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May 12, 1999

Robert Anderson Aldrich, MD

Author Affiliations

Edited by Roxanne K. Young, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 1999;281(18):1762. doi:10.1001/jama.281.18.1762

Robert Anderson Aldrich, MD, was a pediatrician, teacher, and children's advocate, a catalyst to medical and political leaders for improving children's health and understanding human development.

Born in Evanston, Ill, in 1917, Dr Aldrich died in Seattle, Wash, on September 16, 1998, of cardiovascular disease. He graduated from Amherst College in 1939 and Northwestern University Medical School—first in his class—in 1944. He served an internship at Evanston Hospital. In World War II he served as a naval medical officer at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. After discharge from naval duty, he completed pediatric residency training followed by a research fellowship at the University of Minnesota. In 1949 he joined the staff of the Mayo Clinic. In 1954 he identified and described the Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, a serious immunologic disorder of children. In 1951 Dr Aldrich joined the faculty of the University of Oregon School of Medicine as assistant professor of pediatrics. In 1956 he was appointed chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine, building the department by adding talent and new teaching methods.

In 1962 President John F. Kennedy appointed Dr Aldrich director of the new National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, Md. Dr Aldrich organized the Association of Medical School Pediatric Department Chairmen, which became an important voice in child health. He was an activist in several medical societies, and his recognition and connections around the world grew as he traveled often to give talks on children's health care and to help develop programs in Asia, Europe, and the Near East. Of note were 10 years of Ekistics conferences in Greece with an international group of experts from divergent fields contributing knowledge on how to make the city a place to live in rather than a place to endure.

Returning from the National Institutes of Health in 1964, Dr Aldrich headed the Division of Health Resources at the University of Washington. He served as chair of the faculty senate during the student uprisings of the late 1960s, advocating that young people should have a part in decision making. In 1966 he was appointed to the President's Council on Mental Retardation under Presidents Johnson and Nixon.

In 1970 Dr Aldrich accepted the post of Vice President for Health Affairs at the University of Colorado, where he was instrumental in putting the Health Center on a sound fiscal basis, upgrading patient care procedures, and adding preventive medicine to health education. On returning to the University of Washington in 1980, he participated in the Congenital Defects Division of the Department of Pediatrics while working in the Graduate School of Public Affairs.

Dr Aldrich was the author of many articles in scientific journals and books on child development, including The Biocultural Basis of Health: Expanding Views of Medical Anthropology and Grandparenting for the 90s. He was active in organizations at the city and state levels related to improving the lot of children, but he is most remembered for founding Kids Place with Mayor Charles Royer of Seattle. Dr Aldrich was dedicated to making cities healthy places for children and families to live, an approach emulated in many US cities, as well as in Japan and Europe. He received many awards and governmental citations at home and internationally, including an Award for Outstanding Public Service from the University of Washington in 1994.

Bob Aldrich loved camping, fly fishing for the wily steelhead, and discussing unorthodox ideas with colleagues. He caused many a student and researcher to burn the midnight oil with his wisdom and insights spanning 60 years of dedication to children's health and human development. He was one of medicine's most stimulating thinkers.

Dr Aldrich is survived by his wife of 57 years, Marjorie; sons Andy, Stephen, and Frederick; sister Cynthia Rowe; brother Stephen L. Aldrich, MD; and 8 grandchildren.