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Comments of Douglas Heimburger

Roland Weinsier moved his family to Birmingham in 1975, where he joined UAB as an Assistant Professor of Medicine, in the Division of Nutrition. When the Department of Nutrition Sciences was founded in 1977, he directed the Division of Clinical Nutrition. I joined the Department in 1981 as a clinical nutrition fellow, so I had the privilege of working with Roland for 21 years. I would like to say a few things from the "UAB perspective."

The UAB community and the international nutrition science community will remember Roland Weinsier as a "quadruple threat" for a steady stream of accomplishments in the three areas of academic medical endeavor (patient care, teaching, and research) plus the area of administration. These were detailed in a marvelous festschrift symposium held ten days ago, in which speakers from around the U.S. and Switzerland recounted their collaborations with Roland and the impact of his work on nutrition science. They might be divided into the following "chapters" spanning four decades.

  1. In the 1970’s Roland built the Division of Clinical Nutrition, the Nutrition Clinic (which those of us who followed him have expanded into 4 clinics serving distinct patient populations), the Nutrition Support Service (providing inpatient nutrition consultations), and the first-year UAB medical nutrition course, which has for nearly 25 years been the most extensive such course in any medical school in the U.S. In this chapter Roland began to distinguish himself in patient care and teaching.
  2. In the 1980’s Roland solidified these programs and published research findings from them. He began training physician nutrition specialists (of which I had the privilege of being the first) and building a career in published obesity research. He distinguished himself in the areas of training and research.
  3. In the 1990’s, after becoming Chairman in 1988, Roland built a larger, stronger, and better-funded Department of Nutrition Sciences, including establishment of a research group focusing on obesity, energy metabolism, and body composition (he further distinguished himself in administration and research). His research productivity expanded significantly during his chairmanship, a remarkable accomplishment that few chairs are able to achieve. And this research productivity was not just as a co-author on others’ publications – Roland directed the development of his research efforts during his years as Chairman.
  4. In the 21st century, until his illness gradually sidelined him over the last several months, Roland’s research was more vigorous, better funded, more productive, and more enjoyable to him than at any prior point in his entire career. It is difficult to say whether his research career had even peaked. Without doubt, he planned to continue it for years to come, and I am one of many people, along with others present today, who looked forward to working alongside him for years to come as well.

Personal qualities
Roland’s accomplishments were truly remarkable. But the UAB community and the international nutrition science community will equally remember Roland for his marvelous personal qualities. He was:

  1. A quiet, humble leader – he always started by establishing programs locally, but then he "went national" with all his endeavors in patient care, teaching, research, and administration, through publications, national and international collaborations, and major involvement in national societies. Yet he never grabbed the limelight for himself, because he was:
  2. A mentor and role model – he always encouraged others along the way, congratulating them on their strengths and successes, helping them shore up their weaknesses, and carefully plotting courses that would lead to advancement in their training and careers.
  3. Finally, all of Roland’s activities were supremely characterized by integrity.
    Integrity in patient care – he treated patients with compassion and discernment.
    Integrity in teaching – he taught students with a clear eye to what they should learn, not just what he would most like to teach them.
    Integrity in research – he always followed where his research data led, never twisting them (much less burying them) because they did not lead where he expected them to.
    Integrity in administration – when establishing programs and priorities, when hiring and evaluating faculty and staff, when submitting reports and managing budgets, to my knowledge he never gave unfair advantage or inserted a needless hurdle, he never withheld a rightful reward or encouragement, and he never fudged a figure or a fact. He never advanced – in fact, he was repulsed by the notion of advancing – his own interests or career on the backs of others. Quite to the contrary, he invited others to advance their careers on his back.
    Integrity in his personal habits – everything Roland believed, he immediately faithfully applied to his daily lifestyle. Although he never said this to me, I think it would honor his memory to presume that he would say that although appropriate lifestyle choices do not eliminate the risks of chronic diseases – they certainly did not do so in his case (for reasons that can be understood) – there is increasingly substantial evidence that they make a significant impact. And he would highly recommend them.

In remembering him as a humble yet superb leader among nutrition scientists, educators, clinicians and administrators, a mentor and role model to all who worked with him, and a friend who always displayed complete integrity, the UAB community and the international nutrition science community have lost a great man in Roland Weinsier. We will miss him very much.