Michel M. J. Lavoipierre, Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine: Davis
One could not come away from a conversation with Michel without knowing that he was an extraordinary person. Michel was truly the Renaissance man, a vanishing breed in an age of stifling over-specialization. He was above all a gentle and loyal man, faithful to his religion, devoted to his children and students, and steadfast in his pursuit of academic truth.
Born in South Africa on April 24th 1920, Michel's involvement with parasitology began at an early age. Indeed, overzealous boyhood explorations of fresh water ponds and streams in Natal Province led to firsthand experiences with schistosomiasis on three separate occasions. His early schooling began in Pietermaritzburg and Durban, South Africa. He received his B.S. in zoology and botany from the University of Natal in 1943 with a Distinction, an academic accomplishment of which he was secretly most proud. Michel went on to study medicine at the University of Witwatersrand, and finally obtained M.B. and Ch.B. degrees from the University of Liverpool in England in 1951 under Professor R. M. Gordon. Later, he was to co-author Entomology for Students of Medicine with Gordon, a wonderfully written treatise on medical entomology that remains the constant companion of the teaching medical entomologist and of the advanced student studying for oral examinations. Michel continued his postgraduate studies in parasitology at the University of Paris, the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and at the University of Liverpool, England.
His professional life began during World War II when he served as a medical entomologist in Africa and the Mediterranean region. Later, in 1951, he was a lecturer in medical entomology at the University of Liverpool in the School of Tropical Medicine. In 1960 he accepted a position as a medical entomologist with Kaiser Foundation in Richmond, California and then transferred to Hooper Foundation for Medical Research at the University of California, San Francisco in 1961. In 1963 Michel traveled to Malaysia as the resident coordinator of the International Consortium for Medical
― 171 ―Research and Training for the University of California. During this time he was also a research associate of the University of Singapore. In 1965 he returned to the Hooper Foundation and in 1967 he joined the Department of Veterinary Microbiology in the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis. In 1980 Michel transferred to the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine in the School of Veterinary Medicine where he was active until his death in 1984.
His major fields of research read something like the table of contents to a standard text on medical entomology: feeding mechanisms of blood-feeding arthropods and the host reactions they elicit while feeding; the ecology of ectoparasitic arthropods, especially mites and fleas; transmission mechanisms of arthropod-borne diseases, especially nematode-vector; the biology and epidemiology of filarial interactions, mosquito physiology; mite and sandfly taxonomy and biology, and the impact of insect-borne disease upon history. Although Michel's contributions to basic research in the field of medical entomology and parasitology are considerable, he was personally most proud of his discovery of a pentastomid parasite of lizards that has an invertebrate host--the cockroach. However, the most significant aspect of his accomplishments was that he shared the knowledge he gathered from a lifetime of thoughtful study with both colleagues and students alike, assisting and enriching their research endeavors.
His remarkable breadth of expertise extended far beyond medical entomology and parasitology. He focused the same intense interest, excitement and enthusiasm on a wide array of disciplines and personal interests, including Persian art, classical music and wine. He was most fond of the French song cycles of the later part of the last century and was a devotee of opera. He was fluent in a variety of languages, including French, his second language, German, Russian, Afrikaans, Xhosa and Zulu. Michel was a collector of rare and ancient books, especially volumes on the effect of arthropod-borne disease on history.
Michel consistently provided his students with his time and energy, regardless of his own circumstance, giving advice, criticism and above all encouragement. Whatever resources he possessed he made available, sharing his library, his equipment and even his house. He invariably played down his own contributions to his students. It is not surprising that so many of his graduate students formed strong personal bonds with him that extended far beyond the confines of school. Michel's students had a major professor who demanded accurate and thorough research and, more importantly, was a true personal friend and confidante. Even though much of Michel lives on within each of us, we all miss him very much.
Deane P. Furman Hans P. Riemann Calvin W. Schwabe