Emery N. Brown ’74 receives the John and Elizabeth Phillips Award

World’s leading physician-scientist in anesthesiology is honored.

By
Jennifer Wagner
October 30, 2020
Emery N. Brown

In a virtual ceremony this afternoon, Dr. Emery Brown accepted the 2020 John and Elizabeth Phillips award, conferred annually upon an Exonian who exemplifies the nobility of character and useful service to humankind that the founders sought to promote in establishing the Academy.

As the world’s leading physician-scientist in anesthesiology, Dr. Brown is not only a renowned expert in his field but a true pioneer. He is one of only 25 people — and the first African American, the first statistician and the first anesthesiologist — elected to all three branches of the National Academies: Medicine, Sciences and Engineering.

Principal Bill Rawson ’71; P’08, speaking from his desk in Jeremiah Smith Hall, opened the community-wide Zoom webinar announcing, “This is without a doubt one of the most exciting and important days of the school year because this is the day we present the Academy’s highest honor.”

Dr. Brown’s scientific contributions are profound enough to shed light on that which makes us most human — consciousness itself.”

Trustee and GAA President Janney Wilson ’83 delivered the award citation detailing Dr. Brown’s significant, lifetime contributions. “You have broadened our understanding of how drugs influence neural networks in the brain to achieve unconsciousness and have improved the comfort and safety of millions of surgical patients,” she said. Beyond the operating room, she added, Dr. Brown’s discoveries have offered insights into possible cures for some of the deepest forms of human suffering: addiction, dementia and depression. Quoting a colleague, Wilson said, “[Dr. Brown’s] scientific contributions are profound enough to shed light on that which makes us most human — consciousness itself.”

Dr. Brown accepted the award remotely from his home in Massachusetts with humility and gratitude. “I just feel that Exeter giving me this award is ironic because [Exeter] has given me so much,” he said. “I just can’t emphasize enough how much Exeter has contributed to me and my success.”

Watch the assembly speech:

Dr. Brown graduated from Exeter in 1974 and went on to receive a degree in applied mathematics from Harvard before earning a doctorate in statistics along with a medical degree at Harvard Medical School.

For the past 30 years, Dr. Brown has simultaneously practiced as an anesthesiologist, studied neuroscience and published more than 400 original papers, inventing and patenting landmark scientific and medical technologies. He currently teaches medical engineering and computational neuroscience at MIT, as well as anesthesiology at Harvard Medical School. He is the only person to hold simultaneous endowed chairs at both of these institutions.

I wasn’t just a kid in Florida dreaming about things. I was now a kid from Florida going to Exeter and Exeter showing him that dreams could come true.”

Dr. Brown remains committed to developing the optimal anesthetic and improving the welfare of the more than 250 million people worldwide who undergo anesthesia.

He concluded his remarks with heartfelt sentiments of gratitude for his Exeter experience. “Exeter helped me become basically who I am,” he shared. “One of the things that happened was, by coming to Exeter, I realized I could actually accomplish things. I wasn’t just a kid in Florida dreaming about things. I was now a kid from Florida going to Exeter and Exeter showing him that dreams could come true.”

Classmate Dr. Elizabeth “Betsy” Nicholas ’74, an anesthesiologist at USAP-Maryland, will lead a discussion with Dr. Brown on Nov. 11 at 8 p.m. Eastern Time as part of Exeter’s ongoing Creating Conversations series.