UTHealth Houston honors ‘STARS’ for their longtime dedication
A chance meeting with Dr. Red Duke helped bring Nachum Dafny, PhD, to the brand-new The University of Texas Medical School at Houston in 1972.
Dafny was brought on as an assistant professor in neurostructure and function, what is now the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, where he still serves as a professor.
Dafny was one of three with the distinction of 50 years of service at the UTHealth Houston STAR Awards luncheon, which honored employees reaching employment milestones of between 25 and 50 years.
Honorees were treated to lunch and a walk down memory lane as their names were called aloud to recognize their service. The crowd included representatives from all six schools, clinical and administrative — the many faces who make the university a leader in education, research, and clinical care.
“You’ll often hear our president, Dr. Colasurdo, say that UTHealth Houston is not about buildings, it’s about our many faces – our amazing people who make up this great university community,” said event emcee LaTanya Love, MD, executive vice president for Student Affairs and Diversity at UTHealth Houston and dean of education at McGovern Medical School. “You are our greatest asset. You are the heart of UTHealth Houston.”
Gary Rosenfeld, PhD, professor emeritus at the school who specializes in pharmacology, and William Dowhan, PhD, professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, were honored along with Dafny for five decades of service to the university. Each are pioneers in research and champions of medical education.
In the 70s, Dafny was a postdoctoral student at Columbia University looking for the next opportunity. After the chance meeting with Duke, Dafny met another early university pioneer at a conference, and he decided take a chance at the budding medical school, which was housed on the 12th floor of the Center Pavilion Hospital — long before it had a building of its own.
“The first class had 28 students because there were only 28 chairs,” Dafny said. “In the beginning, I was on every committee in the school. I was there for all of it.”
Five decades later, Dafny said he’s not ready to retire.
“I enjoy what I’m doing. I still enjoy doing research several times a week, teaching and working with students,” he said. “I’ve been asked why I haven’t retired yet, and the truth is that if I enjoy what I’m doing, then that’s the best retirement there is. I’m happy.”
Dowhan is also a pioneer, arriving at the medical school in December of 1972. Rosenfeld arrived in August.
“In 1972, there weren’t many jobs available for faculty in biochemistry in the whole nation, but many of them were in the Texas Medical Center,” Dowhan said. “I interviewed at Galveston, Rice, and Baylor, but UTHealth Houston looked like the place to be because of the opportunity to grow programs from the beginning. It was exciting to be a part of that. Because we came early and we stayed, we had a lot of influence on how it grew and developed.”
Rosenfeld started his career at the medical school as an assistant professor in pharmacology, and currently has an affiliation with MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Houston Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. Both Rosenfeld and Dowhan helped shape the curriculum of both schools.
Barbara Legate, senior business systems analyst in the office of the Executive Vice President of Academic and Research Affairs, grew up in Maine and came to the university from Connecticut. She arrived in 1987 as a systems analyst at a time when the university was ramping up its information systems staff to develop a budget payroll system, BPPS; new TUFIMS (financial) modules; and the Student System, SIS.
Thirty-five years later, she said she’s still having fun.
“I really love what I do,” she said. “I have spent most of my career here. The people are amazing, and the work is interesting. I am very fortunate for all the opportunities I have had and appreciate the fact that the work is still fun. It’s all about the people and the work, and it is so rewarding. It’s nice to end every day and feel like you’ve helped people and made a difference.”
Phil Pierpont, DDS, said his colleagues have also been impactful to him during his 45 years at UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry, where he is a professor in the Department of Restorative Dentistry and Prosthodontics.
“I was in dental school here before it was part of UTHealth Houston,” he said. “The school has been a great family: colleagues, staff, and students. They say the day you find a job you like is the last day you have to work, and I haven’t ‘worked’ in 45 years. It’s been a blessing.”
Jimmy Quimby, senior IT asset management administrator, said the family environment has kept him with the university for 35 years and inspired his son Joshua to embark on a career at UTHealth Houston in Capital Asset Management.
“The main reason I have been working here for so long is because it feels like a family. I’ve always enjoyed the people so much,” he said. “I started in 1986 picking up specimens for Dr. Rapini’s dermatopathology lab before I got my first full-time job here. Where else can you go from working in the mail room to being able to retire 35 years later as a manager of an entire department? I retired in 2021 but decided to come back three months later as a casual employee because I enjoy the people so much.”
The university’s stars have advice for the next generation.
Debra Bird, principal application systems specialist with 35 years of service, said she loves the work-life balance the university offers and helping the community solve problems.
“My advice for new employees would be to settle into your position and the UTHealth Houston community and enjoy all that it has to offer, because there are many places you can advance to, and you can make this a lifelong career,” she said.