Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ellsworth C. "Buster" Alvord, Jr., MD (1923-2010)


Ellsworth C. “Buster” Alvord, Jr. died on January 19, 2010 at the age of 86. His career as a neuropathologist, scientist, and teacher spanned more than 6 decades.  He began his early research career investigating immune-mediated injury to the CNS and wrote seminal works on inflammatory models of demyelinating disease (experimental allergic encephalomyelitis, EAE).  Dr. Alvord was president of the American Association of Neuropathologists in 1965. 

Born in 1923, Alvord received an M.D. from Cornell University in 1946 and did postgraduate training in pathology and neuropathology. Buster moved to the University of Washington in Seattle in 1960, where he trained untold numbers of neurology, neurosurgery, and pathology residents. He also ran the diagnostic service and publishing 93 additional manuscripts that touched on virtually all facets of neurologic disease and neuropathology.  In Buster’s own words at his “retirement” party in 2002, “EAE was probably the high point” of a scientific career that included eight publications in Science and three in Nature.  In his later years, he focused on mathematical modeling of glioma growth.  At the time of his death, he had four manuscripts under preparation including one that described suffering a stroke from his own experience. 

Buster was an enthusiastic teacher with a keen wit and wry smile.  He was warm and encouraged critical thought, but did not ever allow his students to get away with sloppy thought or speech.  For decades, he would take residents and fellows on 6 AM road trips to Pacific Northwest hospitals to perform brain cuttings free of charge and to teach outlying pathologists the gospel of neuropathology.  He was so enthusiastic about teaching that he made arrangements for the donation of his own brain for teaching purposes with the instructions that it should be used for the benefit of all. 

Buster had a love of fleece jackets, white socks, outlandish ties, and fresh oysters.  Outside of neuropathology, he and his family were generous patrons of the arts in Seattle.  He was a thoughtful scientist, keen researcher, outstanding diagnostic neuropathologist, generous benefactor and giving teacher.  We are all diminished by his passing, but were enriched by his life.

The above memorial was contributed by Drs. Joshua A. Sonnen and Thomas Montine, neuropathologists at the University of Washington in Seattle.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was a neuropsychology resident at University of Washington in the mid-90s and Buster Alvord provided an individual tutorial to me in neuropathology. Prior to pursuing neuropsychology, I had a background in the humanities: a potential liability in the eyes of many in a medical center, but not Buster's. He was a generous, brilliant educator and physician and I remain so fortunate to have fallen under his spell, becoming fascinated with the realm of neuropathology. He will be missed by so many.

Daniel Holland, Ph.D., M.P.H.