Mark Pescovitz (1955-2010)
My oldest brother Mark Pescovitz died yesterday in a car accident. Mark was a true Renaissance man — a transplant surgeon, medical researcher, fine artist, and philanthropist. Mark was a professor of microbiology/immunology and director of the transplant immunology laboratory at Indiana University School of Medicine. He didn't become a scientist when he grew up — he was always a scientist. Mark was a maker from a very young age. He scavenged electronics by the pound and, before he was even a teenager, built a laser that he turned into an alarm system. He entered the project in a city science fair but didn't win because the judges refused to believe he made it himself. He built a chemistry lab in our basement, a darkroom in a storage closet, and a model rocket shop in our attic. Inspired by the space race, Mark dreamed of being an astronaut, was an early member of the National Association of Rocketry, and as an adult applied to be a medical doctor aboard the space shuttle. Mark taught me why a broken TV isn't junk and how to treat sulfuric acid with respect. He gave me my first computer and a book on programming. This year, he transformed my son into a dedicated rocketeer in just one afternoon.
As a medical researcher, Mark authored several hundred scientific publications on immunology and transplantation. Most recently, he and his colleagues published a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine about a new way to slow and possibly even stop the progression of type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile-onset diabetes. In recent years, he traveled to Eldorat, Kenya to teach physicians there how to do their first kidney transplants. He brought his amazing wife Ora and kids Aliza, Naomi, and Ari with him, and they helped care for children in the town whose parents were suffering from AIDS. For Mark's efforts in Eldorat, the community there named him an honorary "Village Elder."
Ever since he was in high school, Mark had a passion for documentary photography. As his medical research became global, Mark had many new opportunities to take pictures. He had visited more parts of the world than almost anyone I know, from Malaysia, Egypt, and Iran to China, Israel, and Turkey, to perform surgery, train doctors in remote regions, present his research, and meet with collaborators. To maintain his sanity with such a hectic travel schedule he always added an extra day whenever he visited a new place to just explore the locale on his own with his camera. He treated that day as sacred, keeping it free of commitments.
"Few would consider flying to Manila (a 15 hour non-stop flight) for a one day meeting a 'pleasure' trip," Mark once said, "but by bringing my camera and taking an extra day to wander around shooting photos, the perspective of the trip completely changes."
In 2008, Indiana University held an exhibition of my brother's travel photography, titled "The Unconventional Tourist." His photography also was featured in a group show at Boston's GASP experimental art gallery. Over the last few months, Mark was preparing a new series of photographs that he told me involved "collections of things." He mentioned that he had also acquired a large Van de Graaf generator for the project. I'm not sure why, but I bet he had a lot of fun with it. Mark was also a collector of fine art, finding inspiration in pieces by Chuck Close, Christo, María Magdalena Campos-Pons, and younger emerging artists.
Mark loved music, from classical to bluegrass, and at various points in his life took up violin and mandolin. He served on the board of several charity organizations and was particularly excited about helping with the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis. Mark and Ora have always been incredibly generous with their time and money, donating to many Jewish, medical, education, and art causes and making themselves available to those organizations in very real ways.
My brother embodied the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, meaning that one should live with purpose, to help heal the world. Mark did that, with joy, wit, and passion. And the world is a little better for it.
My family and I thank you all so much for your kind words and sympathy. Mark's funeral was held on Thursday, December 16, 2 p.m., at Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis.
Please consider a donation in Mark's memory to one of the following organizations that he supported:
• Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis
• The Indiana University Foundation
• The Indianapolis Opera
• The International Violin Competition of Indianapolis
• Gift of Life Foundation
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