Former dean Clayton Rich, man of principles, dies at 82

Clayton Rich

Clayton Rich, MD, who served as dean of the School of Medicine during the 1970s, died Feb. 22 at his home in Kirkland, Wash. He was 82.

Rich's experience at Stanford began in 1971 when he was recruited from the University of Washington to serve as the medical school's dean and to oversee Stanford Hospital as the university's vice president for medical affairs. It was a challenging time for the school because, like all medical schools, it was facing cuts in federal funding. During his tenure, which lasted through 1978, he led the medical school through its first period of significant program growth since its 1959 move to the Palo Alto campus from San Francisco.

"He was principled and direct, a man of his word," said former medical school dean and V.P. David Korn, MD, now a senior vice president for biomedical and health sciences research at the Association of American Medical Colleges. "Under Clayton's leadership, as a number of department chairs who had been instrumental in establishing the 'new school' in Palo Alto stepped down, the school succeeded in recruiting distinguished new chairs in both basic and clinical departments, thereby maintaining the exuberance and momentum that continues to this day."

Born in Manhattan, NY, Rich's family moved to Connecticut a few years later. As a teenager, he spent much time in Vermont, where he attended the Putney School. He went to Swarthmore College and earned an MD at Cornell University Medical College in 1948. He did his residency at Albany Hospital in Albany, NY, specialized in endocrinology and worked as a physician at Cornell. After serving in the U.S. Navy from 1951 to 1953, he joined the medical staff at Rockefeller University, ultimately becoming an assistant professor there.

In 1960, Rich joined the faculty at the University of Washington School of Medicine and the staff of the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Seattle as chief of the radioisotope service. In 1968 he became an associate dean at the university and chief of staff at the VA, where he served until he went to Stanford.

"He was in some ways a characteristic New England Yankee; quiet, thoughtful, hardworking and surprisingly open-minded. He was not chummy," said Peter J. Levin, ScD, who directed Stanford Hospital under Rich and went on to serve as dean at three schools of public health.

When it came to keeping Stanford at the forefront of science, Rich was hands-on. "He was really serious about trying to understand how science was moving," Levin said. "So he talked with the chairs and individual scientists about their work and what was happening in their fields and what would be the smart direction to go to advance new frontiers in science. He supported the faculty and tried to invest in what would continue to keep science at Stanford at the forefront. He was the best medical school administrator of science I've ever been around."

Highlights of Rich's accomplishments as dean were the creation of the programs in structural biology and the neurosciences and construction of a building to house them, the Fairchild Science Building. Another successful construction project was Fairchild Auditorium.

Though some of his decisions inevitably rubbed some faculty members the wrong way, former colleagues recall he served with integrity. Former pediatrics chair Irving Schulman, MD, said working with Rich was a pleasure. "He always fulfilled his promises," said Schulman.

Levin added that Rich "tried to do what was best for Stanford, though some didn't appreciate him at the time. He was really right for that place because he tried to advance science in the most rational, reasonable way. Unlike many leaders, he did not have a big ego. This made him a very different kind of dean."

Rich's letter of resignation gave voice to the tensions of the times: rising medical costs, stagnating federal funding and pressure to reform training and expand primary-care services. In an excerpt published in the November 1978 Stanford Observer, he wrote, "The changing external environment and the pressures these changes have brought forth have caused divisions and differences within the School. I must regretfully conclude that these can best be resolved and our serious problems dealt with if the School has the opportunity for new leadership."

Although he was dedicated to his work, he had a lighter side. He was a voracious reader and had a wide range of interests—from the trains in Sri Lanka to good wine and food. Levin recalled Rich's sense of humor and his unusual method of losing weight: a diet of popcorn, beer, half a grapefruit, coffee and a full dinner every three or four days during his dieting episodes.

After Stanford, Rich worked briefly at the Institute of Medicine and in 1980 became provost of the Oklahoma University Health Sciences Center and executive dean of the college of medicine. He retired in 1993 and moved back to the Seattle area. There he volunteered with environmental groups, writing and administering grants. With his wife, he enjoyed the region's natural beauty—in particular the Puget Sound, where he had sailed on his boat, the Aphrodite, in more physically active days.

"His main hobby has always been sailing," said his wife, Rosalind Rich. "He was an avid sailor and loved cruising up the coast through the islands—both the American islands and Canadian."

He is survived by his wife Rosalind; his previous wife, Mary Bell Rich of Santa Clara, Calif.; and his son Clayton Greig Rich of San Francisco. For those wishing to make a charitable donation in his memory, his wife suggests his favorite charity, MEOW Cat Rescue, P.O. Box 58, Kirkland, WA, 98083-0058.