There are those people who make a significant difference in your life. Danny Brower was one of the people who had a major role in my life and it is with great sadness that I learned he passed away Oct 5th. Dr. Brower, a professor in the departments of Molecular and Cellular Biology and Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, was one of my Ph.D. thesis committee members when I was a graduate student in MCB. Danny was a rigorous scientist who always conveyed the highest of standards. He was considered one of the "hard" professors by my colleagues, which was odd considering that Danny was never aggressive or mean-spirited. My sense was that he simply expected from the students as much care in their approach to scientific thought as he had. I specifically sought out Danny as a committee member and remember our initial discussion. First, he wanted to know why I wanted him on my committee (scientific thought, increased breadth for my committee, and a desire to push myself with a rigorous committee come to mind). This is an important question and I use it myself when asked to serve on thesis committees. Second, he told me he had no problems failing a student regardless of what the other committee members thought. This was not said in a mean-spirited way, but I believe Danny wanted to ensure that a student truly wanted him on the committee and was not simply finding a warm body. Again, I take the same tack and can honestly say that I have also been the only committee member to give a student a failing grade. As with Danny, this is not a spiteful decision but a way to maintain the rigor of the program, keep expectations high, and push the students to their full potential.
While I do not know for sure, I believe Dr. Brower had a major impact on my career. My graduate school tenure can not be considered a success by any quantifiable metric. However, I was able to land an extremely good post-doctoral position. This was due, in part, to my letters of recommendation which were written by several committee members including Dr. Brower. Without a good post-doc position, I would have ended up doing a run of the mill post-doc, not pushing myself, and likely would not be an associate professor. Who is to say what would have happened if, but suffice it to say because of Dr. Brower, I am one of those he touched who is able to continue his legacy of mentorship.
Finally, I want to note that Danny was not just a mentor, he was a friend. During an extremely difficult part of my life after receiving my PhD, Danny and his wife Sharon opened their home to me. They were kind and caring and I am truly appreciative of all they did. I have not touched on the work Danny did nor how the aspects of his work in Drosophila contributed to the field. Science is an incremental process and those of us who do it realize that if we hadn't done something, someone else would have. Danny's impact is more than the research he did, it is his affect on others that is unique and has truly lasting value.