Willy Bergdorfer

The passing of “Willy” Burgdorfer is an event of notable sadness for all in the tick-borne community. We, at ILADS, extend our profound sympathies to his wife and family and wish to thank them for sharing the life of this sublime man with us. In this time of such an extraordinary loss, we are called to honor the contributions of Dr. Burgdorfer whose seminal work in the field of tick-borne illness did so much to alleviate the sufferings of so many world-wide.

The history of science demonstrates that great discoveries come from the one who combines unending vigilance with persistence to uncover the truth in those details overlooked by the egos of others. Often the quest for scientific truth can be a lonely process and one that is unappreciated and even vilified by colleagues. Dr. Burgdorfer at times experienced this but his inherent intellect reassured him that authenticity and character are the true hallmarks of greatness. As Albert Einstein, a fellow scientist and a Swiss countryman, said “Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.”

Dr. Burgdorfer’s life and work exemplified this. His gentle character steeled by scientific conviction was a hallmark on his style. His interminable hours of scientific study in his laboratory culminated in his discovery of the Lyme disease spirochete in the Ixodes scapularis tick and confirmed the direct link between pathogens in the USA and other countries. His effort and his genius resulted in worldwide recognition of his singular contribution and thus, the Borrelia burgdorferi, bears his honorable name.

His constant good humor and ability to be “everyman to everyman” combined a life of inestimable service to the science he so loved and to mankind whom he so valued. We at ILADS are eternally grateful to him.

Leo J. Shea, III, PhD