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Community Gathers to Remember Beloved Friend, Scientist, Visionary

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – APRIL 4, 2014 – Friends and colleagues remembered Dr. Luis V. Colom at a memorial service held the evening of Thursday, April 3 in El Gran Salon at The University of Texas at Brownsville.
Dr. Luis V. Colom, Vice President of the Division of Research and Dean of the College of Nursing and Dean of the College of Biomedical Sciences and Health Professions, passed away after a valiant fight against cancer on Thursday, March 27 at his residence surrounded by his loving family.
 Friends greet Maria Colom, wife of Dr. Luis Colom, at the gathering in El Gran Salon.
Dr. Alan F. J. Artibise, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, began the memorial service, making note of a jar filled with almonds atop the podium signifying Colom’s ever-present desktop jar of almonds that he shared with everyone, the flickering candles in Colom’s favorite color of light blue signifying serenity, and the promise of Colom’s favorites, barbecue brisket and pistachio ice cream, to be enjoyed after the service.
Dr. Jose Martin, Provost Emeritus, spoke of Colom’s pride in his children, Cecelia and Sebastian, who sat in the front row with their mother, Maria.
“And he was proud of his students,” Martin said. “Even when he was in the hospital, he worried about not being in the lab helping with all the work that the students were undertaking.”
Martin shared a poem by Spanish poet Miguel Hernández, written in 1936:
          “Elegía a Ramón Sijé”
          A las aladas almas de las rosas 
          del almendro de nata te requiero, 
          que tenemos que hablar de muchas cosas, 
          compañero del alma, compañero.
Martin collaborated with Dr. Charles Dameron, retired Professor and former Vice President for Academic Affairs, on the translation:
          To the winged souls of the blossoms
          of the almond tree I entrust you,
          for we have much to still talk about,
          friend of my soul, my dearest friend.
Dr. Hermes Hsiao-mei Yeh, Department Chair and Professor of Physiology and Neurobiology at Dartmouth University’s Geisel School of Medicine, said Colom was devoted to students.
“He had such presence and leadership qualities; he understood that people are the most important assets,” Yeh said. “He was the pied piper for scientists on this campus. The people that he has recruited have worked together with a common vision to put UTB on the map as an exemplary institution that will soon have a medical school.
“From a personal perspective, I will miss his smile, his winks and almost childlike enthusiasm – and those big bear hugs,” Yeh said.
Attendees gather together after a memorial celebrating the life of Dr. Luis Colom.
Dr. Emilio Garrido, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience and Gene Therapy, spoke of Colom’s dedication to his research to unlock the mysteries of memory – how humans gain memory, trace and keep memory, and how Alzheimer’s destroys memory.
“To his last moment, he was positive and optimistic, maintaining his dream for students to be engaged in research early in their educations, with the hope that they might later become scientists with the same eagerness that he felt,” Garrido said.
Among the light moments of the evening, Garrido shared some humorous memories of Colom, as well as addressing Colom’s hope for a recently submitted grant to the National Institutes of Health.
“He was the principal investigator on the grant, and he was worried about not being there with us to finish everything and submit it,” Garrido said. “For Luis, the grant was important for the opportunity it would give our students, and to help increase diversity in the biomedicine work force.”
Garrido said this was the first grant submitted as a team in collaboration with colleagues at The University of Texas – Pan American.
“He had a lot of hope in this grant, and we know Luis was here with us until the last moment when we delivered it to FedEx,” he said. “Getting this submitted was a big accomplishment in his honor.”
During Colom’s tenure the number of biology majors increased from 131 in 2001 to more than 800 this year. His students have gone on to pursue doctoral degrees at prestigious schools such as Harvard and UT Medical Branch in Galveston. They have become professionals throughout the health sciences as researchers, physicians and physical therapists.
 Dr. Cristina Bañuelos dedicated her doctoral dissertation to Dr. Luis Colom.
One of Colom’s students, Dr. Cristina Bañuelos, is a 2014 graduate of the College of Medicine at the University of Florida with a doctoral degree in neuroscience. A Brownsville native, she earned her undergraduate degree from Cornell University before returning home to begin her graduate work at UT Brownsville. Under Dr. Colom’s mentoring, she took a job in his lab and found her calling. She earned her master’s degree in biology and continued her work at the doctoral level, consulting with Dr. Colom all along the way.
“You were always welcome in Dr. Colom’s office,” Bañuelos said. “He was always interested in providing input. He set the standard for the type off mentor I aspire to be.”
Bañuelos said Colom instilled confidence in his students and gave them a sense of security.
“I dedicated my dissertation to Dr. Colom,” Bañuelos said. “He believed in our potential, and because he believed it, we believed it.”
Dr. Juliet V. García, UTB President, spoke about recruiting Colom from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. She convinced him that UTB needed him and that he would be able to bring in bright scientists and build a competitive biomedical research program.
Dr. García spoke of Colom’s sense of urgency, his perseverance in working toward a cure for Alzheimer’s disease and other debilitating diseases; to build capacity for the research through grants, personally attracting more than $13 million to the university; and an urgency to recruit the best students and launch them towards careers of their own.
“Because of this, Luis accomplished so much during his time with us,” García said. “But it was never without deliberation, care and attention to detail. His work was grounded in compassion and a need to help his fellow man.”
A “Remembering Dr. Luis V. Colom” page on the UTB website will allow friends and colleagues to share their stories and support student scholarships in Dr. Colom’s memory.


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