Biostatistics Professor Stephen W. Lagakos Honored at HSPH Event

More than a year after his death in a car accident, Biostatistics Professor Stephen W. Lagakos was honored at an all-day memorial symposium last Friday.

The event was sponsored by the Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Biostatistics, the Harvard University Center for AIDS Research, and The New England Journal of Medicine.

Attendees gathered at the Joseph B. Martin Conference Center on the Harvard Medical School campus to celebrate the life and accomplishments of Lagakos, the late international leader in biostatistics and AIDS research.

The day’s events included presentations from biostatisticians, physicians, and health scientists—many of whom were Lagakos’ Harvard colleagues—on the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, the future of quantitative sciences, and other topics in scientific research.

Lagakos died on Oct. 12, 2009, in Peterborough, N.H., after swerving his 2002 Toyota Highlander into oncoming traffic, hitting a Chevy Malibu. The collision also led to the death of Lagakos’ wife and mother, as well as the driver of the other car.

According to onlookers quoted in USA Today, Lagakos, who was 63 years old, had been “driving like a man on fire.”

After the crash, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigated whether the deaths were caused by the sudden acceleration problems attributed to alleged safety defects in Toyota cars, though the model that Lagakos was driving was not on the list of recalled vehicles.

Earlier this year, government investigators reported that in 58 field inspections of Toyota-manufactured vehicles, they found no safety defects that would cause out-of-control acceleration.

According to Biostatistics Professor Nan M. Laird, the memorial event was held more than a year after Lagakos’ death due to the logistics of organizing such a large event—not because of the controversy surrounding the fatal accident.

Laird added that the symposium enabled colleagues to “see many different sides of Steve Lagakos. I’d known Steve for 30 years, and I learned things about him I never knew.”

The symposium ended with a dinner in Lagakos’ honor, where about 100 of the late professor’s colleagues shared stories about Lagakos. A slide show picturing Lagakos played on a screen throughout the sentimental talk.

At the end of the night, Biostatistics Department Chair Victor De Gruttola said he found the symposium to be a fitting way to honor Lagakos’ memory. “I think that the symposium really has brought together a very strong and committed group of scientists who, in sharing their research interests and passions, evoke the very best of Steve’s legacy,” De Gruttola said.

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