Our community has been diminished by the recent loss of our beloved colleague and friend, Wendy Lynn Havran. Her death on 20 January 2020 was sudden, and sadly, did not provide an opportunity for her many friends and family to say goodbye. In our 30 years of friendship, this was the only time I knew her to do something inconsiderate.
Wendy had a calm and reticent demeanor that belied the enormous impact she had on the field of immunology and on the hundreds of colleagues and friends who knew and admired her. To learn more about her formative years, I encourage you to read a recent interview in which she commented on her development into an immunologist (https://www.the-scientist.com/profile/t-cell-tracker--a-profile-of-wendy-havran-65249). I will focus on her many years at Scripps and what she meant to those who knew her as a colleague and friend.
Wendy was the first woman ever recruited to our department. Those of us who came before were begrudgingly tolerated because the department wanted to recruit our spouse or significant other. Fortunately, when Per Peterson became chair of our department, he put an end to that nonsense and just looked around for the best candidates. At the time, Wendy Havran held a prestigious Lucille P. Markey Scholarship and had just completed a highly successful postdoctoral position with Jim Allison at the University of California, Berkeley. She already had several first-author Nature papers under her belt and had made several influential discoveries. She and Jim demonstrated that double-positive CD4+CD8+ thymocytes were precursors to mature single-positive CD4 and CD8 T cells. But it was another discovery, involving a different type of T cell, that would become the focus of Wendy’s career. She produced a monoclonal antibody that detected γδ T cell receptors and, with it, found that an unusual population of dendritic-cell-like epithelial cells in the skin were γδ T cells. Even more surprising, the cells expressed an invariant γδ T cell receptor. How did they get there? What were they doing and how did they do it? This was the stuff careers are built on, and she proceeded to do just that. Along the way, she helped to build an international community of investigators who would meet each year at the γδ T Cell Conference.
Soon after arriving at Scripps, Wendy and one of her first postdoctoral fellows, Richard Boismenu, found that in response to injury, skin γδ T cells produce keratinocyte growth factor, a molecule critical to tissue repair. A role for T cells in wound healing was an entirely unexpected discovery. The lab further demonstrated that γδ T cells played a similar role in the intestinal epithelium. In the years that followed, Wendy and her colleagues identified the molecular basis for the activation and function of these cells. These seminal findings are now being translated by her lab into biologics for wound healing and cancer.
Research was only one of Wendy’s talents. Our department was exceedingly fortunate to have the benefit of Wendy’s strong enthusiasm for mentoring the next generation of immunologists. As associate dean of our graduate school, she had the opportunity to assist many of the students who eagerly sought her guidance. Wendy was also the principal investigator for our long-standing and highly successful NIH Institutional Postdoctoral Training Award in Immunology and founded our Summer Immunology Internship Program for undergraduates. Her mentoring didn’t stop there, as there were often high school students and visiting professors to be found in her lab. She was a superb mentor, supportive and nurturing but also realistic in defining goals. She was awarded the Scripps Outstanding Mentor Award in 2018.
Wendy’s generosity of spirit extended to our faculty. She would seek opportunities to promote and support her colleagues, both junior and senior. She was particularly sensitive to the needs of female trainees and junior faculty and would provide them with advice and guidance. She would also encourage them to serve their community through the American Association of Immunologists (AAI). Wendy was exceptionally generous in her commitment of time and expertise to the AAI, for which she received their Distinguished Service Award in 2018. She was also a member of the inaugural class of Distinguished Fellows of AAI, initiated in 2019.
Those were just some of the reasons we were fortunate to have Wendy as a colleague at Scripps. Some of us were also fortunate to have Wendy as a friend. She kept her friends close, and over 30 years we shared hundreds of joyful lunches, dinners, celebrations and concerts. Lately there were some very sad experiences thrown in the mix, as we lost several irreplaceable longtime colleagues and friends. Sharing the pain of those losses helped us to get through. I wish she were here so we could commiserate about the loss of my dear friend, Wendy Havran. I will always miss her great kindness, warmth and good humor.