The Hematologist

January-February 2018, Volume 15, Issue 1

Oliver W. Press, MD, PhD (1952-2017)

John M. Pagel, MD, PhD Chief of Hematologic Malignancies, Director of Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation Program
Swedish Cancer Institute, Seattle, WA

Published on: January 11, 2018

Oliver “Ollie” Press, a beloved physician-scientist and dear friend, passed away on September 29, 2017, at the age of 65 from glioma-related complications. The scores of colleagues, mentored physicians and scientists, as well as friends and adoring family all mourn this significant loss.

Ollie grew up in St. Louis, MO, but left the Midwest for Stanford University where he completed his undergraduate degree and met his wife Nancy. They would remain together until his death, 46 years later. Even in his youth, Ollie consistently worked to be the best he could be; he received combined MD and PhD degrees from the University of Washington. After an internship and residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, Seattle became a permanent home for Ollie, Nancy, and their two boys, Michael and Maximilian. It was at the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center that he pursued his passion in translational-based lymphoma research as a distinguished Professor and Member, respectively.

Ollie’s renowned professional work was dedicated to the development of clinically significant scientific advancements in lymphoma-focused research. Ollie was a pioneer in the development of monoclonal antibodies to treat lymphomas; he was the first to publish a trial using an antibody targeting CD20. Ollie’s early immunotherapy research also led him to become a preeminent leader in the development of radioimmunotherapy approaches for cancer. His diligent and impeccable laboratory studies translated to the subsequent treatment of hundreds of patients with these novel agents over the last three decades. Dozens of awards and honors have recognized his major contributions to patient care through the application of these innovative and rational translational approaches.

Ollie was, however, much more than the consummate scientist. Above all, he routinely displayed his extreme dedication to his patients. His patients always came first, even if it meant returning a long list of emails or delivering multiple phone calls late into the night. Not surprisingly, his love for his patients led him back to the clinic just three days after having brain surgery for his glioma in 2015.

Ollie’s passion outside of the lab and clinic was the outdoors and his love was for all things biology, especially fish, lizards, and frogs. Over the years, in his office just down from mine, he kept creatures in a terrarium on his desk. Occasionally crickets would escape their destiny as dinner for his Korean fire-bellied toads, and I would find them springing about our otherwise sterile academic hallway — a testament to Ollie’s ability to pull the natural world into our everyday lives.

Perhaps Ollie’s most lasting legacy might be his well-known dedication and true mentorship to his trainees. He mentored more than 70 physicians and scientists. His undying goal was to foster each early-career physician, scientist, or student to reach his or her full potential and success. In recognition of this remarkable commitment to others, he was posthumously awarded the 2017 ASH Mentor Award. I can’t imagine a more deserving recipient and I was lucky enough to be one of his mentees. So many of us will be forever grateful for an opportunity to be mentored by one of the best. While the scientific contributions are well-respected, I take solace in knowing that his memory will live on through his many trainees, his innumerable patients, and his friends. Our loss is profound. We will all miss Ollie deeply.

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