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Dr. David Holbrook

It is with great sadness that I report the passing of Dr. David Holbrook. He died peacefully on May 3rd, 2020 at the age of 87. He was a critical component in the development of our training program in 1979 and stayed involved until 2019, dedicating 40 years of his life to the Curriculum in Toxicology at UNC-Chapel Hill. I remember my first encounter with Dr. Holbrook after I received my PhD in 1997 and started looking for postdocs. When I inquired about a postdoc program in Toxicology at UNC-CH, which allowed trainees to complete an academic postdoc in the lab of EPA investigators, I was referred to “Daddy Holbrook.” I wasn’t exactly sure what this description meant in the beginning, but it was pretty clear that investigators who were affiliated with the program viewed him as “The Father of the Toxicology Program at UNC-CH”.


He was selflessly dedicated to the program, but more importantly to the trainees. Dr. Holbrook left a significant impact on the careers and professional development of almost every trainee going through the program and, as a result, significantly contributed to the legacy of one of the best Toxicology programs in the country. As Dr. Jim Samet, who has known Dr. Holbrook since he was a trainee in the program, put it so eloquently: “He was a founding faculty member of the Curriculum and, as director of graduate studies, the living, breathing face of the program for decades. His selfless dedication to generations of graduate students made and sustained the Curriculum as the leading toxicology graduate program that it continues to be today. He was an exemplary individual personally and professionally, and those of us who were fortunate to be recruited, taught, lecture, mentored, counseled and directed by him owe him much of what we have become in our careers as toxicologists.”


We developed the “David Holbrook Travel Award” a few years ago, even though he tried to convince me that “others are more deserving than him to have a named award.” Despite his declining health in recent years, Dr. Holbrook attended the weekly Toxicology seminar whenever he could, further demonstrating his genuine dedication to the program. As Dr. Marila Cordeiro-Stone, former Director of Graduate Studies and interim Director of the program, summarized it so accurately: “He will no longer be here, but I hope his legacy will not be forgotten!!!” In my role as the current Director of the Curriculum in Toxicology & Environmental Medicine, I will do everything I can to make sure his legacy will indeed never be forgotten. His tombstone will read “David J Holbrook, Father of the UNC-CH Toxicology Program.”