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. García