Tribute to David Maurice 2003-05-05
I have given two eulogies for David, one in Geneva before awarding the von Sallmann Prize of 2002 which David won in 1996. The second was at a little restaurant in Greenwich Village in New York City, a favorite hangout of David's. This is my third try. It is actually a pleasure to think and prepare a talk about David because he was such an unusual man, highly intelligent, coy, almost shy but with humor and with extraordinary principles of behavior, quite a combination of talents.
I got to know David over the last 8 years of his life. It was suddenly announced that he was to occupy space on the 4th floor of our Eye Research Annex, which was my domain. I didn't know David well but realized that he was an important person in the front of the eye. I was worried by his presence on my floor and the possibility for friction over space and other issues of power. My apprehension was fueled by the realization that he was very sloppy in contrast to my tidiness. I soon realized that this sloppiness was a game that he used to demonstrate how clever he really was in being able to find anything he wanted and quickly. Slowly I began to depend on David and his equipment, his advice and his sheer camaraderie and I began to realize what an extraordinary individual had become my neighbor. You can't get mad at David.
Perhaps what won him most to my heart was his love of life and his ability to enjoy a party. He was the only Englishman I ever saw trying to do an Irish jig during our St. Patrick's day parties. He played Santa Clause at our Xmas party, although somewhat reluctantly. He had several birthday parties a year, telling me he wanted to celebrate as many of his birthdays as he could because time was running out. He could sing and even dance with the best and enjoyed it. He could sing classical opera and very well. I can hear him humming now.
But most remarkable was his principles of behavior. He was the antithesis of an empire builder, preferring to work with one or two close associates. He disliked papers where 5, 10 or even more authors sign off on a project. He loved experimentation often on himself. He attacked problems that seemed mundane to the naive but his analysis revealed their profundity and clarity. He could handle any problem, being knowledgeable in physics, math, electronics, physiology and pharmacology. If there wasn't an "ology" for a problem, David would invent it. Though superficially sloppy, he was obsessively thorough in his work and writing. He delved into the 19th century literature to be sure someone's work was not overlooked. He detested superficiality. He reviewed papers as if he were writing them, a dream for an editor.
His most peculiar trait was his dislike of mercenary interests or excessive laudation. He turned down the prestigious and financially rewarding Alcon Prize because he didn't want to be beholden to industry. He turned down the Helen Keller Prize because it occurred at the same time he had accepted the von Sallmann Prize because he thought these prizes should be spread around.
I was greatly honored that he accepted the von Sallmann Prize. At this award presentation Yokohama, Japan, he gave an extraordinary talk later published in Experimental Eye Research. It concerned rapid eye movement sleep, REM sleep. Here David challenged the postulations of a large body of neurophysiologists that REM sleep played an important role in brain function, perhaps memory or higher order neural actions by providing evidence that its main purpose was ophthalmological, to shake the eye and thereby prevent anoxia to the cornea. This was an extraordinary idea and not without proof. This paper received a written letter reprint request from Francis Crick which I had up on the bulletin board of the 4th floor for ages. Certainly David wouldn't have put such a letter on any bulletin board.
David did even more for his von Sallmann Award; he wrote a brief autobiography called "An Oneiropenic Account of an Ophthalmological Career". This is not only required reading for anyone in eye research but is an absolute delight to read for a layman. He writes "that in order to frustrate the ambitions of his father, his object in life was to be a failure. That he was writing an autobiography for a scientific prize, he admitted that even in this modest endeavor of becoming a failure, he was not completely successful". This is a glimpse into David's humor.
I think that this humorous gene in David's makeup coupled to his innate brilliance made him a more creative scientist than most. He saw things in unconventional ways which is the root of humor. This provoked and enhanced his creativity. He says in his brief autobiography that he had no enthusiasm for routine teaching and after a repetition or two he began to doubt the contents of standard lecture material. What he liked was selecting and clarifying a promising scientific idea and devising experimental plans to carry it out and in this he has few peers in ophthalmology or in science in general.
He ranks in my opinion as one of the great if not the greatest scientist in eye research in the 20th century and it is most appropriate that the Helen Keller Foundation singles him out for a second time for this honor.
I end by parodying a little Scottish ditty, similar to the Irish ones we sang at our St. Patrick Day parties. It comes from the song, "Jock Stewart" and is from the British Isles, David's homeland before his American migration. If I could sing as well as David did I would but I can't.
His name is Dave Maurice,
he's a canny gaun man
And a roving young fellow he's been
So be easy and free,
when you're drinking with him
He's a man you don't meet every day.
Thank you for giving me the podium to eulogize David. But I could go on forever praising this remarkable man.