Opening day

Jaharis Center is dedicated in a program laced with emotion

Dr. Nicolaos Madias, executive academic dean of Tufts School of Medicine, and a colleague were walking along Harrison Avenue recently when the colleague suddenly drew to a halt and glanced up at the new, nine-story building that rose majestically beside them. "Why are you stopping?" asked Madias. "I've been waiting for this so long, I just want to take it all in," his friend replied. "I don't want to miss anything."

That same spirit of gratification long delayed—a feeling compounded of surprise, gratitude and relief—ran all through the dedication ceremony for the Jaharis Family Center for Biomedical and Nutrition Sciences, which took place in the Sackler Center on November 1. The Jaharis Center houses the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy as well as biomedical researchers from the School of Medicine and the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences.

Clipping the ceremonial ribbon to open the Jaharis Family Center for Biomedical and Nutrition Sciences, from left, Trustee Michael Jaharis, Dr. Steven Jaharis, M87, Mary Jaharis, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, and Tufts President Lawrence S. Bacow.

Three generations of the Jaharis family, whose generous support made the building possible, were in attendance, including Michael Jaharis, a Tufts trustee and chair of the Board of Overseers to the medical and Sackler schools, and his wife, Mary; their son, Dr. Steven Jaharis, M87, a medical overseer, and his wife, Elaine; daughter Kathryn Jaharis Ledes and the Jaharis grandchildren.

Also present were Tufts President Lawrence S. Bacow; Nathan Gantcher, A62, chairman of the Board of Trustees; U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.; Dr. Robert Guen, D77, K78, board member of the Wang Chinatown YMCA; Adrienne Boire, president of the Graduate Student Council at the Sackler School; and His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America.

The Jaharis Family Center for Biomedical and Nutrition Sciences © Mark Morelli

A place for collaboration
Bacow set the tone by referring to the building's dedication as a "magnificent occasion" and "a day we've all been anticipating for many, many years." He thanked the Jaharis family for so generously supporting the idea that "research is important to this university and this world," citing in particular the highly collaborative sort of research to be conducted in the new building. Bacow then struck a light note when he remarked that he had been across the street in Jaharis two hours earlier and found the workers hard at it. "I sometimes say if it weren't for the last minute, nothing would ever get done," he joked to laughter from the capacity audience.

For his part, Gantcher took the long view. "This new center is one of the highlights in our 150-year history," he said, before conjecturing that the facility would likely exert a transformative effect on the Boston campus comparable to what the opening of the Tisch Library did for the Medford/Somerville campus. "The Jaharis Center was a dream nine years ago. Now it's an actuality," Gantcher observed. "Scientists here will be working on diseases that probably affect, in one way or another, every person in this room."

Kennedy extended the theme of Tufts as a healing force, commenting that the university had "touched" him many years ago in the mid-1960s, when Drs. Count Gibson and Jack Geiger, both then medical school faculty members, took him to see the nation's first community health center at Boston's Columbia Point. "Eleven million people are now being served by neighborhood health centers," he said, "and these were ideas that came out of this magnificent university and medical school." Kennedy predicted that the scientists gathered in the Jaharis Center would make a similar contribution and become what he called "a cutting edge for change around the world."

U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy

Next the program took a more personal turn. Guen, speaking as one who had been born in Chinatown and gone on to earn degrees from Tufts School of Dental Medicine, cited the steadily improving relationship that he had witnessed between Tufts and his native community. "The Jaharis Center brings much promise to two communities that are special to me," he said. Graduate student Boire praised the center's emphasis on peer mingling and interaction. "Science is a social endeavor," she insisted. "We need to be able to communicate our ideas to each other, and Jaharis provides for that." She ended by thanking members of the Jaharis family personally: "They have given us space to work, reflect and grow."

A noble mission
Archbishop Demetrios' talk was inspiring. But first he related how his connection with Tufts extended back to 1965, when he came to Boston for graduate school and suffered from neck pain. A doctor at New England Medical Center examined him. "Then he said to me, 'You know, it's a simple thing. Change your pillow,' " reported the archbishop, pausing to let laughter fill the hall, and glancing up bemusedly. "For the past 37 years, I have had no pain."

Michael Jaharis and his son, Dr. Steven Jaharis, M87

Without missing a beat, Demetrios turned serious, calling the Jaharis Center's goal of improving world health "a very noble and a very sacred mission." He proceeded to track the meaning of what he termed "this beautiful species, the benefactor" down through the ages, citing its classical, Hellenistic roots, its central role in the Judeo-Christian tradition and its place in American life. The Jaharis family, he suggested, had benefaction in its genes.

Dr. Steven Jaharis' remarks on behalf of his family proved brief and affecting. As at the groundbreaking three years ago, Jaharis fondly invoked the memory of his grandfather, "Papou," a Greek immigrant who landed penniless in Boston in 1908. "He knew a Greece of poverty, but he rolled up his sleeves and worked," providing for his children and pointing the way to a better life, Jaharis said. "I can't help but think of Papou, who might have walked past this very spot in 1908. And it is my hope that someday, perhaps many years from now, my children's children and your children's children will walk past this site and recognize that extraordinary medical breakthroughs occurred here."

Then the program concluded and the assemblage poured into the dark street outside, where, floodlit and still bearing the scent of new construction, the magnificent building and all its promise awaited us.