Saying goodbye to former dean

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

The Faculty of Science says goodbye to former dean of science and dedicated professor emeritus Dr. Datta Pillay.

During his time with science, from 1963 to 1997, Dr. Pillay was a dynamic and formative figure who contributed not only to helping fill the (formally titled) Department of Biological Science, but to the entire University and the stature it enjoys today. 

In his 34 years as a research scientist, Dr. Pillay was successful each year in being awarded the competitive National Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) grants. He pioneered a research program on the role of hormones in the growth and development of plants and the molecular mechanics of aging.

Interim Vice President, Research and Innovation Chris Houser stated that Dr Pillay, “was the first person to construct a soybean chloroplast gene map, a task that today may seem routine, but at the time it was an impressive feat and his work on the soybean gene map helped to significantly elevate the research profile of the University of Windsor." 

He continued his research even while he was Dean of the Faculty of Science from 1983-1993, which at the time included ten departments – including nursing – in his portfolio.  He established successful working relationships with global partners in France, India and China, and published more than 480 research papers, which are still cited to this day.

Dr. Pillay was known for the extraordinary mentorship of faculty and students across campus.  One of his former graduate students, Dr. Siddarame Gowda states that, “Dr. Pillay was a great mentor for me both in research and life at large. I wouldn’t be a success without his unconditional support.” 

As a new professor, Siyaram Pandey, chemistry and biochemistry professor, says he immediately recognized Dr. Pillay’s affection for new faculty in science, dedication for the university community and passion for bringing the best out of students. 

“His guidance in teaching and research, helping students in all possible ways and ambition to put the university shining on national and international platforms was always there for me,” says Dr. Pandey.

“His research on aging in plant models was well recognized work, and although not directly related to his research field, he always discussed my research work thoroughly and provided very encouraging insight.” 

Pandey goes on to say, “Dr. Pillay was extremely positive about our undergraduate, graduate students and postdocs, and always advocated to help them succeed.  He celebrated with me when my students’ published papers, got admission in medical, dental and pharmaceutical colleges. He will always be there in our hearts like a shining star providing his guidance.”

Even local school boards recognized his support, awarding him for supporting secondary school science fairs. At a time when the STEM subjects were heavily gendered, Dr. Pillay actively encouraged diversity. One former Windsor resident named Pamela Singh – now a physiotherapist in California who did her undergraduate work at UWindsor – wrote that countless individuals in Ontario turned to him for guidance, and “we have our respective careers because of him”. 

Dr. Pillay’s life was one of service. He served as President of the Faculty Association, on the Board of Governors, and he was an active member of Senate for more than 30 years. Beginning in the late 1990s, he was Chair of the University of Windsor’s United Way Campaign, and responsible for significantly raising its profile in the region. 

In 2016, he was Recognized by the United Way with the Outstanding Ambassador Award.  The Charity’s chief executive officer at the time called him “a faithful friend and champion,” in describing his work as chair of the campus campaign for more than 20 years.

In retirement, Dr. Pillay has also served for many years as the Chair of the University’s United Way Campaign and was responsible for significantly raising its profile on campus and in the community.

In 2016, he was Recognized by the United Way with the Outstanding Ambassador Award. The Charity’s chief executive officer at the time called him “a faithful friend and champion,” in describing his work as chair of the campus campaign for more than 20 years.

His work with the Retirees Association was unparalleled, serving as a model for collaboration between retirees and administration across Canada, and earning him a special tribute award from Canadian Universities Retirees Association in 2016.

In 2009, Dr. Pillay was also recognized by the University of Windsor with the Clark Award, an award given to those who have made a significant commitment in time, energy, and expertise to raise the profile and reputation of the university.

Dr. Pillay was a tireless champion of individuals and communities in the Windsor-Essex region and beyond, and in the last decade of his life received testamentary awards including the Ontario Volunteer Services Award from the province of Ontario, Lifetime Achievement Awards from the National Indo-Canadian Council and the India-Canada Association, and Professional of the Year Award from the South Asian Centre.

In 2019, the University of Windsor, recognizing his ‘lifetime of outstanding selfless service,’ awarded him an honourary Doctorate of Science. At the time of his passing, he was working on a nomination for a science faculty member to receive the honour of a Distinguished University of Windsor professor.

A small group of former graduate students helped to establish the Dr. Datta Pillay Scholarship in Biological Sciences to which the university has made a donation. This scholarship is a testament to Dr. Pillay’s strong commitment to the success of students in the Faculty of Science and his legacy at the University of Windsor.