Remembering Gary Mawe, Ph.D.

February 29, 2024 by Margaret Vizzard Ph.D., Victor May Ph.D., Brigitte Lavoie, Ph.D.

On February 17, 2024, Gary Mawe, Ph.D., a respected faculty member at the Larner College of Medicine and the University of Vermont, passed away at the age of 67 after battling an illness. His life was marked by achievement and dedication, leaving a lasting impact on our community, both here at Larner and at UVM.

Remembering Gary Mawe, Ph.D.

In remembrance of Gary Mawe, Ph.D., September 29, 1956–February 17, 2024

Gary Michael Mawe, the Samuel W. Thayer Professor of Neurological Sciences at the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine, passed away peacefully February 17, 2024, after a protracted illness. He was a preeminent scientist, scholar, and educator, and one of the most recognized and accomplished faculty at the university; his passing is a tragic and unmeasurable loss to our university community.

After receiving his doctoral degree from the Department of Anatomy at The Ohio State University in 1984 and completing his postdoctoral work with Michael Gershon in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, in 1988 Gary found himself in Vermont, driving unwittingly in the midst of a Fourth of July parade, amongst the flags, fire trucks, and tractors in a small town—he was on his way to the University of Vermont. Unflappable, he meandered with the procession, and like the American peripatetic newsman Charles Kuralt, he waved to the cheering crowds knowing that he had found home.

And at this university home, he quickly forged an enviable career. Gary was an internationally renowned autonomic neurobiologist who devoted more than 40 years of research to understanding the mechanisms and signaling events underlying gastrointestinal function. In the critical and rarified field of enteric neurocircuits, the third pillar of the autonomic nervous system, he performed pioneering work on serotonergic (5-HT), purinergic, peptidergic, and inflammatory mediator pathway intersections with sensory and motor systems that guide the essential functions of the gastrointestinal tract. From his studies of neural mechanisms regulating gallbladder bile release to the seemingly intractable intrinsic local circuits that allow anterograde (aboral) peristalsis for gastrointestinal emptying, his work was recognized and lauded by national and international scientific communities. Over his distinguished career, he published more than 130 peer-reviewed primary scientific articles in such prestigious journals as Gastroenterology, Gut, Journal of Physiology, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, American Journal of Physiology, Journal of Comparative Neurology, Journal of Neuroscience, and Neurogastroenterology and Motility. Further, he coauthored more than 14 review articles and chapters, including those published in Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology that have become central references in understanding gastrointestinal autonomic biology. More recently, his work had emphasized how the intestinal bacterial microbes (the gut microbiome) is tethered to central nervous system responses, including behavior. His work was continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for his entire research career; he also was a standing NIH study section member. Prestigiously for the Rome Foundation, Gary recently served as co-chair of the Fundamentals of Neurogastroenterology - Basic Science committee in the publication of Rome V, an educational series by world experts that revises and updates medical information on Diseases of the Gut-Brain Interactions. For his outstanding accomplishments, he received innumerable research and teaching awards and became a University Scholar in 2006. Of particular note, Gary received the Janssen Award for Basic Research in Gastrointestinal Motility in 1996 and the Dodds-Sarna Endowed Lectureship Award from the American Neurogastroenterology and Motility Society in 2023.

Coupled to his research activities, Gary was an unparalleled educator at the Larner College of Medicine. Tasked with co-directing one of the Human Gross Anatomy courses at the College, he helped train legions of students and clinicians during his long career. Unlike the dry and ponderous anatomy courses at other institutions, his course was a lively and enlightening experience. Garbed in his signature Hawaiian shirts, he would deliver immaculate lectures sprinkled with animated humor, stripping the minutia often associated with pure anatomists to emphasize the basic structural organizations and principles of human anatomy. He loved working with his students in the dissecting laboratories; in his surgical scrubs and bouncing from table to table, he relished the opportunities to quickly isolate structures that had eluded the students while regaling everyone with stories that would brighten the laboratory routines. From his outgoing and spirited teaching style, he was much beloved by everyone, students and other faculty alike, and consequently, his teachings made Human Gross Anatomy one of the top-rated courses at the university year after year. After 34 years of teaching that literally engaged thousands of students, frankly, one would be hard pressed to find a physical therapist, educator, or clinician in the State of Vermont who has not sat in one of his classes.

In addition to the legions of students from his classroom teachings, Gary was also extremely proud of the long lists of undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, medical and surgical residents, and clinical fellows he trained in his laboratory. Gary’s office door was always open to everyone and he personally guided each person’s training, growth, and development. He encouraged his lab members to collaborate, share ideas, and form a scientific family that extended well beyond their years at the university. Not surprisingly, from Gary’s exceptional mentorship, many former laboratory members are now independent investigators at esteemed institutions or in leadership positions within the scientific community to propagate a legacy.

Despite these achievements, Gary was a friend of everyone he encountered. At every meeting, his wide Irish smile was an invitation to share stories over a frothy pint. He was an amateur astronomer who sent friends daily Astronomy Pictures of the Day from NASA. He was an avid nature photographer who liked to capture fleeting fireflies from his back porch or near waterfalls all around Vermont. He was so enamored with the work of Snowflake Bentley that he set up an old inverted laboratory microscope at his house so he could stand in the cold winter morning air and capture the symmetry of singular snowflakes. As an artist, he dabbled in making weathervanes; he was Calderesque in fashioning imaginative hanging mobiles from some of the most unlikely items. And he loved to cook. There would be cakes or cookies for every lab member’s birthday, or for no particular occasion at all; departmental holiday gifts often included homemade jams or candied nuts, and an invitation to try some of his smoked pulled pork or fish fillets was truly special. Perhaps not surprisingly, he proudly listed in his curriculum vitae his award-winning coffee cake from the 1983 Ohio State Fair. But above all, Gary loved his family, his neighbors, his colleagues, and all of his friends. He remembered birthdays, anniversaries, and other special events, and often seemingly out of nowhere he would send an email or note just to keep in touch. Gary is survived by his partner Cheryl Collins and her two daughters; his two sons, Seamus and Connor, and their mother Ellen Foster; and his six siblings. There are no words. His wisdom, humor, and friendship will be painfully missed by all.

View Dr. Mawe’s obituary in Seven Days.