Address at the Memorial Service for Scientia Professor David Cooper AC

It is my great privilege to say a few words in tribute to a man whose loss has been felt around the world. But I first want to acknowledge those who feel the loss of David Cooper the most – Dorrie, Bec and Ilana.

David was the first academic I met when I accepted the role of Vice-Chancellor of UNSW. He travelled to Manchester to welcome me and to share his invaluable insights into UNSW. Above all, David wanted to make sure I knew just how important the work of the Kirby Institute was.

For those who remember the early days of the AIDS epidemic, there was an enormous sense of hopelessness. There was a lack of understanding of the disease and, from some quarters, a lack of sympathy for those who contracted it.

From the beginning of his work on the disease, David understood the need for research to be closely linked to clinical care. In the late 80s, he initiated one of the first clinical HIV research studies. The results were published in The Lancet and led to the first description anywhere in the world of the so-called “seroconversion illness”.

This was the beginning of a distinguished academic career which included his appointment as Scientia Professor – UNSW’s highest academic honour. David truly epitomised everything that UNSW strives for –academic excellence, social engagement and global impact.

His leadership as a clinician-researcher led to his appointment as President of the International AIDS Society at a time when many turned their back on the disease. But this would prove to be a pivotal role.

His insistence that the International AIDS Society conference in the Year 2000 be held in Africa – where one in four adults had HIV/AIDS but none were receiving the latest treatment – was the turning point for the disease. The theme of the conference was ‘Breaking the Silence’ and the 3000 journalists who attended did just that. The call for a global response to the epidemic was heard.

David Cooper had an illustrious career. In his final months, he was travelling to Myanmar to lay the groundwork for a new research collaboration between the Kirby Institute and the University of Medicine 2 in Myanmar.

I’m very pleased to announce that this work has continued over the past three months, and just this week, the collaboration was formally launched as MARCH – the Myanmar Australia Research Collaboration for Health.

In August this year, a new laboratory for infectious diseases will be officially opened in Yangon, and our colleagues there will dedicate the lab to David. This dedication will, I’m sure, be amongst many tributes to David, as people seek to honour his incredible legacy.

David Cooper was a leader, a colleague, a friend, a mentor, a brilliant mind. His dedication to his research was surpassed only by the care and dignity with which he treated his patients.

The word hero is overused these days. But to those who survived the disease, to their loved ones who did not have to grieve their death, that is exactly what David Cooper is.

Vale, David Cooper.

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