In Memoriam, Dr. Gary G. Matthews, 1949-2016
Neuroscientist, Mentor, Teacher, Author...
The University mourns the death of Dr Gary G. Matthews, Leading Professor of Neurobiology and Behavior. Gary died on Friday December 16 th, 2016 after a brief illness, His loss deprives us of a preeminent investigator in biophysics and in cellular and molecular neuroscience, as well as a beloved mentor, teacher and colleague.
Gary was a consummate scientist who took great care and pride in his experiments. He had a lifelong research interest in the cells forming the retina, with particular attention to “synapses” -the intercellular junction at which nerve cells communicate with each other by releasing neurotransmitter molecules. His early studies focused on the signal transduction channels involved in vision. Following a sabbatical with Nobel Laureate Erwin Neher to study mast cell exocytosis, Gary first applied both capacitance measurements and calcium measurements to nerve terminals of the retina to unravel the molecular events underlying synaptic transmission.
Gary was a master of optical and electrophysiological techniques, developing new methods to track, on a millisecond timescale, how single vesicles diffuse, fuse and are recycled at high-speed "ribbon" synapses. He held fellowships from the Wilson, Ford, Sloan, von Humboldt and Guggenheim foundations; his research won continual NIH support for 35 years, being supported by both the Eye and the Neurological Sciences institutes (NEI, NINDS). His fundamental discoveries were recognized by a large number of international awards including the von Humboldt Award (1994), the Brian Boycott Prize in retinal neuroscience (2008), and the Sir Bernard Katz Award of the Biophysical Society (2009).
Gary was a dynamic teacher of both undergraduate and graduate students, with a lecturing style that combined rigor and elegance. He directed and taught most of Principles of Neurobiology (BIO 334), the core element of the undergraduate Neuroscience specialization. The clarity of his teaching was also apparent in his single author textbooks: ‘Cellular Physiology of Nerve and Muscle" and ‘Neurobiology: Molecules, Cells, and Systems’. Both monographs saw multiple editions and were translated to numerous languages, used across the United States and at many international universities. Gary’s brilliance and efficiency was evident in his ability to write these books while watching football or NASCAR racing. This highly developed skill of parallel processing was a trick he credited to Denis Baylor, his post-doctoral advisor at Stanford.
Gary was an outstanding research mentor: his students and post-docs have gone on to faculty positions at Yale University, Washington University, the Vollum Institute in Portland, and the University of Texas, Houston among others. His “neurotree” can be accessed at http://neurotree.org/neurotree/tree.php?pid=1221.
Gary came to Stony Brook in 1980 as one of the original recruits to the newly formed Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, quickly rising through the ranks to Leading Professor. Throughout his career, Gary was an extremely active member of the Department of Neurobiology & Behavior and continues to be an inspiration. He has been director of Graduate Education and served on the Departmental Executive Committee. He has been an active member of the mentoring committees of numerous junior faculty, all of whom have been promoted with tenure. He has chaired two search committees and served on many others. Gary was also a founding member of the first Stony Brook life sciences center, now the Center for Nervous System Disorders, a component of the Centers for Molecular Medicine. His insights, originality and dynamic teamwork made this center a successful interdisciplinary approach to Neuroscience.
Gary always elicited the ultimate respect from his colleagues as a spectacular scientist, educator and administrator. When the Neurobiology & Behavior department was once pressed to nominate an internal chair, he was the only candidate endorsed by the entire faculty except one - that one firm dissenter was Gary, himself.
Gary was an active and integral member of the Stony Brook community serving on the Promotions and Tenure committee for multiple terms and chairing this committee from 2009 until 2011. He was renowned for his sage and cut-to-the chase voice in every meeting. His leadership roles have been characterized by fairness, perspicacity and precision; his mentorship and scientific guidance, by kindness, rigor and loyalty. He was the essence of an authentic gentleman and scholar.
Gary was not only a respected scientist, but a quietly big hearted and genuine man who adored his family (including his family pets), music, fine wine and fast cars. He treated each of his laboratory members like family, routinely opening up his home to laboratory visitors. Although he was always busy with research and teaching responsibilities, he was never too busy to promptly answer your email, pull up a chair next to a student with questions or write a letter for a former graduate student.
Gary is survived by his wife Karen Wexler, his brother Denny and son David, daughter-in-law Allison and four beautiful grandchildren (Averie, Austin, Owen and Eliza Matthews) who reside in Matthews, North Carolina. The Department of Neurobiology & Behavior will host a remembrance in spring 2017.
Donations can be made to a fund established in Gary’s honor through the Stony Brook Foundation that can be selected as a donation option by searching for and then selecting “GGM Support for Graduate Students” at: https://alumniandfriends.stonybrook.edu/online-giving