Sumner J. Yaffe: May 9, 1923-August 10,2011

Sumner J. Yaffe, 1923-2011

Invitation: Sumner J. Yaffe Memorial Lecture Series in Pediatric Clinical Pharmacology.

I haven’t been back here to write in a long time and today I return to put into writing some of the thoughts I have about one of the most important people in my life: Sumner J. Yaffe, known to me more simply as Dad.

When I look back at the past twenty-five years that I’ve known him, Chinese Food is one of the first things that comes to mind.  He always had his place and you’d have better luck getting him to go anywhere else.  I guess you could say he could be a little stubborn once he made up his mind… Some of my favorite memories are sitting across the table for hours in a restaurant that was clearly designed for a faster meal.  My other favorite memories are from one of the only places I’ve ever dared to call home: Martha’s Vineyard.

In his own way, my Dad was there for me all the time and supported me in ways that I am just beginning to understand.  Not content to simply have his kids grow up in his image, he gave us space to explore the world and find out what truly makes us happy.  And explore the world we did; often at this side as he traveled to the far corners in pursuit of improved heathcare for children.  He was beyond modest, never really telling me how remarkable of a career he had because he was always more interested in what I was doing: whether that meant what’s for dinner, what the weather was doing that day, whether or not I had heat in my apartment, where my next trip was going to be, or what the next step in my life was.  I don’t think he ever disagreed with a major decision I made – even when I decided to gamble my degree on a trip to Cuba – he just wanted to know that I was all set.

He was so proud of his kids and so incredibly happy to see us all together again – for Chinese food – just two weeks ago.  And I’m so proud of him.  He was unbelievably smart, (apparently) very charming, a world traveler, deeply caring, remarkably funny, easily predictable, committed to the common good, naturally inquisitive, dedicated to his family, and determined to live his life to the fullest.  It’s hard for me to think of a fuller life than the one he lived and so while I miss him today, I know that he is finally at peace, and that he will live on in so many ways.

Below is a more formal summary of his life, from the Pediatric Pharmacy Advocacy Group.

Dr. Sumner Yaffe was born in Boston, Massachusetts, graduated from Boston Latin School, and Harvard College (with an interruption during World War II to serve in the Armed Forces). He received his BA in chemistry, then pursued an MA in Pharmacology at Harvard, and finally his MD from the University of Vermont. He returned to Harvard to complete his pediatric training at Children’s Hospital in Boston. After a Fulbright Scholarship at St. Mary’s Hospital in London, and a fellowship in metabolism at Harvard, he joined the faculty at Stanford University as Director of the Clinical Research Center for Premature Infants. It is here that his interest in neonatal pharmacology grew. In 1963, he moved to SUNY Buffalo as Professor of Pediatrics and Adjunct Professor of Biochemical Pharmacology. In 1975, he moved to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to establish the first Division of Pediatric Clinical Pharmacology.

During his distinguished academic career, he published upwards of 300 scientific articles and books dealing with a wide range of developmental science. His work included studies on the ontogeny of drug metabolizing enzymes, including effects of malnutrition, vitamins, protein intake, and drugs on drug metabolism in the developing fetus and child, bilirubin metabolism, and the excretion of drugs in breast milk. He inspired and mentored countless young pediatric investigators who owe much of their career directions to his teaching.

In 1980, Dr. Yaffe took the position as Director of the Center for Research for Mothers and Children at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. During his 20 years at NICHD, Dr. Yaffe’s vision for improved pharmacotherapy for children came to fruition. He tirelessly pursued an agenda for increased research in diseases of childhood. He fostered the development of research networks including a neonatal and fetal/maternal medicine network, and most crucial to pediatric and developmental pharmacology, the Pediatric Pharmacology Research Units.

Dr. Yaffe’s vision of improved therapy for sick children has become a reality. He inspired an entire generation of pediatric clinical pharmacologists to grow the field into a mature and evolving scientific discipline. The Pediatric Pharmacy Advocacy Group named its lifetime achievement award in pediatric pharmacology and therapeutics after him.

A scholarship at the University of Vermont has been set up in his honor, ensuring that yet another (and another) generation of doctors will grow up with his guidance.


8 responses to “Sumner J. Yaffe: May 9, 1923-August 10,2011”

  1. Yessi

    May God grant you the strength to get through this. I love you and wish I could be there for you.

  2. Mel

    wonderful words for your father.
    I had the pleasure to have met him when I was taking care of you and Zak.
    I was not aware then what remarkable career and input he had.

    You must be very proud to have a father like that.

    I know that you were by his side. You indeed were a very good son to him.

    As you said, he is in peace now and you and your family should remember all the good memories with him.

    Love, Mel

  3. Anita Yaffe

    Lovely tribute Ian.
    Your dad was always in awe of how much you accomplished at such a young age.
    He loved you very much.

  4. Barbara & David Phillips

    Though we only knew your Dad socially & only in his later years, we thought the world of him. He was a delightful man and such a tease. We feel lucky to have known him and are glad he has all his children to carry on his name.

  5. Sayre

    I am so sorry for your loss. Your dad sounds amazing, and I know that he would be proud of all that you have done, are doing, and will do down the road. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

    love always,

  6. Edith

    He was sure a great man with all of what I read. Sorry to hear about your loss. Thoughts and prayer are with you and all the rest of the family. Thank you for sharing his remarkably story.


  7. Charlotte Catz

    Dear Ian

    Having worked with your Dad for so many years, and talking with him over the phone almost weekly, I will miss his friendship and his asking : well what is new now? And to my answer : Nothing special, at least I do not know, he would say:neither do I. And then we would comment about what was or might happen.
    He would mention what you were doing, proud of your many accomplishments,
    and those of your siblings.
    Please keep in touch y dime que pasa en tu vida.
    A big hug,

  8. Joseph Bertino

    Met your dad back in the 1970s when I was a pharmacy student and he was at Buffalo Children’s. Didn’t see him again until approximately 2005 when he and I served on an NIH committee for the Peds Pharm Research Units. On day 1, they served us a large breakfast..we both ate heartily. At lunchtime, your dad who was sitting next to me said “I can’t eat another thing, how about you”..I had to agree. So he and I spent the next 90 minutes “catching up” on 30 years worth of experiences. It was magical and memorable. I got to see him a few more times over the next few years at meetings…and we always had a laugh. He IS the pioneer in Peds Pharm…and one great man!

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