Winter 2019

Remembering Alvar Gustafson

The founding faculty director of the medical school's MBS program put students first.

By Helene Ragovin

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Photo: JD Sloan

Alvar Gustafson, who died October 13 at age seventy-two, put students first. During his more than forty years at Tufts University, he taught medical, dental, and veterinary students, earning a reputation as an inspiring professor at each school. He was the founding faculty director of the medical school’s Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences (MBS), created to strengthen the credentials of students applying to medical, dental, or other health-sciences programs. “He believed in second chances,” said David Grimm, MG18 (MBS). “He was fighting for his students every day.”

Gustafson held a doctorate from Cornell University, and started teaching at Tufts University School of Medicine in 1975, first in the department of anatomy and cellular biology, and most recently, in the department of medical education; his specialty was histology. Gustafson also helped launch the MBS program, which became, in the words of his friend, professor John Castellot, “his most important role.” Gustafson was enormously proud of the national recognition the program received, said Castellot, the newly appointed MBS program director. Vivian Stephens- Hicks, who worked alongside Gustafson as MBS program manager, recalled his philosophy: “He indicated that we were ‘servants’ who serve our students, to aid them in achieving their goals,” she said.

Gustafson was both a Francophile and an oenophile, and for two weeks every spring, he and his wife, Evie, visited Paris, where he could indulge both passions. “You could talk to him about any subject,” Castellot said. “And he believed that everyone in the world had value and was unique and to be respected. I considered him to be one of the quiet giants of Tufts.”

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