Dr. Stanley Aronson, the founding dean of Brown University’s Alpert School of Medicine, a prolific writer, advocate for community organizations and one of Rhode Island’s most prominent public intellectuals, died this morning. He was 92.
Aronson, whose career spanned more than 70 years, was a world-renowned doctor, medical researcher and leader in medical education. A genial, generous man, Aronson served as mentor to generations of physicians and medical students.
Besides his many roles in medicine, Aronson was perhaps best known to Rhode Islanders for his weekly columns in the Providence Journal. Readers looked forward every Monday morning to his op-ed page columns. The phrase `Renaissance Man’ gets tossed around much these days, often frivolously, but Aronson was truly such a person.
Active until his death, Aronson’s writing encompassed the worlds of medicine, history, science, politics and music. He was also a community leader in Rhode Island, serving on the boards of many community organizations. A pioneering neurologist, Aronson was the first to identify Lewy Body Dementia.
You can read Aronson's thoughts on the future of doctors in America for Rhode Island Public Radio's 2013 "Future Docs" series.
Aronson was also a humanitarian who was a tribune for those suffering from serious neurological disorders. He set up support groups for families dealing with an infant with a fatal illness long before it became common practice in American medicine. He was a co-founder of Home & Hospice Care of Rhode Island.
A Brooklyn, N.Y. native, Aronson was a U.S. Army medical corps veteran and former editor-in-chief of the Rhode Island Medical Journal. Aronson was dean of Brown’s medical school from 1970 until 1981. He also was the chairman of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and was a university professor.
Aronson also played a crucial role in the development of the Early Identification Program, which helped make the Brown medical school more diverse by creating a special path for admission for college students from Rhode Island and from Tougaloo College, a historically African-American in Mississippi.
``He was attentive to and caring about virtually person he ever met,'' said Dr. Richard Besdine, a gerontoligist and colleague of Aronson. ``Helping people improve was a huge satisfaction for him. In all his roles - scientist, physician, academic leader, and mentor to many, he always cared about people. He also knew about more things than any person I have ever met, but personally was modest to a fault.''
Robert Whitcomb, the ProJo's longtime editorial page editor, recalls hiring Aronson in 1992 to write his column, which appeared every Monday on the op-ed page. Whitcomb recalls Aronson as a ``polymath'' who could write well about just about any topic. ``He had a grand and sardonic sense of humor and an exuberance tempered by skepticism.'
Other larger newspapers across the U.S. often reprinted Aronson's columns, said Whitcomb.
In his nest-to-last last column, which ran in the January 19 ProJo, Aronson, then in hospice care, wrote about death. ``Except for exalted leaders, death was a happening rather than an event, a part of the tapestry of surviving in an unforgiving world; and death was the end of an uncelebrated, brutal existence,'' he wrote.
"It is precisely because he was so accomplished, and humble about all he had done that he was such an icon to those who knew him," said Dr. Fred Schiffman, the Sigal Family Professsor of Humanistic Medicine at Brown.
Perhaps the plaque on the student lounge at the medical school sums up Aronson’s contributions to medicine and medical education in Rhode Island. The plaque states that Aronson was a man of "remarkable humanity and erudition."
A memorial service for Dr. Aronson will be held at a date to be announced.