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December 22, 2017

Namesakes - Frederick C. Robbins and Robbins Building

“In deep appreciation for the many contributions that Frederick C. Robbins, M.D. has made to this University and to society, the East Wing of the School of Medicine is hereby named: The Frederick C. Robbins Building”
- text from the building plaque

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Frederick C. Robbins and Robbins Building

Frederick Robbins (1916-2003)
It was 63 years ago this month that Frederick C. Robbins received the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology with John F. Enders and Thomas H. Weller “for their discovery of the ability of poliomyelitis viruses to grow in cultures of various types of tissue.” This discovery led to the Salk and Sabin polio vaccines.

Robbins was Professor of Pediatrics in the School of Medicine at the time of his Nobel Prize honor. He was also Director of Pediatrics and Contagious Diseases at City Hospital (now known as MetroHealth Medical Center). He had begun his appointment at Western Reserve University (WRU) in 1952.

Born 8/25/1916 in Auburn, Alabama, he was raised in Missouri. He received his A.B. from the University of Missouri in 1936 and the B.S. from the University of Missouri Medical School in 1938. He attended Harvard Medical School where he received the M.D. in 1940. He was a resident in Bacteriology at The Children’s Hospital in Boston in 1940-1941 as well as an intern in 1941-1942.

He entered the U. S. Army in 1942, serving until 1946 in the U. S., Italy, and North Africa. He was assigned to the Fifteenth Medical General Laboratory as Chief of the Virus and Rickettsial Disease Section. This unit conducted research on infectious hepatitis, typhus fever and Q fever and supervised general virus diagnostic work. For a 6 month period he was Assistant Director of the Division of Virus and Rickettsial Diseases, Army Medical School under Dr. Joseph E. Smadel. Robbins received the Bronze Star. His rank upon discharge was Major.

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Fred Robbins in Italy during World War II

After World War II, Robbins returned to Boston, serving as Assistant Resident and Chief Resident at The Children’s Hospital, 1946-1948, with a 3 month stint at Vanderbilt University Medical School as Exchange Assistant Resident in Pediatrics. In 1948 he began his work with Dr. John F. Enders and Thomas H. Weller in the Research Division of Infectious Diseases at The Children’s Hospital. As Senior Fellow in Virus Diseases he conducted investigations concerning the mumps virus and polio virus. He resigned his fellowship in 1950 to (in his own words) “continue with Dr. Enders on investigations concerning the cultivation of poliomyelitis virus and the application of these techniques.” At this time he was also a Research Fellow, Instructor, and Associate in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.

In 1952 Robbins came to WRU. “I came here really because this school was so alive at that time. It was such a dynamic place. The faculty were an interesting group of people, some of whom I already knew quite well.” (Oral history interview with Frederick C. Robbins, 11/29/1993) These people included Charles Rammelkamp and John Dingle, who he knew through his work in the war at Fort Bragg. A friend and former roommate, Bill Wallace, became head of Pediatrics at Babies and Childrens Hospital of University Hospitals of Cleveland while Robbins became head of Pediatrics at City Hospital - both affiliated hospitals of the School of Medicine. 1952 was the year WRU School of Medicine radically changed its curriculum. Robbins served as chairman of the Committee on Medical Education 1958-1962.

In 1966 Robbins was named dean of the School of Medicine, serving in that position until 1980. It was during this time period that the Robbins Building and Sears Tower were built. In addition to his role as Professor of Pediatrics and Dean, in 1973 Robbins became Professor of Community Health. He was named Dean Emeritus and University Professor in 1980. After a 5 year term as President of the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., Robbins returned to CWRU. He had an active research program and served as Director of the Center for Adolescent Health. According to his obituary, “In the late 1980s, Robbins was instrumental in establishing the Case medical school’s collaboration with the government of Uganda and Makerere University for HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis research.” He was co-principal investigator of a multidisciplinary research program on AIDS funded by NIH.

Dr. Robbins received many awards and honors such as the First Mead Johnson Award with Dr. Weller, the Kimble Methodology Research Award with Drs. Enders and Weller, the Award for Distinguished Achievement (Modern Medicine), Ohio Governor’s Award, and the Abraham Flexner Award. He received honorary degrees from numerous institutions such as John Carroll University, University of Missouri, University of New Mexico, Tufts University, and The Medical College of Pennsylvania. He served on numerous committees and professional organizations.

On campus, in addition to the Robbins Building naming he received other recognitions: the Special Medical Alumni Association Board of Trustees Award, honorary doctor of science degree, the first Frank and Dorothy Humel Hovorka Prize, the Frederick C. Robbins, M.D. Professorship in Child and Adolescent Health, and a travel fellowship in his name.

Dr. Robbins was married to Alice Northrop and they had 2 children, Christine and Louise.

The Frederick C. Robbins Building
Construction for the Robbins Building began in 1967 and was completed in 1971. As recounted in the Medical Alumni Bulletin: “Ten years of planning and four years of building finally came down to February 1, 1971, when the handsome new East Wing of the School of Medicine was taken over by students, faculty and staff. With no interruption in the regular program of classes and laboratory sessions, Phase I and Phase II students started the day in their comfortable new lecture rooms; in the afternoon, they moved their microscopes and equipment to their new laboratories, where instructions began the next day.”

The Robbins Building, originally called the East Wing, was part of the larger University Medical Center Campaign. At a cost of $38,900,000 new buildings were constructed for the School of Dentistry, Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, and 2 buildings for the School of Medicine. In addition to the Robbins Building which provided teaching and laboratory space as well as space for the Health Sciences Library, the Lester M. and Ruth P. Sears Administration Tower was built and connected the old Medical School building, renamed the West Wing (and later the Wood Building), and the East Wing [Robbins Building]. Sears Tower housed conference rooms and administrative offices.

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Fred Robbins during building construction in 1967

The new Health Sciences Library, housed in the Robbins Building, included over 100,00 titles, 1,200 periodicals, an extensive catalog of AV-TV materials, general reading rooms, individual carrels and conference rooms. Three floors of the building housed student mulitidisciplinary laboratories, lecture and conference rooms, and 2 floors housed the Department of Anatomy. The lower level contained the Animal Facility and Surgical Research Unit, and the ground floor held the Health Sciences Communication Center (HSCC). The HSCC was “the hub of a network which will link the three health sciences schools, University Hospitals, and eventually the other affiliated hospitals of the School of Medicine for the transmission of programs of undergraduate and graduate education.”

On 5/15/2003, 32 years after he had seen it through to construction, the East Wing of the School of Medicine was dedicated and renamed in honor of Fred Robbins. It was a fitting tribute. Dr. Robbins died 8/4/2003. At his memorial service held on the CWRU campus 9/19/2003, his brother Dan spoke. As part of his remarks he said, “Fred was my big brother, my teacher, my friend and my hero. He was also the best man at my wedding and provided medication for my nerves---a small glass of sherry...You remember him as a great scientist, a great educator and a great humanitarian. I remember him as great brother. I want to thank all of you for coming to honor him.”

The CWRU Archives has Dr. Robbins office files as dean and his personal papers.

Posted by hxy2 at December 22, 2017 07:36 PM

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