”I have many memories of prof. Pozzan, having spent seven years in his laboratory at the Department of Biomedical Sciences (this was still the appellation at the time), University of Padova. Those were probably my most formative years as a scientist, and I feel honored and incredibly lucky for having had the chance of being mentored and inspired by him. Even as I progressed in my career, I have always proudly claimed his as the laboratory that fathered me scientifically, as it did many other scientists. Obviously (and rightfully so), his fame preceded him, so no explanation was ever needed.
Starting as an undergraduate student in his lab, progressing through grad school, and deciding (with some gentle nudging, and truly a lot of help, from him) to continue my post-doctoral career abroad, I experienced different phases in the way I looked at him. Initially, I was incredibly intimidated by him, for example when he would peek into the microscope room late in the evening (always preceded by the distinctive sound of him clearing his throat), obviously looking for somebody else and barely disguising a bit of disappointment. Then he became a bit more familiar with my person and my work, so he would ask how the experiments were going. At first, it had been challenging to gather the courage and the right words to answer properly and not make a fool of myself (I probably did anyway, but he was too gracious to show it). And then came the phase when he would feel comfortable sitting down and having an actual chat with me. It usually happened later in the evening - that was his favorite moment. As a commuter, I knew that I would probably end up missing my train, but it was worth it because those chats were windows into his mind, and the opportunity to grow and expand my perspective as a scientist. As a scientist and as a person, I should say, because his culture and passion reached well beyond science, as one could appreciate during a conversation or taking a glimpse of his office, where Physiology textbooks, journals’ issues, and Art books coexisted beautifully, immersed in the aroma of his coffee and cigarettes' smoke.
I am sure that many other former students have vivid memories of moments like this, but there is one that I remember with particular fondness because it reveals how much he cared about his role as a mentor. One of those late evenings, some Ph.D. students, postdocs, and I were finishing up our things when he came into the lab. He must have had a phone interview with a perspective postdoc or a chat with a younger scientist, and they must have entered into a bit of an argument (I won’t reveal the subject for discretion, but it was the kind of thing that reveals if your understanding of cell biology went beyond the schematics that they show in textbooks). He was curious to question us, one by one, to see what side we would take (without disclosing his own). Without hesitation, we all gave the same answer and our motivations, and he visibly brightened up with pride, because he saw the effect of us being raised at the “Pozzan school”.
Even if we have lost an immense scientist, mentor, and man, the ”Pozzan school” - his scientific legacy - lives on. Not only because the scientific discoveries and techniques that he had pioneered continue to be fundamental, but because he was incredibly generous in sharing his talent with others – students, post-docs, colleagues – and he was happy and proud to see “his people” shine.
The last time I saw him was when I went back to Padova to give a seminar. Afterward, he invited me to his office to catch up over a coffee (the invitation itself felt like a huge validation to me). We discussed my research, the new projects ongoing in the lab, his intention to retire, but most of all how proud he was of the growth and successes of my former colleagues (or even trainees!) that had permanently joined the lab. He was an empowering mentor, and his legacy will continue to cast a light for us scientists to follow and will shine through each one of our discoveries and accomplishments.
Thank you for all you have done for us.
Rest in peace, prof. Pozzan.