Lives of the fellows

Robert Joy Glaser

b.9 November 1918 d.7 June 2012
SB Harvard(1940) MD(1943) FRCP(1997)

Robert J Glaser was dean of Stanford University School of Medicine, California, and a national and international figure in medical education. He was born and raised in St Louis, Missouri, the son of Regina and Joseph Glaser. He attended Harvard for his undergraduate degree and received his MD from Harvard Medical School in 1943.

He returned to St Louis for his residency at Barnes Hospital, a teaching hospital of Washington University School of Medicine, focusing his research on streptococcal infections and rheumatic fever. He then joined the faculty at Washington, becoming an instructor, an associate professor, assistant dean and then an associate dean.

In 1956 he accepted the position of dean of the medical school and vice president of medical affairs at the University of Colorado. From 1963 to 1965 he led Affiliated Hospitals Center Inc, a major merger of six Harvard-affiliated hospitals. In 1965 he became dean of Stanford University Medical School, which had recently moved to Palo Alto from San Francisco. He also served as an interim president of Stanford University.

After five years as dean of Stanford, Glaser left to become vice president and trustee at the Commonwealth Fund, a New York based philanthropic organisation devoted to improving health care. From 1972 to 1983 he was president, chief executive and trustee of the Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation. He then joined the Lucille P Markey Charitable Trust as medical director and trustee, until 1997. Glaser also maintained a long-term involvement with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.

He was involved nationally in medical education through the Association of American Medical Colleges and served on the National Advisory Committee on Higher Education, which explored the relationship between federal government and universities. He was a founding member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. He served on the boards of many organisations, including Washington University, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Packard Humanities Institute, the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, the Kaiser Hospitals and Health Plan, Hewlett-Packard and Alza Corp.

He received many awards, including the Abraham Flexner medal for distinguished service to medical education, the Stearns award for lifetime achievement in medicine from the New York Academy of Medicine, the dean’s medal from Stanford School of Medicine and from Harvard Medical School, and the Harvard medal for distinguished service. He was elected to fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians in 1997.

He was a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society (AΩA), and became executive secretary of the organisation in 1962. For the next 35 years, he and his wife Helen, who was managing editor of the organisation’s journal The Pharos, worked to promote AΩA and its goals. The AΩA distinguished teacher award is named in his honour.

Over a long career, Glaser’s dedication, service and leadership helped shape some of the most distinguished medical schools, universities and organisations in American medicine. He made important, sustainable contributions to the institutions and communities he worked for and was also an influential mentor for many individuals. He left an indelible mark on medicine and medical education through his leadership and service.

Glaser’s health declined over his last few years. He died aged 93 at his home in Palo Alto, California, surrounded by his family and friends. He was survived by his three children – Sally, Joseph II and Robert junior. His wife Helen née Hofsommer, a psychiatrist, whom he married in 1949, died in 1999. He was a dear friend, mentor and inspirational leader and person. We will miss him, but are grateful for all he contributed to medicine.

Richard L Byyny

[Stanford University Medical School ‘Former medical school dean Robert Glaser dies at 93’ – accessed 2 July 2013; Paloaltoonline ‘Robert Glaser, former Stanford medicine dean, dies at 93’ – accessed 2 July 2013; Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society ‘National and chapter news’ – accessed 2 July 2013]

(Volume XII, page web)

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