Professor emeritus Colin Hall wrote this remembrance of his dear friend and neurology colleague Kevin Robertson, who passed away earlier this year.
September 3, 2019
Surrounded by loving family, friends and colleagues, Kevin R. Robertson died on June 16th 2019, at the age of 62, following a courageous several month battle with a particularly virulent form of cancer.
Kevin spent the last thirty years of his life seeking answers to the effects of HIV infection on the nervous system. During that time, he became recognized as a world leader in the Neuropsychology of AIDS and he will be greatly missed at both a professional and a personal level. He was born in Virginia but the family soon moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, where he rapidly developed a lifelong love of the sea and of all things Tar Heel. Following B.S. (Summa cum laude) and M.S. degrees in Psychology and Clinical Psychology at Western Carolina University, he completed his Ph.D. at Oklahoma State University. He completed a clinical internship at UNC Chapel Hill, where he was awarded the Wallach Award as Outstanding Clinical Intern. In 1989 he joined the fledgling UNC Aids Neurological Center as a Postdoctoral Research Associate and rapidly rose through the academic ranks to achieve Full Professor status in 2003 and Directorship of the Center in 2007.
In the early days, Kevin’s research was directed towards documentation of the then little-understood effects of HIV on the brain and cognition and its progression. He was integral in creating tools to chart progress of the disease and the effects of the rapidly developing treatment options, primarily but not exclusively on the nervous system. His studies involved central, peripheral and autonomic nervous system effects of and treatment responses to primary disease and a variety of opportunistic infections. Over time. his gift of successful collaboration with colleagues led to his support of a wide variety of clinical and basic science studies including the mechanisms involved in neuronal death, CNS compartmentalization, drug penetration, clonal differentiation, nervous system effects of associated systemic diseases, quality of life determination and other related issues. As the focus of research and treatment expanded around the globe, Kevin became a leader in the development and evaluation of tools to study the effects of disease and treatment in resource-poor settings around the world. He was principal investigator and/or co-investigator in multiple sites on every continent except Antarctica and much of his time was devoted to collaborative research, clinical studies and teaching in these areas. His work resulted in publication of over 130 peer reviewed research papers in addition to book chapters, editorials and invited reviews. Despite his illness, he was working until a couple of days before his death including an article that has just been accepted for publication in this Journal. A few days from the end he told me he was trying to work on eleven further papers, and I am sure several more will be completed by his co-investigators, both in the United States and around the world.
Dr. Robertson was heavily involved in administrative activities, locally, nationally and internationally. In addition to involvement at different levels in over 50 funded grants, he held administrative positions on 24 different national and international committees, often with leadership roles. These included Chair of the Neurological Collaborative Science Group, Co-Chair of Mental Health Working Group and Co-Chair of the International Research Focus Group at NIAID. He was twice the Chair of the international Assessment of NeuroAIDS in Africa conference, and Co-organizer/Co-chair of 14 other International Conferences on HIV around the world. As a result of his activities, he was awarded in 2016 the prestigious Distinguished Leader in AIDS award from the American Psychological Association.
Always a patient and approachable teacher, Kevin had the reputation at UNC of being a go-to person for advice on all things Neuropsychological, a great resource for study design, and a mentor for junior, and often senior, investigators. He was also an all-around “good guy,” a great conversationalist with a great sense of humor. In the course of our work together I had the privilege of visiting 19 different countries with him and could not have asked for a better and more convivial fellow-traveler. In middle age, at the encouragement of his beloved wife, Stacey, he became something of an exercise nut, with daily workouts at the gym and long cycling endeavors. He was a passionate collector of international folk art, and during trips would peruse the local markets, bringing home the pieces that now decorate his home. He had a deep love for playing guitar and writing and recording original music. He loved good movies, with a predilection for old classics. He loved to cook, with a taste for the exotic. He loved his family, his friends and his dogs. In addition to Stacey and his loving family he leaves behind many close companions from around the world. His departure was all too early, and we will miss him greatly.
Department of Neurology
UNC Chapel Hill