MUSC News Center
In their own words: Friends, colleagues remember Louis Guillette
Staff Report | MUSC News Center | August 12, 2015
|Dr. Louis Guillette battled cancer for years, but that didn't keep him from directing the Marine Biomedicine & Environmental Sciences Center at MUSC or serving as an inspiration for fellow scientists and students.|
Louis Guillette, Ph.D., was a role model, an internationally known scientist and a valued friend to many. When the 62-year-old researcher died August 6 after battling cancer for years, he left a void. But as the following comments from people who knew and loved him show, Guillette also left a powerful legacy. He was officially the director of the Marine Biomedicine & Environmental Sciences Center at the Medical University of South Carolina, but to the people who knew him, he was much more than that.
Lou was an incredible scientist with extraordinary enthusiasm and passion for his work. He was a generous and valued collaborator and mentor. He will be missed tremendously.
On behalf of my colleagues at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, please accept our deepest condolences regarding the recent loss of Lou Guillette. Lou was a dear friend, colleague and mentor to many of us at NIST. He was the embodiment of a great scientist – a superb mentor, lover of nature and communicator. He had a brilliant mind and an infectious enthusiasm and thirst for new knowledge.
Lou believed in integrative research – that there are few problems facing our society that one person or group alone can answer. We are grateful to him for his promotion of NIST and his role in defining human and wildlife exposure to endocrine disrupting compounds.
Lou leaves an enduring legacy with NIST and the Hollings Marine Laboratory through the people he touched and the societal issues and scientific questions he challenged us to address. He will be truly missed.
Lou was an amazing mentor, friend and father figure in my life. During my Ph.D. studies, he ignited a fiery passion for scientific curiosity that I didn't know existed within myself. He had an incredible ability to inspire his students to greatness, and never stopped being an advocate for mentoring young scientists.
I had the great pleasure of spending four weeks in South Africa last summer with my major advisor, Lou. There we had many campfire conversations about the future, and how to be a successful scientist. I'll never forget that adventure, and will forever be grateful to be his student.
Dr. Lou Guillette was one of the first scientists I met upon my arrival at the Hollings Marine Laboratory (HML). Instantly, I knew Lou was a force for making great things happen, and he did just that during his tenure at HML. His research was groundbreaking with respect to our understanding of stressors on human health. I am so grateful to Lou for all of his numerous contributions to HML and the Fort Johnson Campus. He was an inspirational leader who was able to unite so many people with a common vision and purpose. I will forever remember Lou as an inspirational colleague, trusted mentor and dear friend.
We are deeply saddened by the loss of Dr. Guillette. Lou’s exquisite research in cell biology was focused on potential human health risks and in his GoMRI-funded work, he studied effects of petroleum dispersant compounds at the molecular level. Lou was a dedicated researcher and a good friend to all of us in the GoMRI family.
It is undeniable that Dr. Guillette has made an indelible impact on the scientific community with his contributions to our understanding of endocrine disruption, crocodilian life history and the effects of environmental contaminants. He was a prolific scientist. His body of scientific work, including journal articles, books, book chapters, and doctoral and masters students, is impressive.
However, the thing I liked most about Lou was his sense of humor, his ability to connect to people and bring people together. He served as a real catalyst for scientific collaboration in South Carolina and around the world. When you saw him in his lab and with his students, you knew that they were family, and he was extremely supportive and protective of them. We had many conversations where he talked about their accomplishments, minimizing his own contributions. He invested a tremendous amount of energy in relationships and in people, and I particularly admired him for these qualities and will miss seeing him around campus.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology staff at the Hollings Marine Laboratory considered Lou a good friend to all, almost immediately when he arrived at MUSC and the HML just a few short years ago. Lou was a top-notch scientist with a wonderful analytical and creative mind, but he always seemed to be more than that. He was a really good, caring person, which I think everyone could instinctively see right away. He was one of the most honest people I have known and I really appreciate that.
Lou was a mentor not only to students, but also the entire Fort Johnson campus, including the most seasoned researchers. Everyone had something to learn from Lou, and he was always enthusiastic about sharing his knowledge and experience. His dedication to environmental research was an inspiration to all of us. His encouragement, support and energy strengthened collaborations across the campus. He will be greatly missed.
Lou Guillette was an energetic, positive, forward-thinking individual. His work to support the sustainability of health in all human beings and animals has left a store of knowledge that will continue to shape our relationship with our environment and the chemicals we put into that environment. We thank him for sharing his knowledge and his support of local environmental sustainability efforts.
Lou was my closest colleague on campus. He was for many people. He gave us all intellectual encouragement and unwavering reassurance that if something was a good idea, it needed to be pursued. Acutely aware that academic infrastructure can encroach upon institutional mission, he was always able to find opportunities hidden behind the constraints. I don’t think Lou knew the concept of “too risky.” He would always find a way to make things happen. He gave everyone energy and hope. I will miss him terribly. He leaves a huge hole in all of our lives.
Certainly Lou's inquisitive mind and innovative spirit led him to great success in developing impactful research programs, yet my observation in collaborating with Lou (while director at HML) was that he sought to surround himself with creative and interesting individuals through his research teams, his student engagements and his social circles. Like attracts like, and Lou's engaging approach and concentration on the individuals around him - both professional and social - leave an outstanding legacy across a large community that will now provide the mentorship and leadership that Lou embodied every day.
I knew every time I sat down to chat with Lou that not only would I get excited all over again about his program's impacts and opportunities, but I'd also be laughing with him by the end of the conversation - and that's the best memory to have of such a fantastic colleague.
I first met Dr. Lou Guillette at a Wing Spread Conference in 1997 hosted by the late Dr. Theo Colborn. The focus of the conference was to define the evidence for chemicals that mimicked estrogen and other human hormones and their impacts on wildlife. The evidence presented by Dr. Guillette regarding alligators and pesticide exposure in Lake Apopka, Florida, was overwhelming. It helped propel the paradigm of endocrine-disrupting chemicals forward as a new environmental hazard. The use of reptiles like alligators, which can have temperature-induced changes in sex ratios, provided a novel testing paradigm for EDC. It was easily understandable and irrefutable in defining the degree of endocrine bio-effects on reproduction and development.
Dr. Colborn, along with Dr. Guillette, were the real pioneers who moved forward the concept of endocrine disruptors, which was formally embraced by EPA and other federal agencies within a few years. Dr. Guillette later provided testimony to Congress regarding this at a congressional hearing on EDCs. I remember sitting by Dr. Guillette at the conference and all of the encouragement and insight he provided me and NOAA regarding invertebrate endocrine disruption that we were attempting to define at the time.
We were all very delighted when Dr. Guillette moved to accept the endowed chair in Marine Genomics. His interactions with faculty at MUSC and the College of Charleston as well as with scientists at South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Institute of Standards and Technology were critical to the success of HML as a federal-state-academic partnership.
I remember with great fondness members of NOAA and NIST leadership, who toured HML posing with Dr. Guillette’s alligators in the wet lab at HML so they could show their colleagues their ability to “manage the alligators.” Dr. Guillette always found that entertaining, but he also realized his alligators helped forge permanent knowledge of HML science and research with NOAA leadership in Silver Spring. We will always miss his humor but most importantly his immense knowledge of ecotoxicology.
I first met Dr. Guillette on June 8, 2015 to interview him for an article I was writing for the MUSC Center for Global Health newsletter. He spoke about his exhilarating adventures in far-flung areas around the world, some of which he referred to as “change your pants” moments. He even found adventure in securing permits for his research projects. But he mostly spoke about legacy. Not a legacy of wealth—that only lasts for so long. Not a legacy of publications. His scholarly work is novel, timeless and will inform the scientific community for ages.
Dr. Guillette made sure his legacy was a reflection of who he impacted, coached, directed, led and mentored. To quote him, “Your true legacy to science is the people you leave behind. I realized early on that it is not about money or numbers of publications, but making a difference in people’s lives.”
Without a doubt, I can be counted among those who have been amazed and touched by Dr. Guillette’s willingness to push and excite new generations of professionals, especially scientists, to always seek adventure in their work no matter what it is. He was one amazing human!
Lou was a world-class scientist, a colleague and a friend. With his unfailing good humor, willingness to pitch in for the good of all, commitment to partnering across multiple organizations and especially his dedication to students and others whom he mentored, he epitomized all that is best about the Hollings Marine Laboratory. He will be sorely missed, not only by us but also colleagues around the world.
I first met Lou in 1986 as a beginning graduate student at the University of Florida. From the perspectives of both a student and a fellow faculty member, he was one of the most inspiring scientists I have ever met. I will miss his enthusiasm and warm and collaborative spirit.
Bob Podolsky, Ph.D
Simply put, Lou was a great scientist and wonderful person. His passion for his students, research and profession was readily apparent to all. He seemed particularly enthusiastic about working in the field with students and colleagues, the mark of a true field scientist. Lou was also highly collaborative, sharing ideas readily with students and colleagues from myriad institutions. He loved crafting a vision to help his research, students, institution and inter-institutional colleagues advance student training, quality scientific research and its application to real world problems. He was a person you always wanted to spend more time with and learn more from.
I was not central to what Lou was doing scientifically. I was not directly collaborating with him. Nor can I come close to matching Lou as a scientist - he was a giant. But none of that mattered to him. Whenever I saw him he somehow made me feel that I was the most important person there and that what I was doing was great. He managed to give me 100 percent of his attention and in his humorous and ever positive way, charged me up. He managed to do this even when he was dealing with several other people and ideas at the same time!
I went to Lou for advice on many occasions and I always came away feeling ready to go. Others have so eloquently commented about his many accomplishments and his great value to the international scientific community, MUSC, HML, and others. But all I can think about is how he made everyone count.
Four years ago, if you told me I’d be working with an alligator lab, I would have never believed you, until I met Lou. What ultimately brought me to MUSC was Lou’s energy, passion, commitment to great science, and knowing that only great things could come from working with someone like him and becoming a member of the unified and supportive family he built here.
Lou had an incredible ability to have personal and strong relationships with so many people, yet he never sacrificed his relationships with his students. I’m sure we all thought we were his favorite, because that was just how he made you feel, he was truly committed. Lou taught me that being a successful and influential scientist is more than completing experiments and analyzing data. He taught us to foster collaboration and discussion even as young scientists.
Theresa Cantu and I often work as a team on our GoMRI projects and were also co-coordinators for our Summer Undergraduate Research Program. He taught us how to communicate our work to not only our peers but the public as well, and we practiced these tools just as rigorously as our bench work. He was the most inspirational person I knew and he continues to inspire me every day.