Datta Pillay addresses ConvocationDatta Pillay addresses Convocation on the 2019 occasion of his honorary doctorate.

Former dean remembered for contributions to University and community

Professor emeritus Datta Pillay, who died Jan. 1, is remembered by colleagues and friends as a man exceptionally generous with his knowledge, expertise, his mentoring — and his hospitality.

Dr. Pillay joined the University of Windsor’s biology faculty in 1963 and retired in 1997, serving during that time as professor, dean of science, a member of the University Senate, a member of the University's the Board of Governors, and president of the Windsor University Faculty Association. As an educator, he mentored hundreds of students in the Windsor-Detroit community and helped them in their careers, not to mention mentoring career professionals who reached out to him for advice.

Among campus honours, Pillay received an honorary doctorate in 2019 and the Clark Award in 2009.

In presenting Pillay to Convocation for his honorary degree, dean of science Chris Houser noted his “lifetime of outstanding selfless service” and a cutting-edge research program that was continuously funded by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, advanced understanding of aging, and helped to elevate the profile of the University of Windsor.

His contributions extended far beyond his formal working years. He revived the Windsor University Retirees’ Association and lobbied successfully to place retiree issues on the agendas of the University’s administration and faculty association. He published the retiree newsletter at a level that earned a tribute from the Colleges and Universities Retirees Association of Canada. In addition, Pillay’s decades chairing the University’s United Way campaign won him an Ambassador Award from the charity in 2016.

Pillay also involved himself in the arts, organizing concerts with leading South Asian musicians and dancers in Ontario and Michigan and bringing maestros to Windsor.

That legacy of volunteerism earned him an Ontario Volunteer Services Award, lifetime achievement awards from the National Indo-Canadian Council and India Canada Association of Essex and Windsor, and recognition from the South Asian Centre as 2016 Professional of the Year.

His long-time friend, business professor emeritus Alfie Morgan, said these formal citations don’t capture the spirit of the man.

“I recall his hard lobbying for a dedicated Biology Building and for a medical school here in Windsor going back to the 1960s and ’70s,” Dr. Morgan said.

He said what he will most remember is Pillay’s generosity and dedication to all people around him.

“He maintained communication with former students. He checked on his fellow retirees. I and other colleagues would get weekly calls from him, just checking in to make sure that we are OK,” Morgan said.

“He was a generous host and a great cook — entertaining large groups of his colleagues with great, delicious Indian dishes and desserts. He would cook in large quantities and then call us to come and take some food home or deliver it to other colleagues who didn’t always cook for themselves.

“It has been a real privilege to know him. I am fortunate to have had him as a colleague and dear friend for 54 years.”

Funeral services were held Jan. 3; find details in Pillay’s obituary online.