Journal Archive > 2002 > January

Dr. B. David Stollar

Dr. B. David Stollar
© Ed Malitsky

Stollar steps down after 17 years as biochemistry chair

His life began on the Canadian prairie, where he was born and where he received his M.D. from the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, but since the early 1960s, Boston has been his home. Dr. B. David Stollar, professor and chair of the Department of Biochemistry, first arrived at Tufts School of Medicine as an assistant professor in 1964. Something about the place must have struck his fancy. He has stayed here since, working his way steadily up through the academic ranks and assuming increased levels of responsibility.

Stollar became a full professor in 1974. From 1984-86, he was the acting chair of what was then a combined department of biochemistry and pharmacology. Subsequently, he was named chairman of the newly independent Department of Biochemistry, where he has remained for the past 15 years. "Tufts has been a great place to be," he says simply, before citing the collegiality of the school and the relative ease of collaboration among scientists in different disciplines as proof.

The complex business of orchestrating a move of a fraction of the scientists and their equipment now housed in the M&V Building to new quarters in the Jaharis Family Center for Biomedical and Nutrition Research building rising next door on the Boston campus has been a real test of equanimity, Stollar admits. Beginning in 1994, he led a planning committee of basic science department chairs wrestling with who and what would make the move. The considerations were a potentially volatile mix of emotion and politics. Most departments faced being split into two parts.

Some of the questions the committee had to sort out included: Which equipment needed to be shared by related disciplines? Who worked regularly with whom on common problems? How often would people be moving back and forth between facilities in Jaharis and the M&V? In which building should a department's major shared equipment be located? Where should the three connecting bridges go? The committee's overriding goal was to avoid severing connections that were already in place, while fashioning new, stronger and more productive bonds.

Were the emotions surrounding these questions as intense as one might imagine? "Well, yeah, but remarkably less so than they might have been elsewhere," says Stollar with a shrug and a faint smile, leaning back in his chair, hands clasped behind his head. In that moment, his equable temper is fully on display, and it occurs to a visitor just how fine a moderator he must have been during those years of buffeting, swirling committee talk.

Stollar's fields of interest as a scientist bridge the biochemistry and immunology of nucleic acids and nucleoproteins; autoimmune disease, with a particular interest in lupus; immunoglobin gene expression; recombinant immunoglobin fragments and catalytic antibodies. Among his proudest accomplishments, Stollar says, is having maintained a steadily funded research program at Tufts for 37 years. Over the course of his tenure at the medical school, owing in part to his own work in the lab, he has watched lupus become an increasingly manageable disease with significantly improved survival rates.

His department's ability to recruit and retain superb faculty across a 17-year span also gives him a measure of satisfaction. "More than half of the current faculty in the department have come here since 1986," he says, "and all those who have reached eligibility for tenure have received it." Stollar is equally proud of having trained 19 Ph.D. students and 19 postdoctoral fellows in his lab, widely recognized as one of the premier labs for the study of nucleic acids and immunology.

Seventeen years is a long time to be in charge of anything on a campus. Stollar, pragmatic to the core, sees the passing of the departmental reins as a natural and fitting transition. He has reached the tender age of 65 years and firmly believes that any future recruitment for the department should be handled by someone "who will be around long enough to act as a mentor" to the people hired.

The routine budgetary matters, the fretting over physical plant issues, the preparation of the annual report—these responsibilities Stollar won't mind passing along to the next person. At least he can do so with a smile. "The department is in good hands and in good shape," he says. "I am comfortable that it will continue to run and do well."

Professor of Biochemistry Brian Schaffhausen assumed chairmanship of the biochemistry department on October 1.