From the Archives: Friend to the world and a friend of ours

Charles M. Grossman, M.D. (1914-2013)

Charles_M_Grossman_MDSeptember 24, 2013

Every Tuesday for years an extraordinary man carried his papers in worn file folders and envelopes to the OHSU Historical Collections & Archives. These papers document a life lived to the fullest. He was a friend, a husband, a father, a physician andda social activist who held nothing back, neither in word or deed.

The last time I saw Dr. Grossman was two weeks before his death. In his 99th year, as he was wont to say, he was still dapper in suit and bow tie and with a mind as bright as a new penny. He was still taking a swim on warm days in the Willamette River under the St. Johns Bridge and still writing scathing editorials against injustice and ignorance and trying to complete his memoir.

Charles Milton Grossman was born December 23, 1914 in Harrison, New Jersey. He attended the City College of New York and New York University School of Medicine and interned and completed his residency at the Yale University School of Medicine. He received an appointment in 1940 at the New York University School of Medicine as the Christian A. Herter Fellow in Medicine. And in 1944, he moved west to Vancouver, Washington, to join the initial group of physicians to practice at the Kaiser Permanente Hospital.

On October 10, 1947, David E. Baird, M.D., then dean of the University of Oregon Medical School, appointed him as Clinical Instructor in Medicine. From Vancouver, Dr. Grossman moved to Portland where he lived for decades in the hills above Linnton with his late wife, Helen Frost, "Frosty" (d.2002), where they raised two children, Peter and Lindsay. In the 1950s, Dr. Grossman was investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee, and he wound up leaving UOMS in 1954 when a senior faculty member declined to sign his grant renewal.

His medical career encompassed cases such as the first use of penicillin in the United States on March 14, 1942, mushroom poisoning (in particular, investigation of genus Galerina), and blood work leading to patents on an early dialysis machine. He carried on 58 years of private practice in Portland, specializing in internal medicine. He worked as an Associate in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Portland (1959-1980) and as a staff member at Holladay Park Hospital (1947-1993) and at Good Samaritan Hospital (1970 - 2013).

Dr. Grossman wedded a medical career with one of social activism. He worked on a wide variety of labor, social and community health issues. After 1980 he became the co-organizer of the Portland chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. He took a leading role in establishing contacts in Europe and China during the days of detente. He helped organize multiple tours to China and North Korea (DPRK) and was essential in facilitating medical and nursing exchange programs between East and West.

He was rewarded with the Albert Schweitzer Peace Achievement award - International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War – Hiroshima, Japan, Summer 1989. This year, the Hiroshima Day celebration in Portland was dedicated to Dr. Grossman. He was also awarded Citizen of the Year by the Oregon Social Workers Association, 1980. Along with physicist Rudy Nussbaum, he documented the health effects of radiation released from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation during the 1940s. He published over 30 scientific articles in his lifetime.

The former head of our department, Sara Piasecki, once wrote, "Dr. Grossman makes a valuable contribution to the history of the health sciences in the Pacific Northwest merely by getting up in the morning."

Our friend "Charlie" passed away on July 17, 2013. There is a silence on Tuesdays now in the History of Medicine Reading Room. However, his diligence in bringing us his papers has provided evidence of his legacy. The collection is carefully and lovingly preserved in the Archives and anyone wishing to examine a life well lived is welcome to visit.


Pictured above: Charles M. Grossman, M.D. 

Written by Karen Lea Anderson Peterson
Archivist - Assistant Professor
OHSU Historical Collections & Archives