The academic community, the scientific establishment, UF and the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) has recently suffered a great and premature loss of a remarkable man — Dr. Louis J. Guillette, Jr.
Although I had not spoken to Dr. Guillette in a decade, I was deeply grieved to learn of his passing. I have struggled with expressing how important Lou Guillette was, not only to my education, but virtually every aspect of my professional life ever since first attending his biology lectures at UF in the fall of 1996.
In thinking of Dr. Guillette, I recognize that I am only one of hundreds of students whose lives he touched. Many of you likely approached Dr. Guillette in Bartram Hall as I did after watching him leap onto the stage in cargo shorts to present a fascinating discourse on basic biology. Mostly unprompted and animated by hand gestures, his orations were accompanied by an infectious smile, a full beard on his ageless face and longish hair that, with a flip of his head, would reveal twinkling eyes.
I am sure many were inspired to follow him to the ends of Lake Apopka to track alligators on airboats in the middle of the night and a few of you may have offered to clean alligator poop on the roof as I did. You likely became skilled in the art of microtome tissue sectioning and ovarian histopathology, and those of you who joined his lab would know how to find and measure the male reproductive organs of Alligator mississippiensis, perhaps raising many an eyebrow among your family and friends.
Yet it occurred to me that one of the biggest impacts Lou Guillette had through his mentorship, training and generosity was through the thousands of letters of recommendation that he wrote — an act that by virtue of our educations continues to open doors, altering and securing our paths, marking our personal and professional achievements — forever.
And so, in remembrance of my first academic father, I’d like to write this letter of recommendation for Dr. Guillette:
Dear members of the National Academy of Sciences,
I am writing on behalf of Dr. Louis J Guillette, Jr. for posthumous admittance into the National Academy of Sciences for his outstanding impact on the education of a generation of young scientists.
It is well known that Louis Guillette made substantial contributions to reproductive biology and developmental endocrinology during his 25 years at UF.
He had 200+ publications, his tenure as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute professor and his leadership as former associate dean for research at UF and director of the Marine Biomedicine and Environmental Sciences Center at MUSC.
But I am not writing to commend him on those fronts, as surely others who worked intimately with him throughout his life can better attest to his achievements.
I am writing on behalf of his students.
I don’t know who they are, but I know that if he had even a fraction of the impact on their lives as he had on mine, then he has an incalculable impact factor as a result of the network of individuals marked by his tutelage.
I joined Dr. Guillette’s lab in the spring of 1997 and stayed on for my entire undergraduate education at UF.
Lou Guillette wrote my letters of recommendation to the UF College of Veterinary Medicine, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Master of Public Health program and then for my residency and Ph.D. at Harvard University.
As a mentor, Dr. Guillette recognized his students’ strengths and challenged them.
When there were clear ineptitudes, he gently guided us to improve and was never overbearing as we found our way.
Most of all, Dr. Guillette was so inspiring, his energy unbounded, he exemplified everything that a "professor" should be.
He was Santa Claus and Dumbledore with a pinch of golden retriever wrapped up in a real life, unbelievable human being.
So, dear Academy — he should go down in history as one of sciences "greats" because he was great in more ways than anyone could ever convey.
I only wish that he could know how, every day, I work, hope and strive to be just like him.
Mandy Jezek (Martinot)