In memory of Lou Siminovitch – A true mensch


The Gairdner Foundation is saddened by the passing of Dr Lou Siminovitch at the age of 100 but we celebrate a long life well-lived. The Gairdner Foundation hosted a 100th birthday tribute video for Lou back in May 2020 and we encourage you to watch that again and to read my commentary on Lou’s contributions here

Lou Siminovitch received the Gairdner Wightman award in 1981 and has been an inspiration to many other Canadian Gairdner laureates. Here are a few quotes to illustrate the various ways that Lou impacted on generations of scientists in Canada.

“Lou Siminovitch was only 11 years older than myself, but was a supervisor of my postdoctoral program at Connaught Medical Research Labs in 1956-57 and a valued mentor at the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto from the time it opened in 1958. An inadequately recognized contribution was his initiation of experiments that he undertook with Ernest McCulloch and myself in the early 1960s. These experiments involved a subset of mouse bone marrow cells (we called them spleen colony-forming units, or CFU-S) that Ernest and I had been studying. The experiments showed that CFU-S possessed a crucial characteristic expected of stem cells - the capacity for self-renewal. This important contribution to stem cell biology has been overshadowed by Lou's many other noteworthy contributions to genetics, virology, cell biology, journal editorship, research leadership and science policy. Many would regard this sort of overshadowing as a 'nice problem', but I don't. I think that his contribution to stem cell biology has been inappropriately neglected and should be high on any list of his noteworthy accomplishments.”

Jim Till, Canada Gairdner Laureate with Ernest McCulloch, 1969

"When I was a graduate student at the OCI/PMH in the late 60s/early 70s, Lou was the scientist we all looked up to: smart, articulate, a leader, had trained at the Pasteur with the great Andre Lwoff and understood everything from phage genetics to hematopoietic stem cells. So when it was time to start thinking about where to do my postdoc, I made the trek to Lou's office and to ask for his advice. Much to my surprise and typical of Lou, he asked me where I wanted to live next-London or Paris. We didn't discuss areas of science but which city interested me culturally the most. That was Lou-always bringing together culture and science. I instinctively chose London and that has influenced the rest of my scientific career ever since."

Alan Bernstein, Canada Gairdner Wightman Laureate, 2008

“In 1992 I had recently joined the faculty at the University of Toronto and I went to see Lou to introduce myself. I knew that he was a scientific pillar in Canada and that his contributions over a bandwidth covering medical research to administration were legendary. I hardly expected him to take an interest in me. But he did! Perhaps it was because of Lou’s initial training in Physical Chemistry and my research in Biophysical Chemistry, but Lou followed my career, offered advice and support, and provided a shining example of what a brilliant scientist and a true mensch should be.”

Lewis Kay, Canada Gairdner International Laureate, 2017