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Let's continue to pursue Simpson's vision for UB

John B. Simpson is retiring as president of the University at Buffalo, leaving behind an enduring legacy of vision and service, and presenting his successor and the rest of us with the challenge of solidifying the development and implementation of his UB 2020 plan.

My own involvement with Simpson began in the winter of 2008, when I was being recruited to the Hauptman-Woodward Institute. As part of the process I was fortunate to have meetings with Simpson, UB Provost and future president Satish Trepathi and Medical School Dean Michael Cain. These meetings had a powerful impact on me, showing how much UB valued Hauptman-Woodward. At the elite private university where I used to work, it would have required a once-in-a-century astrological conjunction for the same officers to have met with a job candidate like myself.

Because he is farthest removed from Hauptman-Woodward on the UB administrative tree, Simpson's involvement with my recruiting was perhaps the most unexpected. But it presaged his continuing interest in, and support of, a rather small institute whose relation to UB is far from simple.

Simpson mentioned Hauptman-Woodward prominently in discussions of UB 2020, and was always available for an e-mail exchange or a chat. In sum, he made Hauptman-Woodward, and me as its chief executive officer, feel like welcomed and important members of the UB community.

More substantively, Simpson made me a believer in the promise and power of the UB 2020 initiative. Even brief recruiting visits to the Buffalo area had made it clear how much the region needed a path to a new economic future.

UB 2020 seemed compelling. The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus was to be the home of a new world-class academic medial center. And Hauptman-Woodward was wonderfully positioned to flourish as UB 2020 progressed.

The initiative was an all-consuming job for Simpson, ranging from the origin and continued development of the vision, to the detailed planning for human and brick-and-mortar resources, to the political struggle with our State Legislature to make the plan work.

He was a tireless spokesman, meeting with one constituency after another, and making each one feel an integral part of the plan, just as he had made me feel engaged during that recruiting interview. I recall that in a rare moment of fatigue, he complained about yet another solo, one-day round-trip drive to Albany to meet with legislators. I offered to keep him company on his next trip, but he was too kind ever to ask me.

In the long run, the academic medical center on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus will become home to the five health-related schools at UB. There will be wonderful facilities that will position physician-scientists close to their patients and to their laboratories. The campus will stimulate and attract start-up companies and much more. Thousands of jobs will be created.

The initiative already has many achievements. A building that will house the Global Vascular Institute and a new Clinical-Translational Research Center is close to completion. Also under construction on Washington Street is UB's Educational Opportunity Center, which will provide community job training and placement programs.

But UB 2020 cannot come to fruition without the legislative changes Simpson sought, changes that will provide UB the administrative and financial freedom necessary to compete.

What we owe Simpson for his service is a strong and continued effort to forward his vision.

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Eaton Lattman is the chief executive officer of Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute.

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