Amherst Magazine

Robert S. Alexander '38

Deceased November 11, 2008
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Ready obituary

Robert S. "Bob" Alexander

In our Olio Class book, Bob said he wanted to teach biology.  He fulfilled that promise in spades.

Losing no time, he went back to Amherst and got an M.A. degree in biology in 1940. He upgraded to a Ph.D. from Princeton in 1942 and afterwards taught in various medical schools before going to Albany Medical College in 1955 as professor of physiology and chairman of the department.

Summing up his career in our 50th Reunion book, Bob said, “There are about 4,000 practicing physicians in the world who suffered through my course, at least some of whom benefited from the experience.

“Scientifically, I can recite a long succession of research projects which might have won a Nobel Prize if the hypothesis had been correct—which it wasn’t. Yet a few morsels are now being cited in the literature as anonymous ‘classical studies’; I at least can remember who labored in the laboratory late into the night to come up with that information.”

On the light side, Bob is memorable for saying in an informal Class poll on medications in 2005 that he was taking “no drugs, legal or otherwise. Going blind and deaf but still enjoying life.”

Then, in what he called “the last note I will be capable of writing” to the Class, he said he suffered a terrifying stroke on Oct. 26, 2006, known as a grand mal seizure, that broke a bone in his shoulder “and sent my sensorium off to a remote galaxy, leaving a sadly demented shell in the bed.”

But he recovered from that only to be stricken by cancer, according to Eleanor, his wife of 66 years. He died Nov. 11, 2008, aged 91. Besides Eleanor (Paddock), a 1937 Mount Holyoke graduate, he is survived by four children: Joan Fordham of Baraboo, Wis.; Holly Adams of Rehoboth Beach, Del.; Lindy Perez of Pacific Grove, Calif.; and Bruce of Winchester, Mass. A fifth child, Beverly Pill, predeceased him. He also left nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Bob spent his childhood in his native Melrose, Mass., then moved to New Jersey and graduated from Montclair High School. At Amherst, he was a member of the debating council and the speakers club. He was active in the band and orchestra and a member of Beta Theta Pi fraternity.

His first job was as instructor of physiology at Cornell Medical College in New York City. Then he taught at the School of Medicine of Western Reserve in Cleveland and the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta. He also was a consultant to numerous hospitals and the Office of Naval Research. He served Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the original development of its biochemical and bioengineering programs. His research dealt chiefly with the heart and blood vessels.  He also wrote a textbook on clinical physiology.

In retirement, Bob became fascinated by the archives of his church, the First Church in Albany, which the Dutch founded in 1642. He translated eight volumes of the early financial records and published a history of the church and the Dutch settlement. He also was deeply involved in projects to feed the hungry and protect the environment.

He said in that 50th Reunion memoir that he thanked “the Good Lord that we 1938ers were depression kids born years in advance of the ‘Me Generation.’ It gave us a chance to develop basic values with substance and valid notions of the source of happiness.”

George Bria ’38

 

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