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Edward Harris, Jr., M.D., '60: Circle of influence
It's not the letter informing him that he will be awarded the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) Presidential Gold Medal in November. It's not his name on the cover of the nation's top rheumatology textbook. It's not the trappings from his eight years as chair of medicine at Stanford.
No, the item in his spacious, book-lined office that Dr. Edward Harris first shows a visiting interviewer is an inscribed photograph dating back to the 1970s. The photo, he explains, depicts his mentor and friend Dr. Joshua Bent Burnett, the founder of the rheumatology section at Dartmouth. Burnett and Harris worked together from 1970 to 1983—building up the section, developing a research infrastructure, and reaching out to patients all over New Hampshire who suffered from the crippling, painful effects of rheumatoid arthritis and other musculoskeletal diseases. The way Burnett captured that shared effort, in his inscription on the photo, was "Ted: Without [you] nothing, with [you] a triumph!"
Although Burnett died in 1993, he lived to see his protege become an internationally recognized researcher, the coauthor of Kelley's Textbook of Rheumatology (considered by many to be the gold standard in the field), and an educator, clinician, academic administrator, consultant, writer, journal editor—and mentor himself. In November, the ACR will bestow its highest award, the Presidential Gold Medal, on Harris in recognition of his major contributions to rheumatology.
At Stanford, Harris chaired the Department of Medicine from 1987 to 1995. Though he officially retired in 2003 (he is now the George DeForest Barnett Professor Emeritus), he was called back to serve as academic secretary to the university until he retired yet again earlier this year.Well, semi-retired. He's still active in two posts that he's held since 1997—executive secretary of Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA), the national medical honor society, and editor of The Pharos, a quarterly magazine published by AOA.
As the academic secretary at Stanford, Harris wrote the minutes of Faculty Senate meetings. "The best thing about the job," he says with a smile, "was the chance it gave me to drop an unexpected
line or two into the published minutes." His minutes were legendary, according to a recent story in the Stanford Report. Not only did he spice them up with that "unexpected line or two," but he'd sometimes invent humorous explanations for faculty actions. For example, theminutes of one April meeting noted that the "senators, hurrying back from filing extensions for their income taxes, straggled in a bit late."
Harris's literary talents are not surprising, considering that he was an Englishmajor at Dartmouth College. But early on, he decided to pursue a career in medicine because he wanted to help people.
At Dartmouth Medical School, Harris got his first dose of medical research, thanks to Dr. Fairfield Goodale, an assistant professor of pathology who went on to serve as dean at two medical schools.
"My memories are vivid of attempting to determine whether hypothermia induced in rats, sufficient to cause cardiac arrest, could protect bone marrow progenitor cells from gamma radiation damage," Harris says. "We resuscitated them with the heat of a gooseneck lamp and a rubber tube for mouth-to- nose oxygenation. We rarely lost a rat."
Harris went on to complete hisM.D. at Harvard (since DMS then offered only a two-year preclinical program). He got another dose of research when he was tapped for a summer clerkship at Oxford in the lab of Sir George Pickering, widely known for his studies of hypertension and the physiology of blood vessels.
After two years of residency training at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harris fulfilled his military obligation in the U.S. Public Health Service at the National
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Freelance writer Paula Cohen lives in Greenfield, Mass.