Donn Kushner (1927–2001)

Author of A Book Dragon

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Short biography
The following resolution in memory of the late
Professor Donn Kushner was presented by Professor
David Cook:
It is a great honour for me to propose a resolution in memory of Professor Donn Kushner.
Donn J. Kushner was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana in the United States in 1927. He
received his Bachelor of Science degree from Harv
ard University in 1948. Thereafter, he went
to McGill University where he obtained his Master’s degree in 1950, his doctorate in 1952
followed by two years as a post-doctoral fellow at the Montreal General Hospital Research
Institute. From 1954 to 1965 he worked at a number of institutions including the Forest Insect
Laboratory in Sault Ste. Marie, and the Nationa
l Research Council in Ottawa. He also spent a
year as a Visiting Research Worker at the National Institute for Medical Research in London,
Professor Kushner began his Univ
ersity teaching career in the De
partment of Biology at the
University of Ottawa beginning as an Associat
e Professor in 1965. He received the rank of
Professor in 1967; a rank he held at Ottawa until his move to Toronto. His arrival in Toronto
came as the result of the appointment of his wi
fe Dr. Eva Kushner as President of Victoria
University. During his academic career in Ottawa
Professor Kushner had a number of leaves
that took him to many destinati
ons including significant stays at
the Pasteur Institute and the
Jacques Monod Institute in Paris, to Cornell Un
iversity in Ithaca and
back to Montreal and
McGill University.
On his arrival in Toronto Professor Kushner obtained an appointment as Professor in the
Department of Microbiology with cross-appointments to Botany and the Institute of
Environmental Sciences. He was very active in both Departments as well as in the Institute
where he initially had his office and laboratory and where he later became Director of their
Collaborative Graduate Toxicology
Program. His main teaching duties at the time where in the
Department of Microbiology until his formal retirement at age 65 in 1992. He was well
respected by his students giving help and support to both his undergraduate and graduate
students alike. His classes were
very popular. They where were not only about science. He
also brought to his classes hist
orical and other perspectives an
d, occasionally, anecdotes from
his children’s books.
Professor Kushner’s formal retir
ement did not mean he ceased to
work. On the contrary, when
the Department of Botany moved to the brand new Earth Sciences Building Professor Johan
Hellebust, the then Chair, offered Professor Kushner an office and laboratory where he
continued to do research, have graduate students and offer courses. I an indebted to Professor
Hellebust and thank him for many of the following details of Professor Kushner’s scientific
Professor Kushner was a leader in the field
of adaptations of microorganisms to extreme
environments. He and his collaborators have written numerous original research papers in key
journals, including several in the prestigious journal Nature. He contributed several excellent
overviews of research in his field, edited books, written chapters in books and helped to
organize and contribute to many international meetings. Professor Kushner had served as the
editor of key national and international journals such as the Canadian Journal of Microbiology
and the Archives of Microbiology. He al
so served on numerous granting agencies.
Professor Kushner’s pioneering research was in stress physiology of microorganisms. He
collaborated on research to produce transgenic cy
anobacteria that would be toxic to mosquito
larvae with the aim of reducing disease carryi
ng mosquito populations. He also collaborated
on the effects of toxic metals an algae and cyanobacteria, on the eff
ects of heavy water on
microorganisms to name just a few of the ar
eas he worked in. Professor Kushner also
established a microbial culture collection at the Un
iversity of Toronto that is reputed to be the
finest collection of freshwater micro-algae in Canada.
Professor Kushner’s academic accomplishments al
one would set him apart. However, they
formed only part of this extraordinary life. Not only was he at home in the sciences but also in
the arts. An accomplished violin and viola player, Professor Kushner played in many chamber
music groups. His musical abilities brought joy to his family, to his many friends and to the
wider community. He played as part of the ch
amber group at President Kushner’s installation
held in Convocation Hall.
If this was not enough Professor Kushner’s love of literature would by itself form yet another
career. His children stories were well known.
He won many awards such as the Canadian
Library Association Book of the Year for Children award given for 1980 work The Violin-
Maker’s Gift. Translations of this work have appeared in Germany, Holland, France and
Poland. In fact, a steady stream of children’s books were published in the 1980’s and 1990’s
including Uncle Jacob’s Ghost in 1984, A Book Dragon in 1987, The House of Good Spirits in
1990, The Dinosaur Duster in 1992, A Thief Among Statues in 1993, The Night Voyagers in
1995 and Life on Mars in 1998. He was working on another book at the time of his death.
Donn Kushner leaves behind a family that shares many of his passions and his love of life. Of
course Eva, his wife, whose very presence amongst us will remind us of his dedication to the
university, the arts and literature. Donn Kush
ner led an exemplary life. As many have
remarked, he was in his accomplishme
nts and loves a ‘Renaissance man’.
Mr. President and Vice-Chancellor, I move this
resolution be entered into the minutes of the
Victoria University Senate and that a copy
be communicated to Professor Kushner's family.
The memorial resolution was given assent with a standing vote and a minute of silence.
[Source: Minutes of a meeting of the Senate of Victoria University held on Wednesday, October 3, 2001. http://www.vicu.utoronto.ca/Assets/VI...]
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