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ACTG names second new award for former UNC neurology professor, Kevin Robertson.

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David Wohl, left, takes a break while cycling with his former colleague and mentor, Charlie van der Horst

“The national AIDS Clinical Trials Group expanded its annual recognition program in 2020 with two new awards named for University of North Carolina faculty members who died in 2019: Charles van der Horst, MD, an infectious diseases physician and researcher, and Kevin Robertson, PhD, a professor of neurology and director of UNC’s AIDS Neurological Center.” Dr. van der Horst was the CFAR Developmental Core Director and Dr. Robertson was an active member of the CFAR community. 

“ACTG presented David Wohl, MD, a UNC infectious diseases physician and researcher, with its first Charles van der Horst Humanitarian Award.” Dr. Wohl is an investigator with the CFAR Clinical Core. “‘This award recognizes an ACTG member who exemplifies the ideals that informed Charlie’s life as an unwavering social justice advocate who dedicated his career to promoting universal access to HIV research, treatment and care regardless of setting, wealth or privilege,’ said Joseph Eron, MD, vice chair of the ACTG and chief of UNC’s Division of Infectious Diseases, in presenting the award to Wohl. Van der Horst died in June 2019 during an endurance swimming event in New York’s Hudson River.

‘David, like Charlie, is a force, and like Charlie, has boundless energy. David is always thinking, ‘Is this just?’ ‘Is this equitable?’ about everything we do,’ Eron said. In addition to Wohl’s extensive HIV work, Eron said, most recently he has been involved in UNC’s Covid response with initiatives that include taking testing out to rural counties that have been hit hard by the SARS-Co-2 virus. ‘His leadership in integrating the community into our studies has been masterful. His ability to incorporate people and to truly hear them has been very Charlie like.’

Wohl said he is grateful and humbled to be given an award named for his mentor. ‘I see this award as not so much about achievement but a reminder of the need to move forward and follow Charlie’s enduring example,’ he said. ‘I hope that everyone who receives it will take it as a message to do what Charlie always pushed us to do, which is to do better, be a better clinician, or researcher, or activist, or advocate, or colleague, or partner, or parent, or role model. Be a better person, just like Charlie.’

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Former neurology professor Kevin Robertson, PhD

The Kevin Robertson Memorial award honors the UNC neurologist who died in June 2019 after a long battle with cancer. Robertson was ‘unflappable, persistent, and remarkably dedicated to his work,’ said Judith Currier, MD, MSc, chair of ACTG. The award honors investigators who ‘exemplify Kevin’s compassion, collegiality, and commitment to junior investigators.’

Currier presented the award to Serena Spudich, MD, professor of neurology and chief of Neurological Infections & Global Neurology at Yale University. Spudich said Robertson was the person who first encouraged her to join ACTG and later to serve as vice chair of its neurology committee. ‘He believed in other people, he saw the best in other people,’ Spudich said. ‘He had a graciousness, he respected and cared for everyone’s opinions, which is why he was such a successful investigator. Many of us felt like we had a special light shining on us from knowing Kevin.'”

This story first appeared November 24, 2020 on the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases website.