Dick Silver ’50, M.D. ’53, has had a notable career studying and treating cancer at Weill Cornell Medicine.
But the professors who took the most interest in him during his Cornell undergraduate days, and really got to know him as a person, were his music professors: William Campbell, director of the Concert Band and Big Red Band, and Robert Hull, director of the Cornell Symphony Orchestra.
“Inspirational teachers are so important; they have such an influence on students,” Silver said. “I was very close to my music professors.”
That’s why Silver and his wife, Barbara, recently created the Barbara and Richard T. Silver ’50, MD ’53 Professorship in the Department of Music and support the Barbara and Richard T. Silver ’50, M.D. ’53 Wind Symphony. Assistant Professor James Spinazzola has been named the Barbara and Richard T. Silver ’50, MD ’53 Assistant Professor and Director of Winds. A Barbara and Richard T. Silver ’50, MD ’53 Silver Associate Professor will be named in spring 2019.
“I think it’s so important for students to have the opportunity to play, learn and meet other people through music; in addition to its cultural and educational value, they may even get a date out of it,” Silver said with a laugh during an Oct. 31 visit to campus, where he attended a dedication dinner and a meeting of the Cornell Council, of which he is a life member. “Initially as a freshman, I was overwhelmed, feeling socially and academically inadequate. The band and the orchestra gave me a place of belonging. I think they preserved my sanity my first six months.”
Silver was student director of the Concert Band and Big Red Marching Band, and solo clarinetist in the orchestra. He has continued to play in chamber music ensembles and orchestras throughout his career. At the dedication dinner Silver, Rachel Diao ’19 and James Parker ’21 performed Mozart’s “Divertimento No. 4, K. 229.”
Silver started as an engineering student but transferred into Arts and Sciences and became a math major on the pre-med track. He was offered a New York State Scholarship after acceptance to the then-Cornell Medical College during his junior year – and thought his acceptance was a joke by fraternity brothers.
After medical school, he served during the Korean War in the Commissioned Officers Corp of the U.S. Public Health Service. He was assigned to the National Cancer Institute in its clinical cancer program, where he became interested in leukemia.
After finishing his training in internal medicine and hematology, he was a Visiting Fulbright Professor at the University of Bahia, Salvador, Brazil, helping to establish a U.S.-styled residency program sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation and Cornell Medical College. He returned to the then-New York Hospital – Cornell Medical Center, where he did breakthrough work with imatinib, a drug that revolutionized treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia.
Silver is a professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, attending physician at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and emeritus director of the Richard T. Silver M.D. Myleoproliferative Neoplasm Center. His focus is on myeloproliferative neoplasms, including chronic myeloid leukemia, polycythemia vera, essential thrombocythemia and primary myelofibrosis. He has published more than 350 papers and four textbooks.
Kathy Hovis is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.