Donald Henderson

Published February 8, 2017

Donald Henderson, a leader in the field of noise-induced hearing loss and professor emeritus of communicative disorders and sciences, died Feb. 1 after a long illness. He was 78.

A native of Hamilton, Ontario, Henderson attended Western Washington University, where he played football. After a brief stint playing for the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League, he moved on to a career in academia, earning a PhD from the University of Texas. He taught, conducted research and held leadership positions at the Central Institute for the Deaf at Washington University, Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse and the University of Texas at Dallas before joining the UB faculty in 1987.

At UB, Henderson served as professor and chair of the Department of Communicative Disorders and Sciences, and co-founded, with UB faculty member Richard Salvi, the Center for Hearing and Deafness in 1995.

Henderson was at the forefront of international research to determine the biological mechanisms through which toxins and noise exposure kill hair cells, the organs in the inner ear responsible for transmitting sound to the brain's hearing center. His research group was the first to show that noise exposure increases the level of oxygen free radicals in the cochlea, which destroy hair cells.

The work has led to several patents for new drugs to prevent or reverse the loss.

A prolific scholar, Henderson published more than 200 scholarly papers, chapters and books, and organized more than a dozen international conferences in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia. He trained numerous MS and PhD students, many of whom have gone on to be productive clinicians, researchers and professors.

He retired from UB in 2012.

“Don will be remembered as someone full of life and vigor; his glass of wine was always half full, reflecting his enduring optimism for life,” said Salvi, professor of communicative disorders and sciences, director of the Center for Hearing and Deafness, and Henderson’s longtime colleague and friend. “He will be dearly missed by all of us who had the good fortune to known him.”

Henderson’s family members say he was an avid traveler, a heck of a cook, a kind-hearted friend, an arts enthusiast and a guiding mentor, who was always ready to offer great advice.

Funeral services were private; a celebration of his life is being planned for a later date.