Cliff Astley: 40 Years with the Washington National Primate Research Center

Cliff Astley celebrates 40 years of service this week with the University of Washington and Primate Center. Those years only count his employment. He actually started with the WaNPRC four years earlier in 1972 as a graduate student. He was interested in studying marine mammalian physiology and learned that Orville Smith, then director of the Primate Center, had previously studied the cardiovascular diving reflexes in elephant seals. He applied to UW and was initially an alternate, but ultimately was accepted to the Physiology and Biophysics program.

Cliff Astley

Cliff Astley is a staff surgeon with the WaNPRC.

After learning that there wasn’t much marine mammal work being conducted, he turned his attention to Rhesus monkeys for his thesis on the “Role of the Cerebellar Fastigial Nucleus on the baroreflex and cardiovascular responses to body tilting.” After graduating, he accepted a job with Orville Smith as a research scientist, managing Smith’s lab. Cliff’s first 25 years were spent in this research role for Smith with a broad range of duties, including: training animals, managing budgets, human resources, histology, IT and surgery. As Dr. Smith was retiring, they transitioned Cliff’s responsibilities from serving just the lab to offering IT and surgery services to the entire Primate Center.

Cliff and Keith Vogel began working together in 1972-1973. Cliff performed his first surgery in 1968, and Keith in 1969. In 2019, they will have a combined 100 years of surgical experience between them. It is hard for Cliff to imagine a surgical team with more experience anywhere in the world, especially a research surgical team.

“We have done hundreds and hundreds of procedures together,” says Cliff Astley of his relationship with Keith. “To me, our style, experience and skill levels are so similar that it is like working with 4 of my own hands. Hope he feels that way.” They both step in automatically to assist the other if they hesitate during a procedure.

Cliff and Keith spend more and more time training others in the surgical suite in anticipation of retiring in the future. Training and serving others is just part of what drives Cliff each day in his roles as IT consultant and staff surgeon.

Cliff Astley begins his 40th year of employment with the UW and WaNPRC on Tuesday, September 13.