Man of science was beloved by many
Andrew Dingwall poured his wisdom and heart into his teaching and his family life
Last updated 9/13/2023 at 4:34pm | View PDF
One of Dr. Andrew Dingwall's students at Loyola University's Stritch School of Medicine came to him in a quandary. A sudden family illness necessitated an immediate return home, but the student didn't know how to arrange for his program absence on such short notice.
"My dad said to him, 'Don't worry about it, book your flight. I will handle everything,' " relayed Dingwall's daughter, Caitlin Dingwall, from her conversation with the student at her father's memorial service last month. "The student was able to leave the next day and spend time with his family without any worry or hassle, and my dad coordinated everything behind the scenes."
That heart of compassion and generosity, whether in his role as professor and researcher or as father and husband, was a hallmark of the longtime Hinsdale resident's character. Andrew passed away on July 24 from a rare form of prostate cancer. He was 62.
Andrew loved teaching, said his daughter Lauren, a Chicago Public Schools elementary teacher, and it loved him back.
"During his wake, there was a line out the door of colleagues and students, all who shared personal anecdotes about him," she said.
His wife, Dr. Claudia Zraly, said serving as a mentor to his pupils was particularly rewarding.
"That's why students were really drawn to him. He had a real passion for making sure his students became good physician-scientists," she said of the unique M.D.-Ph.D. program he led.
The two met as graduate students at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx. Claudia, a New York native, was struck by his spirit of adventure.
"He was adventurous and wanted to explore New York because he had never lived there, so I was his tour guide," she said.
They married in 1989 and moved to California for post-doctoral training at Stanford University. They established a research laboratory together, the beginning of a longstanding work relationship. Despite conventional wisdom, Claudia said their marriage benefited from sharing an office.
"This was not a problem for me. We worked really well together, training students and publishing papers," she said. "I enjoyed having conversations with him all the time about anything."
In 2004 they moved to Chicago for Andrew to become a professor of cancer biology at Loyola. Caitlin said her dad's professional life intersected with family life.
"I very much grew up around his students and in his lab," she said. "Every school break I would go Loyola and hang out with his graduate student and his colleagues. They were very much an extended part of our family."
That exposure and her dad's joy in his work led her to become the family's next Dr. Dingwall, working and studying as a physician-researcher in St. Louis.
"It was a great source of pride for me when he came to my doctoral thesis defense in February when I was eight months pregnant," Caitlin said.
And Andrew was the proud grandfather when he welcomed his grandson in March.
"He ended up actually being in the delivery room when I was giving birth," she noted.
Caitlin's husband went to the waiting room to let family know they'd had a boy.
"Everyone asked us what the name was going to be, and we said 'Andrew Joseph,' " she said. "It was an extremely poignant moment."
Lauren treasured the therapeutic phone calls they would have on her commutes home.
"He was like my driving buddy," she said. "He would take my call after a difficult day, even when he was working, and he would just listen and wait for me to come to my own solution."
Claudia recalled annual family summer getaways to Door County and bringing the girls along on out-of-town medical conferences.
"We were the kind of family that always did everything together," she said.
Andrew enjoyed gardening and socializing with neighbors.
"He was definitely the anchor of the family. He had to live with three women for all those years," Caitlin quipped.
When he was diagnosed with large cell neuroendocrine prostate cancer in March of 2022, the aggressive form had only been documented 20 times worldwide. Only nine of those cases were in patients who not previously had prostate cancer, like Andrew.
"He was patient number 10 in the world even to develop this cancer," Caitlin said. "There was no standard of care available to him. It was all trial and error."
He lived 17 months more, staying positive and keeping his regular work hours right up until his death.
"It was a testament to how much he enjoyed and found purpose in his career," Caitlin said.
In tribute to Andrew, a memorial fund was established at Loyola to underwrite enriching seminars for M.D.-Ph.D. students.
"It was his wish that the students would be provided for in that way," Claudia said.
Meanwhile, his research continues to bear fruit with a recently published paper co-authored with his wife.
"He passed away before he knew it was accepted," she said, growing emotional.
Caitlin wears her dad's watch everyday, a reminder of the time he always made for others.
"That's my way of continuing to honor him, by incorporating his career into mine in how I treat my patients," she said.