In Memoriam: Rebecca Blank, Gary Lyons, Alice McPherson

April 12, 2023
VOL 25 NO 1

Rebecca M. Blank, PhD

Rebecca M. Blank
Rebecca M. Blank, PhD

Rebecca M. Blank, PhD, an economist and educator who served in high-level U.S. government and academic positions and as chancellor of University of Wisconsin– Madison, died of cancer on February 17, 2023, near Madison. She was 67.

At UW–Madison from 2013 to 2022, Blank focused on improving educational outcomes and the student experience, further elevating the university’s world class faculty and placing the university on firm financial footing through private fundraising and inventive strategies. She was known for her direct style, quick analysis, and dry sense of humor, all while leading one of the country’s top public research universities through a complex political period and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have lost an incredible leader, and an even more incredible person. The UW School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH) will always remember UW–Madison Chancellor Emerita Rebecca Blank as a steadfast and dedicated partner in advancing the health of people and populations. Her family members are in our thoughts and prayers. Her legacy will serve as a strong foundation for the continued pursuit of our vision,” shares Robert N. Golden, MD, SMPH dean and UW–Madison vice chancellor for medical affairs.

Blank’s desire to elevate Wisconsin touched all facets of the institution. She made strides expanding campus diversity, and she was a prolific fundraiser, leading the All Ways Forward campaign, which raised funds for 327 new faculty funds and more than 5,000 new scholarships.

During her years as chancellor, she served on the boards of multiple national organizations, including the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, the Association of American Universities, and as chair of the Big Ten Council of Chancellors and Presidents.

Blank earned a doctorate in economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Throughout her career, she interspersed academic work with government service. She held faculty appointments at Princeton University, Northwestern University, and the University of Michigan, in addition to UW–Madison. She published close to 100 articles and several books.

Blank received the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Prize from the American Academy of Political and Social Science in 2015 and, in 2021, became the first UW–Madison economist to be named a distinguished fellow of the American Economic Association.

She was a senior staff member on the Council of Economic Advisors during the George H.W. Bush administration and served as a member of the council during the Bill Clinton administration. In 2009, she accepted the role of undersecretary for economic affairs at the U.S. Department of Commerce under President Barack Obama. She moved into the role of deputy secretary and served more than a year as acting secretary in the Obama cabinet.

In June 2022, Blank became chancellor emerita and departed for the position of president at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, the first woman to hold that title. However, she withdrew prior to beginning that role due to her cancer diagnosis.

Gary E. Lyons, PhD

Gary E. Lyons
Gary E. Lyons, PhD

Professor Emeritus Gary E. Lyons Jr., PhD, passed away on January 30, 2023, at age 65, in Madison, Wisconsin.

Born in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, Lyons received a doctorate in anatomy from the University of Pennsylvania. He completed his post-doctoral training at Stanford University and the Pasteur Institute in Paris. In 1991, he joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health’s Department of Anatomy, now called the Department of Cell and Regenerative Biology.

For 28 years, until he retired with emeritus status in 2019, Lyons was a highly revered educator, researcher, collaborator, and mentor in that department. He was passionate about science and teaching.

In his research laboratory — which focused on the characterization of novel genes in the mouse cardiovascular system using gene-trapping techniques — Lyons mentored undergraduate and graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and visiting professors. He published more than 130 scientific papers and book chapters based on his work advancing the understanding of cardiac developmental biology, often using stem cells as a powerful tool. He was a member of the UW Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center, and he especially enjoyed collaborating with a variety of colleagues throughout the SMPH and UW–Madison.

Lyons also was known as an enthusiastic and approachable instructor for first-year medical students.

“Thousands of medical students adored Dr. Lyons for his outstanding teaching, compassion toward them, and willingness to help them in times of need. He was a role model of how to live a life,” notes Patrick McBride, MD ’80, MPH, former associate dean for students and an emeritus professor of medicine. “He also was a dear friend and colleague.”

Lyons served on several UW–Madison and community committees. He was particularly honored to serve on the Medical School Admissions Committee, the Disability Accommodation Advisory Committee, the UW–Madison Teaching Academy, and—for 10 years—the Stem Cell Research Oversight Committee; for the latter, he was chair for eight years, during a time when the science and politics of human pluripotent stem cells were rapidly evolving.

Having received numerous academic and teaching awards, Lyons was most proud of those conferred upon him by his students. Specifically, he received the Wisconsin Medical Alumni Association Distinguished Basic Sciences Teaching Award in 2006 and 2014. This award recognized the most distinguished basic science teacher in the first two years of medical school as identified by second year medical students.

“While Dr. Lyons was an innovative, impactful scientist, his passion for teaching and mentoring was perhaps his greatest joy and most enduring contribution to our school,” notes SMPH Dean Robert N. Golden, MD. “We will always be grateful for his support and dedication to an entire generation of students.”

A memorial fund has been established in Lyons’ honor. Please see for details.

Alice R. McPherson, MD’ 51 (PG’ 58)

Alice R. McPherson
Alice R. McPherson, MD' 51 (PG' 58)

On January 16, 2023, the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH) and UW–Madison lost a remarkable friend and alumna, Alice R. McPherson, MD ’51 (PG ’58), at age 96.

McPherson earned her undergraduate degree from UW–Madison in 1948 and her medical degree from the SMPH in 1951; she completed an ophthalmology residency at SMPH and a retina fellowship at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. In 1960, she moved to Houston to begin practice as the world’s first female full-time vitreoretinal specialist. She became one of the foremost retina specialists in the world and was widely respected as a physician, teacher, scholar, and leader.

Serving for years as an ophthalmology professor at Baylor College of Medicine, McPherson also founded Baylor’s retina service in 1960 and established a private retina practice. She promoted several procedures that are now basic elements in successful retinal detachment surgery and diabetic retinopathy treatment.

McPherson was a strong advocate for advancing retina research worldwide. In 1969, she established the Retina Research Foundation (RRF) in Houston. Under her leadership, the RRF has funded more than 1,000 grants and helped launch the careers of many major vision researchers.

Her inspiration was critical in the 2005 co-founding — with Daniel M. Albert, MD, chair emeritus, SMPH Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences (DOVS) — of the UW Eye Research Institute. In 2012, the institute was rededicated as the McPherson Eye Research Institute. There, a large, multidisciplinary community of scholars works to advance knowledge about the science and art of vision and apply it to the prevention of blindness. McPherson was pleased to see the institute gain international prominence.

According to McPherson Eye Research Institute Director David Gamm, MD, PhD (PG ’02, ’03), a DOVS professor and UW Health pediatric ophthalmologist, “Dr. McPherson is the most accomplished, resilient, and generous person I have met. She was a treasured mentor and friend who dedicated her life to preserving sight. During her unparalleled career, she advanced techniques that restored vision to countless individuals. Perhaps even more impressive was her resolve to find solutions for blinding conditions that couldn’t be fixed using available knowledge and tools.”

Among her many contributions to UW–Madison, McPherson served on the UW Foundation Board of Directors; was the founding president of the UW Ophthalmology Alumni Association; and established seven endowed chairs and lectureships. The SMPH named one of its medical student learning communities the McPherson House. She received the Wisconsin Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumni Award and the Wisconsin Medical Alumni Association’s Medical Citation Award. In 2014, McPherson also received the world’s oldest and most prestigious medal in ophthalmology: the Gonin Medal, awarded by the University of Lausanne and the Societe Suisse d’Ophtalmologie.

SMPH Dean Robert N. Golden, MD, concludes, “Dr. McPherson was a truly remarkable person. It was a deep honor and a wonderful pleasure to know her. So many of us will miss her dearly, yet take solace in recognizing that her legacy will live on in perpetuity.”

In Memoriam

William J. Little Jr., MD ’44
Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin
February 28, 2023

Charles B. Larkin, MD ’49
Corona Del Mar, California October 5, 2022

Harold F. Ibach, MD ’51 ’64
Austin, Texas
September 30, 2022

Alice R. McPherson, MD ’51 (PG ’58)
Houston, Texas
January 16, 2023

Roy W. Zimmer Jr., MD ’53
Tucson, Arizona
October 16, 2022

John H. Rockey, MD ’55
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
January 22, 2022

Lowell D. Froker, MD ’58
Orinda, California
May 15, 2022

John D. Loeffler, MD ’58
Sacramento, California
December 9, 2022

Eugene J. Zavrl, MD ’58
Green Valley, Arizona
November 27, 2022

Mitchell A. Rapkin, MD ’60
Madison, Wisconsin
November 13, 2022

Anthony P. Mazarek, MD ’67
Stevensville, Maryland
January 7, 2023

Steven H. Hoyme, MD ’71
Augusta, Wisconsin
November 14, 2022

James A. Robert, MD ’77
Palm City, Florida
January 9, 2021

Rohinee Beri, MD ’04
Chicago, Illinois
February 2, 2023

Former Staff Member

Rebecca M. Blank, PhD
Madison, Wisconsin
February 17, 2023

James H. Brandenburg, MD ’56
Spring, Texas
November 17, 2022

Gary E. Lyons, PhD
Madison, Wisconsin
January 30, 2023

John H.N. Morledge, MD
Madison, Wisconsin
December 29, 2022

Thomas S. Stevens, MD
Waunakee, Wisconsin
December 26, 2022

Audley R. Mamby, MD ’86
Rockford, Michigan
November 22, 2021