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In Memoriam: Gerard N. Burrow, M.D. '58, HS '66, 14th Dean of the School of Medicine

December 20, 2013

To the YSM Community,

It is with great sadness that I share news of the passing of Gerard N. Burrow, M.D. ’58, HS ’66, the 14th dean of the School of Medicine. Dr. Burrow led the school from 1992 to 1997, following his deanship at the University of California, San Diego, and after previous faculty appointments at Yale (1966–1976) and the University of Toronto (1976–1988).

Dr. Burrow maintained a lifelong commitment to the school, and especially to the Yale system of medical education. He was remarkable for the variety of his interests and passions, which included service as the CEO of Mystic Aquarium and the Institute for Exploration following his retirement from Yale. Also in retirement, he chaired the board of directors of the University of Connecticut Health Center and traveled the world on behalf of the International Council for the Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders, urging governments to add iodized salt to their food supply to prevent brain damage. He was a sailor, a sculptor, an explorer, the author of a history of the school, a scholar in the history of medicine, and an ardent supporter of the medical library.

A memorial service for Dr. Burrow is being planned for a later date. Meanwhile, please join me in offering condolences to his family and recognizing his outstanding service to Yale.

The obituary that follows was provided by Dr. Burrow’s family and colleagues.


Robert J. Alpern, M.D.
Dean and Ensign Professor of Medicine

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In Memoriam: Gerard N. Burrow, M.D.
January 9, 1933–December 14, 2013

Gerard Noel Burrow, M.D. ’58, HS ’66, a leading endocrinologist and expert on iodine deficiency disorders who served as dean of the medical schools at Yale and the University of California, San Diego, died on December 14, 2013. He was 80.

Dr. Burrow was the 14th dean of the School of Medicine, serving in that post from 1992 to 1997. He was the David Paige Smith Professor of Medicine emeritus and professor emeritus of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences. Dr. Burrow was an international authority on thyroid disease and on medical complications related to pregnancy. He was the author and later co-editor of the authoritative text Medical Complications During Pregnancy, now in its sixth edition, and co-editor of the Comprehensive Handbook of Iodine: Nutritional, Biochemical, Pathological and Therapeutic Aspects. In 2002, Dr. Burrow’s history of the school, A History of Yale’s School of Medicine: Passing Torches to Others, was published by Yale University Press.

Dr. Burrow was born in Providence, R.I., on January 9, 1933. He graduated from Brown University in 1954 and earned his medical degree at Yale in 1958. He stayed on for an internship and residency at Grace–New Haven Hospital, where he was chief resident. He spent two years with the United States Public Health Service in Japan, where he investigated the effects of prenatal exposure to the atomic bomb blast at Nagasaki. He joined the Yale faculty as an assistant professor of medicine in 1966.

As a Yale faculty member, he served as the chair of the admissions committee, where he fostered the admission of students who would be best suited for the Yale system of medical education, which emphasizes self-directed learning and original research. He also was instrumental in establishing the High Risk Obstetric Clinic in the hospital. Dr. Burrow had a longstanding interest in the history of medicine and in the medical library, and at the time of his death was chair of the board of trustees of the Associates of the Cushing–Whitney Medical Library.

In 1976, Dr. Burrow was recruited to head the University of Toronto’s Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at Toronto General Hospital. In 1981, he was appointed the Sir John and Lady Eaton Professor of Medicine, chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of Toronto, and physician-in-chief at Toronto General Hospital. He also held an appointment as professor of obstetrics and gynecology in Toronto from 1978 to 1987.

At the University of California, San Diego, he served as vice chancellor for health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine from 1988 until assuming the Yale deanship in 1992. Dr. Burrow was elected to the Institute of Medicine in 1989.

His tenure as dean at Yale coincided with national efforts to reform the health care system, as well as systemic changes in medicine wrought by managed care. The fewer hospitalizations and shorter hospital stays increasingly directed by managed care organizations, for instance, jeopardized medical schools’ traditional bedside teaching methods. Dr. Burrow successfully led the medical school through these challenges by emphasizing a team approach to care, one that included physician assistants and other health-care practitioners in collaboration with physicians.

Dr. Burrow was active in alumni affairs, co-chairing all of his class reunions and spearheading efforts to raise funds for the Class of 1958 Fitness Center. In the mid-2000s, he served on the Association of Yale Alumni in Medicine’s executive committee. He was honored by the association in 1998 with the Distinguished Alumni Service Award on the occasion of his 40th class reunion. In a tradition that began in 1994, Dean Burrow awarded the first Peter Parker Medals, the school’s highest honor. He initiated another new tradition for the school with his donation of a gold-headed cane as the school’s standard, for use on ceremonial occasions.

Dr. Burrow also took an active role in task forces on health care reform and medical education with the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Association of American Universities, and the American Medical Association. He was a member of a National Cancer Institute advisory board on the health effects of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and chair of the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on the Department of Defense Persian Gulf Syndrome Comprehensive Clinical Evaluation Program, which issued its report in 1996.

In 1997, Dr. Burrow became special advisor for health affairs to Yale University President Richard C. Levin. Dr. Burrow also chaired the University of Connecticut Health Center’s Board of Directors for two terms, stepping down in 2011.

In 2001, Dr. Burrow became the CEO of the Sea Research Foundation in Mystic, Conn., which encompasses the Mystic Aquarium and the Institute for Exploration, and he later served as a member of its board of trustees. His interest in the sea extended from sailing, surfing, military nautical history, and the aquarium’s breeding of beluga whales, to expeditions with the institute’s director, explorer Robert Ballard. He accompanied Ballard 3,000 feet below the surface of the Mediterranean Sea to uncover ancient Roman ships, and he also took part in a Black Sea expedition to look for evidence of civilization at the time of the Great Flood.

Robert H. Gifford, M.D., an associate dean during Dr. Burrow’s tenure, recalled that Dr. Burrow remained very active professionally following his retirement from Yale and pursued many interests, traveling frequently overseas in his capacity as the chair of the International Council for the Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders. “He was tireless in his energy. He would not sit still,” Dr. Gifford said. Both men continued to teach Yale medical students in retirement, as part of the first-year course in professional responsibility, and they had lunch together after class each Wednesday, as recently as the week of Dr. Burrow’s death. Dr. Burrow took up welding in recent years and made metal sculptures, one of which was placed on display at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

Dr. Burrow is survived by his wife, Ann Burrow, of Hamden, Conn.; his son, Peter Noel Burrow of Guilford Conn., daughter-in-law Rula, and grandson Samy; his daughter, Elisabeth Burrow of Fergus, Ont., son-in-law Mitja Kosir, and granddaughter Jessica; and his daughter, Sarah Burrow of Oakville, Ont., son-in-law Richard Marshall, and grandchildren Ryan, Nolan, and Owen.

Funeral services were private. A memorial service will be held on January 17 at 4 p.m. in the Cushing/Whitney Medical Historical Library in Sterling Hall of Medicine, 333 Cedar Street. A reception will follow immediately in the Morse Reading Room.

Submitted by Deborah Jagielow on December 20, 2013