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Music, athletics and epidemiology join to honor late professor

Dr. Robert Millikan was tied to the community in a variety of ways.

Tonight, the Chapel Hill Philharmonia will perform the “Millikan Symphony,” dedicated to his memory and composed by Robert Millikan’s sister, Ann Millikan. The symphony kicks off a weekend dedicated to Robert Millikan, who died in October 2012, that also features a symposium from the epidemiology department and a regatta hosted by the men’s crew team.

Robert Millikan was the Barbara Sorenson Hulka Distinguished Professor of Cancer Epidemiology at UNC, served as a faculty adviser for the men’s crew team and conducted cancer research in Ireland as a Fulbright scholar. According to Ann Millikan, the symphony and surrounding events are an excellent way for the community to honor her brother.

“He had a positive impact on many people, and I wanted to honor that, from the students he mentored to his colleagues in the science field as well as his musician friends,” she said.

UNC music professor Donald Oehler said the rich history surrounding Robert Millikan’s involvement with the CHP — which Oehler conducts — makes the symphony even sweeter. Robert Millikan played chamber music with Jerry and Barbara Hulka, the latter being the namesake for his professorship. The Hulkas were founding members of the philharmonia.

“The symphony could have been played by anyone, but I think this is the most appropriate venue,” Oehler said. “It is community engagement for the University, and it brings together people from the medical school, the science department and the arts department, which I think is really special.”

Born at UNC over three decades ago and comprised of local volunteer musicians, the philharmonia is an example of synergy between the University and the town of Chapel Hill according to Oehler. For philharmonia president Rosalind Goodwin, this involvement within the community is extremely important.

“We want them to consider us their community orchestra, and we want them to come to our free concerts and hear us play on a regular basis,” Goodwin said.

According to his sister, Robert Millikan was truly a giant in the Chapel Hill community. She said giving back was always a priority for him — even after he found time for rowing, research and music.

“As a sibling, your brother is just your brother. But after he died, I went to a memorial site for him, and people were leaving comments about his legacy, and I was blown away at his impact,” Ann Millikan said.

“So it’s about celebrating not only him but bringing the community together in a positive way to celebrate that sense of community that Bob believed in.”

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