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    Rio Grande Guardian > Higher Ed > FEATURE
checkPresident Garcia leads tributes to Dr. Luis V. Colom
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Last Updated: 31 March 2014
By Raul de la Cruz and Steve Taylor
[Dr.
Dr. Luis V. Colom
BROWNSVILLE, March 31 - University of Texas at Brownsville President Juliet Garcia has led the tributes to Dr. Luis V. Colom, who has passed away after a valiant fight against cancer.

Colom, a native of Uruguay and one of the most respected and much loved leaders at UTB, was 61 and was being treated for pancreatic cancer at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

“All of us will miss his generous abrazos and his broad smile,” Garcia said. “I will miss his gifts of flowers and wine and his whistling just outside my door when he wanted to talk and take a walk. I will miss his energy and childlike enthusiasm. I will miss all that he was and all that he gave so generously to his students, to science and this beloved University. He taught us how to be valiant and optimistic and brave. He winked at me the last time I saw him, as if we both knew the end was close at hand.”

Colom was vice president of the Division of Research, dean of the College of Nursing, and dean of the College of Biomedical Sciences and Health Professions at UTB. He lost his battle with cancer on Thursday, March 27 at his residence surrounded by his loving family.

During his time at UTB, Colom was an Associate Professor, Interim Department Chair, Professor and Chair of the Department of Biological Sciences, Director for the Center for Biomedical Studies and Chair of the University Research Council.

Colom also held research and academic positions at the University of Uruguay, the University of Calgary in Canada and the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He received his Doctor of Medicine from the School of Medicine at the University of Uruguay and his Doctor of Philosophy from the Faculty of Science at the University of Uruguay.

Colom was full of life and always had a smile on his face. In keeping with that spirit of the celebration, students, staff and faculty attending a memorial service on Thursday are asked to wear bright colors. The service will include tributes to Colom along with his favorite music and foods. The event takes place at the Student Union’s Gran Salon at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday.

This is the tribute President Garcia paid:

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

The University of Texas at Brownsville has lost a dear friend and colleague.

It is with great sadness that we announce that Dr. Luis V. Colom passed away after a valiant fight against cancer. Luis died Thursday, March 27 at his home surrounded by his wife Maria, his children Cecilia and Sebastian and in the company of his faithful pets, Felix and Zapican, and his beautiful garden.

Luis grew up in Uruguay, the son of a college professor, who became the first to nurture his strong interest in scientific research and, in particular, the study of the brain. At an early age Luis began to wonder why certain species live longer than others, what prolongs life, and how can we make our lives healthier? So early in his teens, he became captivated by the idea of becoming both a physician and a scientist.

Luis received his medical and doctoral degrees in his native country of Uruguay at Facultad de Ciencias y Facultad de Medicina, Universidad de la República Oriental del Uruguay and received extensive research training in Spain, Canada, and at Baylor College of Medicine. In 2001, he was recruited to UTB by José Martín to establish a research agenda in biology for the new university and continue to grow the number of students majoring in biology.

Immediately upon joining our campus community, Luis began to act as a high powered Pied Piper attracting new research faculty and student after student into UTB’s research labs. There, the students would be immersed as undergraduates in sophisticated research activities and soon a job in a lab turned into a major, a major turned into a graduate student, and a graduate student turned into a scientist. Luis modeled the attributes of a master teacher and of an extraordinarily well-respected scholar and researcher.

During his time at UT Brownville, Luis personally attracted more than $13.4 million in research grants and helped make the compelling case for UT Brownville’s first biomedical research building funded at $23.5 million by the Texas Legislature. His department’s success created the need for even more research labs, so in 2009 he wrote a grant to seek additional funding from the National Institute of Health to build even more labs to attract research faculty and entice students to study science. His proposal was successful, bringing an additional $5 million dollars for what we call the Biomedical Building 2, dedicated in February 2013.

Growth in research funding and new facilities buys equipment and pays for professors’ time, but, as importantly, grant funding also creates jobs in labs for students. The number of majors in biology quickly began to grow from 131 majors in 2001 to more than 800 this year.

Inevitably, Luis’ skill in attracting research funding and growing more majors led to his being selected as Chair of the Biology Department. There, he quickly began to use his new position to continue to recruit other teacher/scientists like himself. During his chairmanship, the biology and biomedical faculty almost quadrupled from 8 to 30. The number of principal investigators overseeing grants on campus also grew – from just a few to now 59.

Through discipline, diplomacy, talent, and most of all, a lot of hard work, Luis helped lead his colleagues in creating one of the most vibrant departments on campus.

In December of 2009, Luis was named UT Brownville’s first Vice President for Research. His vision is best understood from his own words.

“We have ahead the construction of a new university. Very few have the privilege of having this opportunity. It is up to us to use it wisely. It is up to us to create a unique institution that excels in creating knowledge and serving our students, community and nation. What I am looking for now? I am simply looking for dreamers that are willing to build the new institution with a powerful research enterprise. I need dreamers that can see farer away than me, that can work harder than me, and that can love this institution as much as I do.”

Dr. Colom was a dedicated colleague, a treasured friend, a beloved father and devoted husband. All of us will miss his generous abrazos and his broad smile. I will miss his gifts of flowers and wine and his whistling just outside my door when he wanted to talk and take a walk. I will miss his energy and childlike enthusiasm. I will miss all that he was and all that he gave so generously to his students, to science and this beloved University. He taught us how to be valiant and optimistic and brave. He winked at me the last time I saw him, as if we both knew the end was close at hand.

Our thoughts and prayers are with his loving family and his brothers and with the hundreds of students that are now scientists and physicians because Luis cared.

A service celebrating his life will be held on campus at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 3rd, in El Gran Salón of the Student Union. Please join us.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial gifts to support student scholarships in memory of Dr. Colom be made to The University of Texas Brownsville, One West University Blvd., Brownsville, TX 78520.

To make a gift online click here.

With tender and gentle memories,

Juliet V. Garcia

Colom has also been remembered by his many other friends at UTB. Students and colleagues say his commitment to UTB and to its research efforts will never be forgotten. The following tributes were collated by the UTB’s public relations team and the Guardian.

Dr. Eloisa Tamez is associate professor in the College of Nursing. Tamez said she admired Colom’s brilliance, humility and optimism and his way of making people feel comfortable. “Dr. Colom was a wonderful person. He was always optimistic. Brilliant,” Tamez told the Guardian. :He persevered until you could arrive at a workable solution and find some peace. I frequently would run into him at the HEB on Central Avenue. He would be going all over the place looking for things as he was obviously not very familiar with the layout. He will be missed.”

Dr. Maria Teresa Castañeda is a research assistant professor in the Center for Biomedical Studies. She worked in Colom’s laboratory. Colom had hired Castañeda shortly after he joined UTB in 2001. She said he was an influence in her finishing her doctoral degree in biomedical sciences from Universidad de Granada in Spain.

“His work speaks for itself,” said Castañeda. “Even throughout the last moments of his treatment, he dedicated heart and soul into his work, his research and the university. I remember that he would always greet and receive students warmly. He motivated them to persevere and pursue their dreams with optimism. Even on the occasion when the student did not have the drive or the abilities to succeed, he would still believe in them and say, ‘Everyone deserves a chance.’”

Dr. Hugo Rodriguez is assistant professor in the Department of Biomedicine. Rodriguez said Colom always fought for the betterment of his students, staff and the university. “Luis was one of the people that just gave and gave everything without expecting anything in return. He was one of those people who were simply kind, sincere and affable who truly loved life. It is very difficult to know that I can’t go to his office today and sit for a little bit, to take a bottle of water from his min-fridge or steal his almonds. But I also know that today that is suffering is gone and he’s no longer suffering. Today there’s peace.”

Maria Villalon, special projects coordinator in the Division of Research. She said Colom was a visionary. “His leadership and guidance in the Division of Research was genuine and from the heart. His passion for research was felt from the first moments you interacted with him. His spirit lives here in our university in its research buildings, halls, walkways and the hearts of all that had the privilege to meet him. We will miss him dearly,” Villalon said.

Osiel Perez, 20 is a sophomore biomedical sciences major from Brownsville and a graduate of Lopez High School. Perez said he would remember Colom’s humbleness, mentoring and uplifting yet constructive criticism.

“When I needed guidance as a freshman, he opened doors to a whole new world for me,” Perez said. “He gave me the amazing opportunity to be part of his Alzheimer’s research laboratory and help change the world. Through this lab I was further introduced to the new biomedical program, to which I applied and got accepted. He was a man who portrayed character, enthusiasm, leadership and above all, love for his friends and family.”

Miriam De Leon, 20 is a junior biomedical sciences major from Matamoros, Mexico and a graduate of Saint Joseph Academy in Brownsville. She said Colom’s enthusiasm for research motivated her to work in his neuroscience laboratory. “In his lab, we are one big family and always watch out and care for each other. Not only was he a loving and nurturing father to his kids, but to all the students in his lab. I have never met a person with the unique and special qualities and virtues that he possessed. I have truly been blessed to have the opportunity to meet and work with such an extraordinary and wonderful man.”

Brissa Leal, 24, is a 2012 UTB alumna in biology and currently working on a doctorate in physical therapy at Texas Woman’s University in Houston. Colom was Leal’s instructor. “I owe him so much of what I have accomplished in my career. I am truly honored and grateful for his caring advice, for always pushing me forward, for believing in me and especially for his encouraging hugs. He is one of those few professors who truly make a difference in a student’s life. I will truly miss him,” Leal said.

In lieu of flowers, UTB’s public relations team says the Colom family requests memorial gifts to support student scholarships in memory of Colom be made to The University of Texas at Brownsville, 1 West University Blvd., Brownsville, Texas 78520. Funeral arrangements are being handled by Sunset Funeral Home in Brownsville.

Write Raul de la Cruz and Steve Taylor


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