as a graduate student.

After academic positions at the University of Utrecht in The Netherlands and at the University of South Alabama, he returned to GCRL as a senior scientist in 1979.

Hawkins has published more than 100 articles in the scientific literature.

Hawkins received his bachelor’s degree from Mississippi State University and his doctorate from the University of Mississippi School of Medicine.