On November 1, 2020, the remarkable life of Dr. David Alan Ahlquist came to an end as he left behind this world he loved so much and began his next great adventure.
Born on July 28, 1951 in Thief River Falls, MN, and raised in St. Paul, David graduated from the University of Minnesota (BA '73) and Mayo Medical School (MD '77). He spent his entire storied career at Mayo Clinic, where he left an indelible mark on the institution, his colleagues, and his patients. As a leader, a scientist, and a clinician, he always stayed true to his guiding principles: the needs of the patient, the integrity of the science, and the imperative to work toward impactful change. The revolutionary partnership between Mayo Clinic and Exact Sciences sprung from his trailblazing cancer research. The first result of this partnership is the Cologuard colon cancer test, which has already saved countless lives through early detection. A visionary in the truest sense, David's North Star in his final years was the development of an affordable, accurate universal cancer test. While he did not live to see his vision come to fruition, he took heart in knowing that his Mayo lab team and Exact Sciences are building momentum toward this world-changing goal.
Throughout his career, he valued the contributions of his collaborators in his Mayo lab, at Exact, and beyond. Together, they took on mighty challenges and shifted paradigms, and any success was their shared success. Even so, he received numerous individual awards in recognition of his excellence, including the first Mayo Clinic Distinguished Inventor Award, the William Beaumont Prize (Amer. Gastroenterological Assoc.), the Mayo Clinic Investigator of the Year, the Mayo Clinic Internal Medicine Research Career Achievement Award, and many others, and he held a named professorship at Mayo. For David, however, the work and its impacts were the rewards. He always looked to the next challenge, the next question, the next opportunity to solve a problem, innovate, and improve lives.
While David devoted his professional life to medicine, his spirit craved nature, and he felt most at home with birdsong in his ears and binoculars around his neck. Whether fly fishing, cross-country skiing, birdwatching, paddling on a North Woods lake, or hiking the Superior Hiking Trail, the world as he knew it was full of wonder and just waiting to be explored. And he instilled this love of nature and this sense of wonder in his children and grandchildren. His deep commitment to the environment and admiration for the work of his wife, Susan, and their three children informed his growing commitment to "whole health," which recognizes that community, environment, and health are intertwined and inseparable. "We could cure all diseases," he said in his final weeks, "but if we don't take care of this planet, we have no future. If we don't save the planet, what have we accomplished?"
Unbowed by his 2019 ALS diagnosis, David saw his remaining time as an opportunity for adventuring with his family, spending meaningful time with friends, and working toward his vision of a universal cancer screening test. Throughout, his courage and generosity of spirit inspired all who encountered him.
David is survived by his beloved wife of 48 years, Susan; his three children, Aaron (Elizabeth), Daniel (Amanda), and Brooke (Bryant Carlson); seven grandchildren, Brennan, Donovan, Claire, Theoren, Simon, Foster and Ingrid. Also surviving are his siblings, Pamela (Joey) Newman, Dale (Laura), Calvin (Carol), and Carla (John) Heldt, as well his extended family and many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, Al and Virginia Ahlquist, and his sister, Julie.
There will be a celebration in honor of David's life for family, friends and colleagues at a later date, after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed. In the meantime, friends and family are invited to send their favorite memories of David to his family. Additional tributes to David can be found through Mayo Clinic and Exact Sciences (https://www.exactsciences.com/newsroom/exact-sciences-mourns-the-death-of-dr.-david-ahlquist-a-pioneer-in-early-cancer-detection).
In lieu of flowers, David's family asks that donations be made in his name to Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness (https://www.friends-bwca.org/memorial), which is committed to protecting his beloved Boundary Waters.
David lived and died with gratitude. While he will be missed immeasurably, he leaves the world a more hopeful place. Now and always, may his memory be a blessing.
Ranfranz and Vine Funeral Home is honored to be serving the Ahlquist family; to share a special memory or condolence please visit www.ranfranzandvinefh.com
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Dear Susan and family,
With tremendous sorrow Nurit and I heard of Daves passing. Knowing him as a mentor friend and as a colleague was a great experience and many times fun. He was the one who actually predicted my acceptance to the coveted Advanced Endoscopy Fellowship. He supported me and us clinically, academically, and personally. We shared a few great private times, diners, and simply talking. Nurit and I ofer our sympathy for Daves loss and hope that his memory as the special person that he was will fill all your heart
Nurit and Alex Geller
My sympathy to you, Susan, and your family. Dr. Ahlqist was a wonderful human being I had the pleasure of working with on occasion at Mayo. The world is a better place because he was in it. Kathy Yotter
I was surprised and saddened to read about David's death. I am sorry for your unbearable loss. I was a patient of his years ago and I remember at the time, how impressed I was with not only his clinical skills but also his kind, humble and gentle spirit. I am thankful I knew him. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.
I was lucky enough to work with David during my radiology residency at Mayo Rochester where we worked on developing CT Colonography in the mid 90's. He was incredibly kind and always generous with his time helping an overeager trainee with papers and presentations. I was so incredibly saddened to hear of his passing, my last memory is running into each other several years ago and luckily having time to sit down to catch up. He was an incredible physician, an inspiration to me personally and a tremendous loss to all that were lucky to know him. My heartfelt condolences to his family.
David was my mentor while I was in residency. He helped me with a research project that led to a oral presentation at DDW. While in San Antonio for the meeting, he helped rehearse my presentation and prepared me for possible questions. After he took me and some other fellows out to dinner on the Riverwalk. It was a great time. About 10 years ago I had him come down to Springfield, Illinois to present grand rounds at SIU medical school where I had been the chief of the gastrointestinal division. I thanked him for his support.
From Colorado, I send my sincere sympathies . I was a Sibley High School Alumnus, and though Dave was a year younger than me, I had a little crush on the boy. What an accomplished, successful and wonderful man he became. I’m so sorry for your loss. Julie (Binder) Wynn Birr
Sue and Family,
You have my sympathy and prayers. I enjoyed Dave's friendship in high school and had great conversation with him at reunions. He was always a great listener and caring individual.
I am so saddened to hear of Dave’s passing.
A wonderful tribute to a great man and life well lived.
I believe your grief will be a tribute to your love. Breath deeply and Godspeed!
Please accept my prayers and sincerest condolences to you and your entire family. My prayers are with you all as you carry special memories with you each day forward.
Colleen (Brunschon) Warner
Dear Susan and family;
Gretchen and I were so saddened to learn of David's passing. He and I shared many interests professionally as well as outside our careers, especially our mutual love of the outdoors. Canoeing the Boundary Waters with friends and family, and gliding across the snow on cross country skis, were sources of great satisfaction and joy for us both. He was a very special man whose life so enriched his community, the medical profession, and everyone who had the privilege of knowing him.
Gretchen and I send our most sincere condolences for your loss.
I always admired his quiet, unassuming style. He was a boon to friends, neighbors, colleagues and patients. Please accept my condolences.
So sorry to hear of your tragic loss. Joann and I remember sharing a table with you and Dave
at Lutsen for some meetings. Dave told me about his interest in bird watching and I
thought that was an interesting hobby. Our prayers will be with you and your family.
Bill and Joann Kruckeberg
Dear Susan and family,
Colleen and I send our condolences in your tragic loss of Dave. Dave was still in his fellowship when I started at Mayo, and I feel enormously blessed to have known him for the run of his professional career. Dave elevated everyone around him, and there were few privileges of greater pleasure than seeing patients back after I had referred them to Dave - they always thought a great deal more of me, just because I was able to secure that audience for them with Dave. We all thought that his introduction of the Hemoquant test was a remarkable accomplishment, but when he published his gigantic patient case series [that was expected to establish the value of the test] demonstrating that fecal occult blood screening for cancer was a flawed concept, and put that publication in the highest profile journal available, I knew that this was truly a man of legendary integrity. To then go on to develop the Cologuard out of the ashes of HemoQuant exemplifies those extraordinary personal qualities that command respect everywhere, for their rarity and value. As suggested, we have made a memorial donation to the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness in Dave's name, and we look forward to the opportunity to celebrate his remarkable life in person with you.
Dan & Colleen Maddox
Susan, I am so sorry to hear about Dave. Prayers are with you and your family during this difficult time.
Dear Susan, Just wanted to say how much I was privileged to have met and learned from Dave. He was a wonderful mentor and advocate for Tribal cancer screening. And an incredibly fast skate skier who gave me a run for my money when he came to Alaska! Diana Redwood
As a nursing colleague, I remember him with incredible kindness and thoughtfulness.
Connie Hatch RN
In my life at Mayo Clinic (53 years), there has never been a colleague as memorable or great as David Ahlquist at the Mayo Clinic. I send my sincere condolences to his wife and family, I know they will miss a great individual, family member and I a great colleague. He has provided hope to thousands if not millions of people destined to have colon cancer. It was an honor and privilege to have known him all these years.
Stephen Kurtz, MD, Emeritus Staff
Dear Susan and family
I worked with Dave as the "laser momma" and on the GI bleed team. I had so much respect for him as a person and doctor. I remember when he would be looking forward to grooming the cross country ski path near his home. He was indeed a gentle soul to his coworkers and patients. I am a better person because of him.
My prayers are with you all as you carry special memories with you each day Rita Balm
Our deepest condolences for Dave’s passing. So remembered as a good neighbor. Cathy and Bob Ashton.
Dear Susan and the entire Ahlquist family. I am so sorry for your loss, but am also grateful for David's incredible contributions to science and medicine. I am humbled by his ability to balance the demands of a challenging medical practice, a growing family, demanding scientific endeavors, and still live such a generous and reflective life. My personal path into medicine started in his father's Biology 2 class at Henry Sibley High School during my senior year when "Al" Ahlquist suggested that I consider "pre-med" at St. Olaf College . I knew Dave from the wrestling team (he was a senior captain, and I was on the B-squad as a sophomore), and was happy to re-connect with him at Mayo Medical School. I have followed his career ever since as I pursued my own career in medicine and ultimately in business. He is a remarkable example of what is possible in medicine and in life. I have always been grateful to Mr. Ahlquist for his guidance, and to David for his impact on all of us blessed enough to have known and admired him. Please know that he has many grateful patients...and, many grateful colleagues. Thank you for sharing him with us.
My sincere condolences on the passing of "My RAC doctor" - David Ahlquist. This is a heartbreaker for me - because he was such a good guy. I would hit him up at the athletic club and ask his advice on any number of medical issues - he listened - and he listened intently. My entire family has met David at one time or another - and he had the same effect on all of us. I am very sorry to hear this news - and I should really refer to him as "My RAC friend". Oh yeah, and because of Davids involvement with Cologuard I blindly went in and bought a few shares of EXAS - just because of his involvement with this cancer screening option. One of the nicest guys I have ever met.
What a wonderfully-written legacy to Dr. Ahlquist's life and the gifts he shared. Susan, the years spent working with you in graduate medical education were a true joy. Sending my deepest sympathies to you and your family.
What a loss! Perpetually cheerful and enthusiastic, I always loved hearing about his latest adventure or fascinating research project. He was your friendly neighbor who was out to change the world. Gone way too soon.
One of kindest, friendliest, and most cheerful colleagues that I had at Mayo Clinic. What a source of joy he must have been to his family. Tom Bisig
Susan and family - Although our paths have not crossed lately, my spirit goes with you in this time of loss and grief. Not only is losing David hard, but those who may want to comfort you in person are less able. Susan, you are such a loving soul; take time to receive support from those surrounding you. Stay well.
Diane McNally Forsyth
I am so sorry to hear about Dave’s passing and of his recent illness. I will always remember his kind smile, his gentleness, and his way of making people comfortable. Dave was a good listener and he respected everyone around him. Please know that you and your family are in my thoughts in this very difficult time. Jessica Grosset
My deepest sympathy and warmest condolences to you Susan and your entire family. The world has lost yet another great man in David and we all share in your grief. However, none of us will experience the loss that you and your family feels at this time. I sincerely pray that thoughts and memories of David and your life together, the strength of your faith and the support of so many family and friends will help get you through this. Please know you and your family are in our thoughts and prayers as they have been since we heard about David's illness. Stay strong, be well and comfort each other.
So sorry, the world has lost a great guy. We have such good memories of Buck Ridge and your family. Dave was always so good to Peter and Chuck when they were playing with Daniel and Aaron. Dave was a wonderful person and a great neighbor. He will be missed.
Tony & Vickie Michelich
When we were together at Luther, I learned about David through you and your life together that was centered on family, faith and a shared interest in health care. As I read David's obituary. his accomplishments were many and his was a life, well lived that made the world a better place. I am sorry for your loss and trust you will find peace in the memories of the life you shared together. My thoughts are with you and your family. Jan Kraabel
Dear Susan and Family
I did not David well, my memories of David are our frequent meeting at Eastwood Golf Course cross country skiing. And from our infrequent meetings in the walkways of Mayo Clinic
I was saddened to hear about his sickness and death. I remember David as a kind and caring person. A person who treated everyone equally, and always being cheerful.
I’m sure David was a great Doctor, but I’m positive he was a better person.
Again I’m sorry for your loss
Every time I take my schnauzer Bella to Whitewater state park for a hike....which is often, I will fondly remember when we ran into you, Susan, and David as you crossed the foot bridge over the Whitewater river early this fall. It was a short conversation but one I will always remember. Dave was a kindred spirit when it came to loving and being a part of the natural world around him. Always so curious about how the fishing was in our area! I loved his never ending enthusiasm and wonder. He will dearly be missed by so many. I am grateful for that last chance encounter and will cherish the memory every time I visit my beloved Whitewater state park. RIP David. Heaven is the better for your admittance!!
Dearest Susan and family, I had the pleasure of working with and learning from Dr. Ahlquist at Mayo Clinic in the Department of Development. On my first day at Mayo and in the Department, I received a handwritten note from Dr. Ahlquist welcoming me to the team. He was a man of grace, intellect, kindness and respect. He set the tone in a room and elevated everyone around him. I am deeply grateful for knowing him. I will never forget the days when we knew he was in DC presenting his work on Cologuard and how we all celebrated when we took steps forward that would eventually lead us to today. What a beautiful legacy he leaves us all with; I am so sorry for your loss. Dr. Ahlquist made the world a much better place. My heart is with you.
Dear Susan and family,
My thoughts are with you. I am very sorry for the loss of your husband, dad and granddad. Dr. Ahlquist was a wonderful man, a true gift to our world. I know the heartache of ALS, as it took my dad from this earth way too soon, as well. May your memories and love give you strength and joy. Warmly, Jackie Stevermer-Bakken
A great man has left this Earth better for his presence. We laud Dr. Ahlquist as an accomplished physician, scientist, inventor, and innovator, whose work saved and enriched many lives, and will long continue to do so. Still, his true greatness is not captured by cataloguing his many achievements. The greatest impact he may have is on the generations of family that follow, embraced in love by David and Susan, inspired by their values and commitment, and challenged by their human excellence. Our heart goes out to all for this profound loss, but joins them in celebrating a life of meaning, well and passionately lived. Susan, we share your grief. Our work together, and the friendship we established, transcend the time that has passed. Please know how much I hope to convey even a fraction of the incredible grace and kindness you showed my family and me at a time of loss. Surround yourself by those you love and find peace in knowing many other thoughts and prayers are with you.
Dearest. Susan, I am so very sorry for your loss. I know you are dealing with it with grace but please know my heart aches for you. I also know that you are being supported by your wonderful family and friends. Let that love and support encircle you and give you some peace. Gloria DeBusman
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