In Memoriam: Alvin Novick, Scientist, Humanitarian and AIDS Awareness Pioneer

Alvin Novick. (Photo by John Curtis.)
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Alvin Novick, 79, physician, biologist, Yale University professor, and AIDS community leader, died on April 10, 2005 in New Haven. He had prostate cancer.

Professor Novick taught biology at Yale for 48 years. A Harvard–trained physician, much of his early professional career was devoted to sensory physiology. He was a world–renowned expert on bat echolocation, author of The World of Bats and the current Encyclopedia Britannica’s article on bats. His research on bat sonar navigation was used by the US military for improvements in radar technologies.

In 1982, Dr. Novick shifted the focus of his work to the ethical, public policy, and community development aspects of the AIDS crisis. In that role, he served as a leader of the gay/lesbian medical community (including as President of what is now the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association), editor of the AIDS & Public Policy Journal, and consultant to numerous federal agencies. In the New Haven community, he served as chair of the Mayor’s Task Force on AIDS, and was a founder of AIDS Project New Haven, and Leeway, Connecticut’s first and only skilled nursing home dedicated solely to the treatment of people living with AIDS.

“Dr. Novick used his leadership as a physician and a Yale professor to open doors and be the voice of those most stigmatized by the epidemic—injection drug users whose lives could be saved by needle exchange programs, people of color, or fellow physicians with HIV who were being denied the right to practice medicine. He had an extraordinary capacity to be direct with public officials about their ethical and programmatic shortcomings, always expressed in the context of sound science and good public health.” — The Honorable John DeStefano, Jr., Mayor of New Haven

“In the mid–1980s, when there was great fear of the disease and discrimination and stigmatization was rampant, Al Novick was an early, passionate and brave advocate for those infected with or at risk for HIV. At his urging, then–Mayor of New Haven, Biagio DiLieto created the Mayor’s Task Force on AIDS, and it was this Task Force, under Al’s leadership, that went on to advocate successfully for one of the most effective HIV prevention interventions for drug users known, then or now needle exchange.” — Michael Merson, Professor and Past Dean, Yale Epidemiology and Public Health

“As Governor and as Senator, I could count on frank, solid, and accurate advice from Al Novick. He helped shape my understanding of the HIV epidemic, as he did for many other officials in Connecticut and in the federal government.” — Lowell Weicker

Dr. Novick remained actively teaching at Yale until shortly before his death. He always enjoyed the challenge of opening the minds of his students to new ways of thinking. He taught a popular undergraduate course on AIDS and Society and was also a founder of Yale’s Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS.

“He was a man who was ahead of his time. When others were assimilating everything that had gone on around them, Al would have already identified and begun to address unresolved issues with razor sharp precision and compassion.” — Frederick L. Altice, Associate Professor, Yale University AIDS Program

In addition to his science and policy work, Novick was a dedicated horticulturist with special affinity to dwarf conifer and Japanese maple trees. He was a certified dog show judge by the American Kennel Club and was a lifelong breeder of Shi Zsu, Cairn Terriers and French Bulldogs.

“I think everyone who knew Al, recognized his interest and love of all living things. This was reflected in all his contributions. Not the least were his avocations as dog breeder, handler, show judge, and gardener. He did all these things, as he did others, at the professional level.” — Frank Ruddle, Emeritus Professor and Past Chair Yale Department of Biology

Novick served in the US Army during World War II, during which he was a prisoner of war in Germany. After the war, he attended Harvard College and Harvard Medical School, receiving his M.D. in 1951.

“Al was one of the most courageous, graceful and thoughtful people I have ever met in my life, He saved lives and careers—and was one of the most interesting people at Yale. Al really stood out for moral courage.” — Stephen Stearns, Professor and Chair Yale Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and former work–study student for Al Novick.

Novick was pre–deceased by his life partner Bill Sabella and his sister Rosalyn. He is survived by Dr. Fredrick L. Altice, Associate Professor of Medicine at Yale School of Medicine, many close friends, students, his beautifully tended gardens and Tara, his Cairn terrier and her four week–old puppies.

In lieu of flowers, Dr. Novick asked that donations in his honor be made to: AIDS Project New Haven, 1302 Chapel Street, New Haven 06511; AIDS Interfaith Network, 1303 Chapel Street, New Haven 06511; Hispanos Unidos, 116 Sherman Avenue, New Haven 06511. A memorial service to be held in one of his many gardens is planned for later this spring.

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Media Contact

Janet Rettig Emanuel: janet.emanuel@yale.edu, 203-432-2157