Dr. Nelson Fausto, the longtime chairman of the University of Washington pathology department who was renowned for innovative research on the regenerative power of the liver, died last Monday (April 2).

Share story

Nelson Fausto’s mother died when he was an infant. After he suffered a bruising childhood, his Jewish family was detained or forced to flee during a brutal military dictatorship in his native Brazil in 1964.

By then, Dr. Fausto had already begun his acclaimed career in pathology in the U.S. He was chairman of the University of Washington’s pathology department for 18 years, and he became renowned for his innovative research on the regenerative power of the liver.

After Dr. Fausto’s death last Monday (April 2) following a five-year struggle with cancer, colleagues showered praises on his career accomplishments but saved their highest praise for his character. A “magnificent human being,” wrote one colleague, the dean of a Philadelphia medical school.

Dr. Fausto was 75.

When flying in frequently to Washington, D.C., for editorial meetings of the American Journal of Pathology, which he edited, Dr. Fausto got to know a certain cabdriver. After several trips, the cabdriver confessed he wanted to be a researcher.

Dr. Fausto called the president of the National Cancer Institute, whom he knew, and the cabdriver was eventually hired, said Dr. Fausto’s wife, Ann De Lancey.

“Nelson will hobnob with these brilliant Nobel laureates, but also treat anyone he meets on the same level,” said De Lancey.

She attributed the compassion to Dr. Fausto’s difficult childhood. “He knew what it was like to suffer, and had incredible empathy and interest,” she said.

Dr. Fausto left Brazil for Wisconsin in the early 1960s after graduating from medical school in São Paulo. His older brothers, Boris and Ruy, went on to acclaimed careers in history and philosophy.

Dr. Fausto arrived in Seattle via Brown University, where he was the founding chairman of the pathology department. He found the liver’s regenerative process fascinating, and would begin lectures with the legend of Prometheus, cursed by Zeus to have his liver pecked out each day, only for it to regrow overnight.

He edited a widely used pathology textbook, and often tapped young researchers to join the board of the influential American Journal of Pathology. “Even when he rejected papers, he didn’t alienate people,” said Priscilla Markwood, managing editor of the journal during Dr. Fausto’s editorship.

UW colleagues credit Dr. Fausto with guiding the department through difficult days in 2000 after a resident shot and killed a professor who was a personal friend of Dr. Fausto’s. “He was a true mensch,” said Jean Campbell, an assistant professor in pathology. Dr. Fausto had “a combination of wisdom and generosity.”

He was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, cancer of the plasma cells in bone marrow, in 2007. His health spiraled significantly, with two near-death scares. But he worked until his last few days, writing an essay that concludes: “For the future, I will enjoy what I have, because it is just wonderful.”

Besides his wife, Ann De Lancey, of Seattle, he is survived by brothers Boris Fausto, of Brazil, and Ruy Fausto, of France.

A memorial service is planned for 6:30 p.m. Monday at Queen Anne United Methodist Church, 1606 Fifth Ave. W.

Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or jmartin@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @jmartin206.