David R. Colman: 1949 - 2011


David R. Colman, Ph.D.


Director of the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (The Neuro)

of McGill University and the McGill University Health Centre Wilder

Penfield Professor of Neuroscience at McGill University

Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Neuroscience

Passed away suddenly on June 1, 2011.  Beloved husband of Elizabeth, devoted father to Monica and Miranda, and brother of Carol Colman (Michael Gerber) and uncle to Joshua Gerber.

David Colman was a true renaissance man.  He was passionate about his family, science, art, cooking, heritage plants, old movies and so much more.  He wrote monthly in his Director's Corner essay on topics ranging from bats in his family's summer home in Maine and the oil spill in the gulf to the need for more funding for biomedical research and neuroengineering and the promise it represents.  His intelligence, entrepreneurial spirit and wonderful sense of humour will be deeply missed.

Born in New York, Dave attended the prestigious Bronx High School of Science.  He received his BSc (Biology) with minor concentrations in English and Geology from New York University (NYU) in 1970, and his PhD in Neuroscience from the State University of New York in 1977.  He held faculty positions at NYU School of Medicine and The Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, where he received several prestigious awards, including an Irma T. Hirschl Career Development Award, the Harold and Golden Lamport Award, the Basmajian Award for Teaching and Research, as well as a Jacob K. Javits Neuroscience Award from the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke. In 1993, he became the Annenberg Professor of Molecular Biology and Neuroscience, the Vice-Chairman for Research in the Department of Neurology, and the Scientific Director of The Corinne Goldsmith Dickinson Center for Multiple Sclerosis of The Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

In September 2002, Dave moved with his family to Montreal to become Director of The Neuro, one of five institutions supported by the Killam Trusts.  He was deeply committed to Wilder Penfield's original vision of an integrated research and clinical institution. Through his championship of The Neuro and all the people who work there, he drew people in, captivating them with the promise of a new neuroscience.

Under his visionary leadership, The Neuro launched a $40-million capital campaign and was named one of the first Canadian national Centres of Excellence in Research and Commercialization. Dave approached science with a strong conviction in basic, curiosity-driven research and he believed in approaching problems from every angle. This commitment led to the multidisciplinary Neuroengineering Program at McGill and innovative programs in Neuropalliative Care as well as a major expansion in brain imaging at The Neuro. Dave was a mentor to many. He nurtured and encouraged young students to be curious about the world around them. He championed the Integrated Program in Neuroscience and was spearheading a collaborative project with the National Film Board of Canada to create an educational 3-D IMAX film about neuroscience for pre-teens.

He was a world-renowned scientist, who focused on problems related to myelination, spinal cord injury and nerve cell development and regeneration. His laboratory has made major contributions to our understanding of how nerves are protected and nurtured by the myelin sheath in the brain and in the peripheral nervous system, and how nerve cells communicate with each other across the synapse.  He was on the editorial boards of Neuron and Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience, as well as a member of the Medical Advisory Committee for the Gairdner Foundation, and authored more than 110 scientific publications in top tier scientific journals such as Science, Nature, Cell and Neuron to name a few.

Dave had a meaningful impact on all who had the fortune of knowing him and his legacy as a visionary leader and an extraordinary person will live on forever.

The funeral and burial service will take place in Larchmont, New York. A memorial tribute to David Colman's career and contributions will be held in Montreal at a future date.  In lieu of flowers or gifts, please send donations to the David Colman Memorial Fund, Neuro Development Office, Montreal Neurological Institute, 3801 University St., Montreal, Quebec, Canada, H3A 2B4. 514-398-8825.