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Dr. Richard Berlin, researcher, educator, administrator, dies

by Pat Keefe - March 13, 2006

Dr. Richard Berlin, associate dean for research planning and coordination, and head of the Department of Cell Biology at Health Center, died Feb. 26.

Berlin joined the Health Center faculty as head of the physiology department in 1973 from Harvard Medical School.

He was named research dean in 1991 and it was in that position that his impact upon the institution was greatest. He remained chair of the department, which was renamed the Department of Cell Biology in 2003, until he died.

“For more than 30 years, Richard was an exceptionally important member of our faculty, who contributed in so many ways as a consummate scientist, educator, and administrator to the growth, development, and continued well being of the educational and research product of the UConn Health Center and its schools,” says Dr. Peter J. Deckers, executive vice president for health affairs.

“His intelligence, his skills, his professionalism, his wisdom in so many areas, and his equanimity made him a tower of strength, a role model for us all,” Deckers says, adding that Berlin helped establish the foundations for the Health Center.

“Dick Berlin was responsible for research recruiting at the Health Center for the past 30 years,” says Marc Lalande, head of the Department of Genetics and Developmental Biology and associate dean for research planning and coordination, who was recruited by Berlin.

“His impact on the Health Center lives on in all aspects of our research community: state-of-the-art technology being used by our investigators who have the very highest expertise and capabilities,” Lalande says.

“Dr. Berlin will be remembered in particular as the architect of the first research strategic plan, which attracted 50 new investigators to the Health Center and created four new centers and two new departments.

“He was a deep thinker,” adds Lalande, “a sophisticated man, patient, kind and extremely open.”

Berlin graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1954.

He attended Harvard Medical School and earned his medical degree cum laude in 1959.

He held a research fellowship at Johns Hopkins after medical school and worked with Dr. W. Barry Wood, former vice president of Johns Hopkins University and hospital, who became a professor of microbiology in the schools of medicine and hygiene and public health. Wood discovered endogenous pyrogen, now known as interleukin, and Berlin collaborated with him on that work.

“The work he did at Johns Hopkins changed everything for him,” says Joan Caron, assistant professor of cell biology and a former student and colleague of Berlin’s.

“Research became his passion, and after that, he concentrated on it and never went back to patient care.”

In 1964, Berlin joined the faculty of Harvard Medical School, in the Department of Physiology.

“Dick Berlin was a very serious, scholarly, energetic man who had not only his expertise in his subject in his heart, but also the best interests of the Health Center,” says Dr. James E.C. Walker, professor emeritus of medicine.

“He became involved in medical administration and the dean’s office in the 1980s, and I was surprised, for he seemed to be such a laboratory sciences person.

“Yet he turned out to be a splendid administrator and was a vital link between the basic scientists and the administration,” Walker says. “He was very well thought of by all sides.”

Dr. John Patterson, former dean of the School of Medicine and executive director of the Health Center, says Berlin and his department played a seminal role in establishing the medical and dental school curriculum.

“As a teacher, his lectures were clear and definitive and appreciated by the students,” Patterson says, “and he made a major contribution to a new program that had national importance. Back in those days, we taught medical and dental students from the same curriculum for the first two years. He and the people from his physiology department were major players in establishing the curriculum and making it succeed.”

Berlin was recently selected as the winner of the 2006 Board of Directors Faculty Recognition Award, the Health Center’s highest award to faculty for academic, administrative, and clinical excellence.

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