Prof. Nanne de Vries says farewell

“He gave me a ring on Friday afternoon just to check I wasn’t working too long”

After over 23 years of ‘Prof. Nanne de Vries at UM’, our university community gathered at the beginning of November for his farewell lecture. During the lecture, what we already knew was confirmed yet again: with De Vries’ departure, we are saying farewell to an exceptionally intelligent, considerate and empathetic colleague. He combined these character traits with a great enthusiasm for his work and an engagement in the pursuits of those around him.

During his farewell lecture, UM President Rianne Letschert noted that De Vries was a colleague who was able to put us into gear as an academic community. A fantastic compliment for the professor, who was also chair of the Department of Health Promotion, former Vice Dean of the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences and a former member of the MUMC+ Board of Directors.

“Someone who focused on others”

When you talk to De Vries’ inner circle, they all tell you the same story. They paint a picture of someone who, even when pursuing thorough science or directing an institution, always paid attention to others: to all of his colleagues who wanted to take a step further in their research, teaching or policy-making every day. Those who worked with him described how he would sometimes call them on a Friday afternoon to check that they weren’t working too long. The fact that he himself regularly worked 80-hour weeks was not something he broadcast loudly.

His helpful disposition and his focus on talent was also expressed through his PhD supervision. He helped early-career researchers to obtain grants and warm-heartedly took on PhD students whose path to Maastricht had not been or would not be simple. De Vries worked with a lot of PhD students who had quite literally travelled a long way, in terms of kilometres but also due to financial or societal circumstances. For these PhD students, sparse financial resources or two or three side-jobs were not unusual. It was precisely these colleagues to whom De Vries gave a warm welcome and enjoyed helping on their way.

It was therefore also not surprising that when De Vries was awarded the Tans Medal (the highest UM distinction for those who have made an important contribution to the development of the university), the extent of appreciation for De Vries’ contribution to the development and growth of the university was emphasised, due to his specific attention for the lives of those within our institution. (Text continues below picture)

Nanne TANS
Photo: Harry Heuts

“A few words are enough?”

For years, De Vries formed an effective directing partnership together with Prof. Albert Scherpbier. The duo had to exchange only few words, and operated as a twosome. Those who know De Vries well may raise their eyebrows at the phrase, “a few words are enough”. “He chats to everything that moves” is namely also a sentence expressed by multiple people to summarise how he charted a path through his working life. You sometimes had to get used to his number of words, only to end up judging his talkativeness as a helpful character trait in the end. For De Vries, it seemed to be the manner par excellence to connect with people. So that a new plan, new degree programme or joint new dream could be achieved. 

‘The IJssel is also pretty’

In his time at UM, De Vries dedicated himself to the importance of increased societal health, among other things. For him, this was not only about readily achievable health improvements, like helping people to stop smoking. Rather, he found it more interesting to discover and figure out which structures made people live unhealthily and how you could change something about that.

Not long ago, De Vries himself became severely ill, which threw his future plans after departing UM up in the air. His plan to cycle to Rome with his partner was replaced with a Dutch cycle tour along the IJssel. “Also pretty”, they jointly discerned. This humility is rooted in the North (where De Vries comes from), but after all those years in the South, it can just as well be seen as the Maastricht way to cherish what is indeed possible.

On behalf of the entire UM community, we wish Nanne de Vries, his partner and their children all the best. We hope that he continues chatting to everything that moves and that he will still regularly delight his colleagues with his committed advice. 

Text: Sjors Talsma

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