Ira M. Friedman, a clinical professor emeritus of pediatrics at Stanford and former director of Vaden Health Center and its predecessor, Cowell Student Health Center, died peacefully on Jan. 12 in his Belmont home surrounded by family.

Friedman, who was 69, was diagnosed with cancer of the bile duct in late 2016.

A funeral service will be held today at 11:00 a.m. at Congregation Etz Chayim, located at 4161 Alma Street, Palo Alto.

Portrait of Ira Friedman

Ira Friedman, former director of Vaden Health Center, is remembered as an innovative leader who cared deeply for students’ well-being. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

A campus memorial service will be held at 3:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 5, at Stanford Memorial Church, with a reception to follow at the Faculty Club. All members of the Stanford community are welcome to attend both events to celebrate Friedman’s life.

Friedman considered himself a primary care physician for the entire student community, said John Etchemendy, former provost and the Patrick Suppes Family Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences.

“He always tried to ensure their safety, whether it involved evacuating students from dangerous events abroad, finding ways to provide health insurance to the children and spouses of our graduate students, or dealing with infectious disease outbreaks on campus,” Etchmendy said. “He was an incredible asset to the community and will be sorely missed.”

Campus colleagues said Friedman had a big personality and a big heart.

“Ira’s big persona and smile would effortlessly fill any room,” said Robyn Tepper, medical director of Vaden. “He had infinite charisma and grace. Ira was a leader who was willing to make difficult decisions, inspire innovation and do whatever was required to provide optimal services for Stanford students. His meticulous attention to detail was only surpassed by his astute ability to elicit humor in any situation.”

A visionary leader

Friedman joined the Stanford community as director of the Cowell Student Health Center in 1994. He also became part of the student community as a resident fellow in Cedro House – a first-year dorm in the Wilbur Hall complex – a position he shared with his wife, Jennifer Dyer-Friedman, for four years.

Friedman led the drive to expand and modernize student health care at Stanford through the construction of Vaden Health Center, which opened in July 2002.

At the “topping off” ceremony – the day construction workers hoisted the last steel girders of Vaden into place – Friedman talked about the benefits for students of the new center.

“Our new health center will provide more comfort, more privacy, more space and much more efficiency in the way we can care for students,” he said.

Two years later, Friedman supported Vaden’s move to electronic health records in 2004 – long before most health centers.

Friedman also served as associate vice provost of Student Affairs, the university division that oversees Vaden, from 2007 to 2016.

“In his 22 years at Stanford, Ira devoted his passion and his energies to the health and well-being of all students,” said Greg Boardman, former vice provost of student affairs.

“His impact on the campus as a leader, role model and advocate for student welfare has been dramatic. He was also an invaluable resource for faculty and staff. By empowering students to thrive and helping to develop the whole student, Ira’s service certainly embodied the student affairs spirit. His wisdom, caring and helping persona, and his famous Hawaiian shirts will be sorely missed by all of us.”

Friedman led the redesign of Cardinal Care, the comprehensive health insurance plan for students. He initiated the Confidential Support Team, a confidential counseling service for sexual assault survivors. He co-led campus planning to respond to emerging infectious diseases, including the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, avian influenza and Ebola.

Friedman was the calm at the center of the storm when media reports of deaths caused by virus outbreaks in the United States and around the world caused concern. In 2014, when there were reports of deaths from the H1N1 virus in nearby Santa Clara County, he reassured students, telling them that a rise in deaths could be expected with a larger number of influenza cases, and that simple precautions would protect them.

“The main concern should be to avoid infection, and the vaccine is really the best and most effective way to do it,” he told the Stanford Daily.

By the time Friedman retired in March 2016, he oversaw a staff of about 100 people offering medical care, counseling and psychological services, wellness and health promotion services, and pre-travel consultations to more than 16,000 undergraduate and graduate students.

Expanded mental health support

Friedman served as co-chair of Stanford’s Student Mental Health and Well-Being Task Force, whose 2008 report laid the groundwork for expanding the campus support system. He also served as co-chair of the oversight committee that monitored Stanford’s progress implementing the task force’s recommendations.

In 2011, he told the Faculty Senate that the nation was entering its second decade of increasing concern on the issue. He explained that Stanford was concerned about two very distinct groups of students: a relatively small number who have significant mental health problems that existed before they arrived or began emerging at Stanford; and the broad spectrum of students who were doing pretty well and, at the same time, are confronting challenges as they negotiate the stresses in their personal and academic lives.

“Even today, we’re seeing more press coverage of stressed-out students from a national survey,” Friedman said. “Let us keep in mind, however, that being on a college campus is a protective factor, because we know that students on a campus are actually better off in all dimensions of well-being and health than their age-matched peers who are not attending college. So, there’s good news as well as bad news.”

Friedman, who enjoyed advising students who were considering careers in medicine, made occasional visits to student resident halls to address health concerns – as in 2010 when a student in La Casa Italiana was hospitalized for the rare, but deadly bacterial meningitis.

He also enjoyed serving breakfast to students studying for final exams during Midnight Breakfast – an annual event held during winter quarter.

Sally Dickson, former associate vice provost for student affairs, recalled meeting Friedman in 1994, when they were talking to students who had initiated a hunger strike, demanding that Stanford join the national boycott of California table grapes in support of farmworkers.

“What impressed me that night – it was pouring rain in the Main Quad – was Ira’s caring nature, not just as a doctor, but as someone who cared deeply for the health and welfare of the students,” Dickson said. “He was giving them the advice a doctor would give, but he was also sending them the message ‘I care about you and I know what you’re doing.’”

Family was his first love

Friends and colleagues said Friedman was devoted to his family: wife Jennifer Dyer-Friedman, a clinical psychologist in Menlo Park, California; daughter Nani Friedman, an undergraduate student at Stanford; son Joseph Friedman, a high school student; and son Christopher Jordan, of Albany, California, whom he adopted during a previous marriage.

Every August, the family traveled to a ranch in the Sierra foothills where Friedman would ride horseback and rustle cattle to his heart’s content. The family also traveled often to Jennifer’s native state of Hawaii; Kauai was a favorite destination.

Friedman, who was born and raised in New York City, earned a bachelor’s degree in history at the University of Rochester in New York in 1968. He earned a medical degree in 1972 at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, New York, and completed his residency in pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Oakland.

Between 1974 and 1987, Friedman worked in a variety of adolescent medicine positions, providing clinical care, doing research and teaching at San Francisco General Hospital, Stanford University School of Medicine, Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco, and the University of California, San Francisco. He volunteered for the California Abortion Rights Action League and at projects/centers for homeless and at-risk youth.

Friedman’s career in student health care began in 1987, when he became chief physician of the student health center at the University of California, Berkeley. He was promoted to medical director in 1989.

In addition to his wife and children, Friedman is survived by his sister, Lida Levine, of Long Island, New York.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests honoring Friedman’s legacy by contributing to the “Ira M. Friedman Memorial Fund,” which will support first-generation and low-income pre-med Stanford students. Donations can be made online at type in “The Ira M. Friedman Memorial Fund” in the Special Instructions/Other Designation field. Checks may also be sent to: Attn. Julia Hartung, Office of Development, Stanford University, 326 Galvez St., Stanford, CA 94305.