1. Vessey, Judith PhD, RN, FAAN, Associate Editor
  2. Gennaro, Susan DSN, RN, FAAN, Associate Editor

Article Content

When we were contemplating writing this editorial, memories and ideas sprouted freely, intertwined with each other like tendrils of wild vines. But taming these thoughts into a coherent eulogy was not easy without the editor.


In recognition of her many scholarly contributions, this tribute is to Florence Downs. She is well known as the first academic editor of Nursing Research, a position she held from 1979 to 1997. Less appreciated is her private side. She was a talented cook, an expert seamstress, a professionally trained coloratura soprano, and closest to her heart, a master gardener. Providing the rich loam needed by young seedlings so they could flourish and produce luxurious blooms was highly rewarding for her. Florence was always more interested in nurturing perennials rather than annuals, whether they were plants or people. She invested her energies in helping researchers become skilled and prolific writers so they might advance a body of knowledge, rather than taking the easier path of editing selected manuscripts merely to ensure that they were suitable for publication.


An author of over nine books, 50 articles, and 80 editorials, Florence delighted in a well-turned phrase and carefully executed text. But she had little patience with muddied prose. Manuscripts seen as in lamentable condition were subjected to the same "tough love" as a weedy patch in her garden. Misplaced phrases, dangling participles, and the like were attacked like underground runners of tenacious weeds, eliminated so they could not sneakily invade an idea, choking out the meaning of the text. Although many felt the pain of having their words pruned-that sometimes felt more akin to being "trimmed" by a backhoe-inevitably the result was a more robust cohesive message, rooted in theory and logic to withstand the winds of criticism.


For those of us who worked with Florence, our indelible memory is of a woman sitting at her desk surrounded by a jar of sharpened pencils and a pile of manuscripts awaiting attention. What was less known was the path that Florence took to become a dedicated nurse scholar. Florence began her nursing career in 1944 when she graduated from St. Luke's Hospital. Like many nurses of her generation, her mother was a nurse and Florence entered nursing during World War II, so that she could participate in the nurse cadet corps. Recognizing her strength was in nurturing the human condition, Florence chose psychiatric nursing as her specialty and she used her communication skills throughout her entire career.


In the 1970s, a bumper sticker proclaimed: "Grow where you are planted." Florence took this message to heart. As a native of the metropolitan New York City area, she began her academic career cultivating nursing knowledge while she served as the Director of Postgraduate and Research Programs at New York University. Florence was instrumental in advancing the University's Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing program and received the first federal funding for doctoral education in nursing. Later, she transplanted a hybrid of this successful program to the University of Pennsylvania. She then went on to advance nursing research and doctoral education across the globe. Florence chaired over 100 dissertations; many of these graduates have gone on to conduct original programs of research, edit nursing journals, and lead the profession through academic, clinical, and administrative roles.


Florence saw that the future for nursing lay in the nurturing of its science. When Florence assumed the editorship of Nursing Research, the readership was only 6,600, the journal was in financial difficulty, and few original research studies were published. With few existent doctoral programs, few established programs of nursing research, and few external organizations to fund nursing research, Florence's gifts, including her unwavering belief in the importance of nursing science being used at the bedside, were well timed to help move nursing science forward. Today, there are more than 80 nursing doctoral programs, greater than 34 million dollars in federal funding dedicated to nursing research, and over 20 nursing research journals, with virtually all clinical journals publishing research or evidence-based practice articles. It is hard to think that as little as three decades ago, nursing research was merely a seed of unrecognized potential.


After her "retirement," Florence melded all of her talents into a final landscape befitting a lifetime of commitment and service. Not yet ready just to reap the rewards of her long career, Florence planted her last perennials. She continued to cultivate the skills needed for scholarly inquiry with doctoral students while simultaneously planting a contemplative garden outside the door of her church's rectory. She continued to edit scholarly manuscripts, but also served as a part-time parish receptionist, where she edited the church bulletin much to the pastor's bemusement. Last fall she was inducted as a "Living Legend" into the American Academy of Nursing. Her final legacy is endowing the Florence and William Downs Professorship in Nursing dedicated to advancing nursing knowledge through research at New York University, College of Nursing.


Whether it was plants or words, Florence's greatest joy was envisioning how the mysteries they contained would be revealed in time. She had the patience to plan for the next season. She was never cowed by a challenge and was willing to plant even in the rockiest of ground. She was a woman of faith who never questioned why the most beautiful roses often had the fiercest thorns. She had a terrific sense of humor. She never stopped fighting with the weeds and insects that are always ready to attack, but she consistently laughed at the unique and different challenges they offered to her expertise. We will all continue to enjoy her many gardens, but the gardener will be sadly missed.


Judith Vessey, PhD, RN, FAAN


Susan Gennaro DSN, RN, FAAN


Associate Editors


Nursing Research, 1988 to 1997