Dr Ralph William Spitzer passed away in Victoria, BC, on 17 October 2018 at the age of 100. He is survived by his loving family: wife, Hisako Kurotaki; daughter, Eloise (Rob); and granddaughter, Kali. Ralph was predeceased by his first wife of 59 years, Therese, and their son, Matthew.
Ralph’s contribution to building a superb laboratory medicine–chemical pathology service in the Lower Mainland was immense. I was fortunate to have been chosen by him in the postdoctoral program in clinical biochemistry that he had set up at Royal Columbian Hospital in 1970; thus, my career in the medical biochemistry field was launched because of his vision. I am eternally grateful.
Ralph was a unique individual with a strong commitment to a pluralistic and diverse society. He lived his values and supported many initiatives that were embedded in those values.
He had a brilliant mind, graduating from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, with a BSc in chemistry at the age of 20, and completing a PhD at the age of 23. His PhD mentor was Dr Linus Pauling, winner of two Nobel prizes. Ralph pursued an academic career at Oregon State University as an associate professor in biochemistry. In 1949, he became a victim of the McCarthy era in the United States and was fired from the university for his political views. In 1950, while traveling and lecturing in Europe, he was arrested, incarcerated, and held in isolation in Rotterdam. His passport confiscated, he was forced to return to the United States. In 1954 Ralph decided to move to Canada, which benefited Canada greatly. He completed medical school at the University of Manitoba, and in 1958 the family moved to New Westminster, where he began his long career as a chemical pathologist with the newly formed group, Dr C.J. Coady and Associates, which operated BC Biomedical Medical Laboratories and provided consultative services to the Royal Columbian Hospital regional laboratory system.
Ralph contributed to the academic world and was a professor at the UBC School of Medicine. He was a true pioneer, being the first medical biochemist in the province, developing both a high-level community-based laboratory service as well as contributing to academic excellence. He took the practice of biochemistry to patients’ bedsides, thus benefiting thousands of patients who received care at the Royal Columbian Hospital. Laboratory medicine also benefited from Ralph’s creative energy, innovative mind, and commitment to excellence. He was generous in teaching and mentored several postdoctoral students for successful careers in clinical biochemistry.
Ralph was a man of many seasons. Besides being a brilliant scientist, clinician, and teacher, he had many outside interests. He was an avid skier and a mountaineer. He became a bonsai gardener, and he learned to play the organ in retirement, building an organ in his living room that had over 2000 pipes. He traveled widely well into his 90s, visiting Europe, Turkey, China, Japan, Southeast Asia, India, South America, and Antarctica.
Stenciled at the base of Ralph’s massive pipe organ is a phrase that perfectly captured his perspective on life: ars longa, vita brevis (art is long, life is short). He was loved and admired by his colleagues, friends, and family. He will be missed by his colleagues and students, whose lives he influenced significantly.
—Arun K. Garg, PhD, MD
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