Professor Emeritus Rick Miller, inaugural chair of the Department of Immunology, passed away peacefully at home in October, one week into his 77th year.
Rick hailed from St. Catharines, Ontario, and was educated at the University of Alberta with a Masters in 1961. He completed his PhD in physics and biology at Caltech in 1966, and was recruited as a postdoc to the Ontario Cancer Institute by Jim Till shortly thereafter. Rick’s research at OCI focused on understanding peripheral T cell tolerance and natural immunity. His lab developed a new approach for fractionating lymphocyte subsets, which illuminated several mechanisms behind T cell regulation and natural killer cell function.
Rick also had a talent for bringing ideas and people together. Taking advantage of the vibrant immunology scene in Toronto in the 70s and 80s, he was integral to the creation of a new department in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto. Coupled with his energy and commitment for a new academic mission, the Department of Immunology was founded in July of 1984.
A year later, the undergraduate specialist program was created, highlighting Rick’s commitment to creating a department that was a “centre of excellence” for training highly qualified academic researchers. Furthermore, Rick saw to it that the Department had a home college at Trinity; to this day we are the only Department in the Faculty of Medicine affiliated with a college.
For his scientific work, Rick received the Purkinje Medal from the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences in 1988 and was named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1994. He also held additional leadership roles, including serving as the Acting Vice President of Research at OCI in 1996-1997, and as the chair of Medical Biophysics from 1992 to 2000.
Outside of science, Rick loved to travel and was an amateur ornithologist. Among his favourite pastimes were camping and staying at his cottage in the Canadian wilderness.
Predeceased by his loving wife Beverley and son Graham, Rick will be remembered by his son George, granddaughter Sophie, sister Anne and her children, his partner Patricia, and by many colleagues and students at the Ontario Cancer Institute and Department of Immunology.
Rick’s life and accomplishments were celebrated in a memorial service held at Trinity College, University of Toronto, on November 28th, 2015. In the closing words of our current chair Dr. Zúñiga-Pflücker, “Professor Rick Miller was a great scientist and academic leader, who instilled greatness in all of us. For that we will remain eternally grateful.”
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