School of Medicine mourns loss of Robert D. Koler, M.D. ’47, R’53

A celebration of Dr. Robert Koler's life will be held at 2 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 22, at the OHSU Auditorium (Old Library Building).

The OHSU School of Medicine joins OHSU, Oregon and others in mourning the loss of Robert D. Koler, M.D. '47 R'53, who died Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012. Our thoughts are with the Koler family.

Dr. Koler, 88, was provost emeritus and professor emeritus of molecular and medical genetics, and medicine, at Oregon Health & Sciences University. A pioneer in genetics research, he anticipated the importance of genetics and molecular biochemistry in the treatment of disease.

Born Feb. 14, 1924 in Casper, Wyo., Dr. Koler met June Rogers at the University of Oregon; they married in 1945.

Dr. Koler joined the Army Specialized Training Program in 1943. Soldiers in this program (ranked in the top 2 percent of inductees by IQ) were given an accelerated college education. He went to premed and medical school under the ASTP, graduating from the University of Oregon in 1944 and the University of Oregon Medical School (precursor to OHSU School of Medicine) in 1947. His residency in internal medicine at the University of Oregon Medical School was interrupted to serve as a medical officer in the U.S. Army and a captain in the Korean War. After the war, Dr. Koler joined the faculty at the University of Oregon Medical School in the Division of Experimental Medicine.

Dr. KolerIn 1960, Dr. Koler took his family to London, England where he did a one-year sabbatical in the Genetics Department at University College, studying hemoglobin genetic variants. After returning to Portland, he created and headed the Division of Medical Genetics that grew into the Department of Molecular & Medical Genetics, which he chaired from 1981 to 1987.

In 1976, he became Pro Tem Chair of the Department of Medicine. He returned to England in 1980 for a second sabbatical, this time in Oxford at the Medical Research Council Unit for Molecular Haematology to study with Sir David Weatherall.

In 1988, he was named Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs at OHSU.

In 1989, he was appointed Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs, where his numerous contributions include launching OHSU's emeritus faculty and oral history project and playing an integral role in developing Oregon's Genetic Privacy Law as a member of the Oregon Legislature Advisory committee. This law subsequently was used as a model for developing the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) passed by President Bush in 2008.

In 1991, Dr. Koler was awarded the Mentor Award by The Medical Research Foundation of Oregon, recognizing his outstanding leadership in support of health research, education and advancement of health care.

In 2000, he received OHSU's most prestigious alumni award, the Charles Preuss Distinguished Alumni Award, which recognizes physicians taking active roles in guiding the future of their community, their school and the medical profession.

He is survived by his wife of 67 years, June; son, Tom (Lori Connor), daughter, Mary Wirtz; and grandson Thatcher Wirtz.

His daughter Mary Wirtz, Ph.D., is a research professor in the OHSU Departments of Ophthalmology and Molecular & Medical Genetics.

A celebration of Dr. Robert Koler's life will be held at 2 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012, in the OHSU Auditorium (Old Library Building), 3181 S.W. Sam Jackson Park Rd, Portland, OR 97239.

Memorial contributions may be made to the M.D./Ph.D. Scholarship Program at the OHSU Foundation.

Pictured: Robert D. Koler, M.D.