Although his office now sits empty, a rarity during his 10 years with the University of Colorado, Richard “Dick” Traystman, PhD, lives on through his legacy. He built a successful research program, guided countless colleagues and mentored students toward greatness.

Richard Traystman memorial
Richard Traystman, PhD, where he spent countless hours – at his desk.

Such was the message delivered during a “Celebration of Life” on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus for the distinguished professor and vice chancellor for research, who passed away Oct. 19 at 75.

More than 250 campus community members, welcomed by CU Anschutz Chancellor Don Elliman, gathered on Nov. 7 to reminisce about a man whose colleagues say led with both fortitude and compassion, serving as a revered mentor and a treasured friend to many.

When people leave this earth, they leave a lot of holes in other people’s lives, said Professor Robert Damrauer, associate vice chancellor for research housed at CU Denver, after sharing his and Traystman’s love of opera.  “There are going to be holes in all kinds of people’s lives.”

‘We can do more’

Richard Traystman in the kitchen
Traystman was remembered as a consummate team leader. Here, he pitched in cooking a meal.

CU Denver Chancellor Dorothy Horrell recalled her first meeting with Traystman, PhD, and being struck by his “booming” voice and straight-forward demands for high standards. “But I found that once Dick took you into his fold, he became an ardent advocate, a trusted confidant, a sage resource and a cherished friend.”

Well-loved for his wit and generosity, Traystman also bolstered colleagues and students in their own careers by modeling passion and strong work ethic, his friends said, noting that he was always the first to come and last to leave the office and was a fixture on Saturdays.

“I asked him once when he usually leaves,” said Vesna Jevtovic-Todorovic, MD, PhD, a colleague in the Department of Anesthesiology. “And his response was that Suzann (Lupton), his devoted and very supportive wife, made that decision for him.”

His work ethic stemmed, at least in part, from his sheer love of his job, his colleagues said. “He worked extremely hard, but it was never work to him as he enjoyed it all too much,” said Alison Lakin, RN, PhD, associate vice chancellor for regulatory compliance.

“But most importantly of all, he created not a team but a family that supported each other and could have fun,” Lakin said, choking back tears. “We all know the most important role we can play is to make sure the research keeps moving forward. Thanks to his great leadership and legacy, I know that it will.”

‘We can do better’

Traystman had a talent for spotting human potential and motivating colleagues and students, for whom he had a special affection, Horrell said. “He would engage so deeply with students, ask thoughtful questions, and always leave them with an encouraging word.”

Portrait of Richard Traystman
Richard “Dick” Traystman, PhD

CU wanted him for his science, his ability to bring people together and for his personality, which it really needed at the time, said former School of Medicine Dean Richard Krugman, MD. When Traystman was recruited, the campus was moving to Aurora from central Denver and facing other struggles.

“It looked to me that Dick was being recruited for an impossible job,” Krugman said. But he gathered a terrific group of people and overcame the struggles, all while he kept up his own lab and research funding and traveled the world earning a Lifetime Achievement Award, Krugman said. “No one person could ever do this,” he said.

Traystman’s dedication never waned, not even at the end, his colleagues said. “During my final visit with him at the hospital, I thanked him for all he had done, the way he had touched so many lives, for his support of CU Denver, and for his belief in me,” Horrell said. “True to form, he had something to say: that our work wasn’t yet done. We can do more,” he told her. “We can do better.”