During the past four decades, I saw the dream of one man realized and surpassed by another man, but in a slightly different direction.
In 1976 I came to interview for an assistant professor position at the Department of Pathology at UTMB. I was invited by the chairman at that time, the late Dr. Edward Reynolds. He was a Harvard University professor who recently had been appointed chairman. He was a physician scientist interested in the adverse effects of chemicals in the environment (toxicology) on human health and diseases. His interest paralleled mine.
The department at that time didn’t have any basic research activities or national grant funding. It functioned only as a clinical resource in the hospital.
Then, as a young scientist, I asked Dr. Reynolds a naive question.
“How come a professor from Harvard leaves his higher-up school with its strong research and scientific status and comes that far south to start research in a department not prepared for it?”
His answer was: “People make Harvard. Harvard doesn’t make people. My dream is, by recruiting the right people, to convert this place into a Harvard of the south or better.”
In 1983, Dr. Reynolds passed away before he realized his dream.
We, basic scientists in environmental toxicology who were recruited by Reynolds, felt we were lost. We had the fear the department would revert to its “only” clinical services. Such reversion would force us to migrate.
In 1987, a new chairman was hired. His name was David Walker. This person was in one way or another Harvardanian, one of the colleagues of the late Dr Reynolds. He, too, was a physician scientist. His major research interests focused on infectious rickettsia and viruses.
We basic environmental scientists became concerned that the change of interest between Reynolds’s group and the new chairman’s might not be in our best interests.
We were wrong.
The new chairman was also interested in developing a strong research-based department. He has exactly the same goals and dreams as those of his predecessor.
Then, we felt safe.
To make the story short, winding down almost three decades and looking at the current status of basic and clinical scientific research in the department of pathology at UTMB, we find that it speaks for itself.
I am not going to mention hard statistics about the scientific research funding or impact of the department or the forefront leadership position it enjoys in the scientific fields. It is, however, towering and very impressive.
Dr. Walker led the department practically from nowhere to the peak among its counterparts. He has a unique character. Although he has a short stick, he has a lot of carrots. Most importantly, he never tells any of his faculty to do anything he himself does not do. He always leads by example.
Edward Reynolds, the man who recruited me from Minneapolis to Galveston almost four decades ago, would have been extremely proud of David Walker.
The latter has realized the former’s dream for him and transformed and placed the department into the vanguard among its peers.
They shared a dream that is now realized.
Dr. Ahmed E. Ahmed is professor emeritus at the Department of Pathology at the University of Texas Medical Branch.