Alumnus of Merit Award 2006


Alumnus of Merit Award
The Alumnus of Merit Award is the highest honor the Alumni Association bestows on an alumnus of Whitman College. This award is given to alumni who have achieved distinction in their chosen field, or rendered outstanding service to their community, or rendered outstanding service to, and demonstrated loyal interest in, Whitman College. Members of the Board of Trustees, the Board of Overseers, and the Board of Directors of the Alumni Association are eligible three years after their last term has been served.
Bruce Beckwith

2006 Alumnus of Merit Award Recipient

Nominated by Mary Shuham Dore '50 for his groundbreaking work on Sudden Unexplained Infant Death, Bruce Beckwith '55 is a world-renowned pathologist who among his many accomplishments defined and named Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in 1969. After losing a daughter in this way in 1961, Mary and her husband Fred sought out other parents who had also lost their infant children suddenly and unexpectedly. With input from the local coroner and pediatric community, county health officials and representatives of the University of Washington Medical School, this small group was able to convince the legislature to pass a bill aimed at the problem. It directed that all cases of sudden death children up to age three could be referred directly to the University of Washington Medical School to determine the cause(s) of death. This was the first such law ever passed in the U.S. which specifically addressed the problem of sudden, unexpected, (unexplained) infant (crib) death. The bill also carried a small appropriation, which the medical school could use for specific research proposals.

In 1964, pathologist Bruce Beckwith joined the University teaching staff and was assigned to its teaching affiliate, Children's Hospital. He had been intrigued with unexplained infant death, as a young resident and was delighted to find the University of Washington had received a legislative mandate to explore this problem and proposed to lead the project. Bruce’s research included meeting with the parents in each case; it was highly unusual at that time for scientists to leave the laboratory and face the public, much less to engage in conversation with surviving family members. He willingly appeared before prior crib death case parents in groups to hear his lectures aimed to those audiences. As news of his research spread, he would correspond or speak to parents (and often their family physicians) and law enforcement personnel from all over our state and elsewhere in the country and even abroad.

Mary writes, "I cannot venture to guess how many months of Dr. Beckwith's life have been used in bringing peace to others. I am proud to have had the opportunity to nominate him for the 2006 Alumnus of Merit Award."

Earlier in Dr. Beckwith's career, one of his major interests was congenital malformations. He described a birth anomoly syndrome now known as the Beckwith-Wiedemann Syndrome. Affected babies may have significant problems early in life, but now they can be identify and ameliorate most of those, and the great majority will grow up to be normal adults. His other field of interest has been the pathology of tumors in children, and he discovered several previously unrecognized types of tumor, as well as prognostic features that have allowed more precise and effective therapy, especially for kidney tumors of youngsters.

Bruce graduated from Whitman in 1955 with a degree in Biology, he attended medical school at the University of Washington, and worked and taught at hospitals in Denver, Los Angeles, Seattle and Loma Linda, California.

In 1980, he received an Honorary Sc.D. Degree from Whitman and the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the University of Washington School of Medicine; he is the recipient of the Astute Clinician Award from the U.S. National Institutes of Health; in 1998, he was named an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists, their highest honor; in April 2005, the United States and Canadian Academy of Pathology honored him with the Distinguished Pathologist Award, which is akin to an Oscar in the pathology world, and in May 2005, he was the recipient of the Distinguished Career Award by the American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology.

When learning of the award, Bruce stated, "I owe a great deal of my success in life to the wonderful start I received at Whitman College, and especially to Dr. Rempel, who put my feet into the right path, and has been a constant source of inspiration ever since."

Bruce retired in 1999 and now lives in his hometown of Missoula, Montana, where he collects rare and antique books.

The Whitman College Alumni Association is honored to recognize Dr. Bruce Beckwith '55 for his significant contribution to the field of medicine. The award will be presented at the alumni banquet during Summer College on Thursday, June 15, 2006.