Joseph Howland Auchincloss
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Joseph Howland Auchincloss

June 28, 1921 - March 29, 2013

Joseph Howland Auchincloss

June 28, 1921 - March 29, 2013


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Obituary for Joseph Howland Auchincloss

J. Howland Auchincloss, Jr., MD, died peacefully on March 29, 2013, at age 91, at Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, NY-- an institution to which he dedicated his professional life. A resident of Cazenovia, New York, he was an accomplished physician, pianist and woodworker with a lifelong passion for music and invention.

Auchincloss was born June 28, 1921, in New York City, the youngest of four children of Joseph Howland Auchincloss and Priscilla Dixon Stanton. He graduated from Groton in 1939, Yale in 1942, and Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1945. In New York City, he trained on the old chest service at Bellevue Hospital and studied jazz piano in his off hours.
In 1946 he married Sarah Sedgwick Knapp. In 1952 the couple moved to Syracuse, New York where they raised four daughters and shared a commitment to social justice, the arts and music. During the civil rights movement of the 1960's, he founded the Syracuse Chapter of the Medical Committee for Human Rights and took a small group of doctors to Bogalusa, Louisiana, to provide assistance and demonstrate his belief in healthcare as a basic human right, not a privilege. After his hotel room was bombed, he returned more committed than ever to social justice.

He came to Upstate a young physician interested in cardiopulmonary medicine; when the field divided, he chose the lung. With his colleague, Robert Gilbert, he pioneered pulmonary care, establishing the first intensive care unit at Upstate, treating occupational disease, and studying exercise physiology. He devised ways to monitor the pulmonary toxicity of the anticancer agent bleomycin, work that remained clinically useful for decades. He later described this as one of his proudest achievements.

As a physician, Auchincloss instilled what he felt were the core values inherent in medical practice: integrity, patience and respect for people in all walks of life. He published over one hundred papers and served for over ten years as chairman of the Institutional Review Board, where he set a rigorous standard for research, vigilantly protecting the rights of human subjects. Once after watching a colleague consult with a family member in New York, he observed privately that the worst quality a physician could possess was arrogance. He is seen today by many former medical trainees now practicing as one of their professional fathers.

A man of discipline and habit, Auchincloss woke at 5:30 each morning well into his retirement. Wherever there was a piano, he loved sitting down to perform, favoring jazz piano and Chopin etudes. In his 60s, he taught himself how to windsurf and built a row boat with forward-facing oars. By his 80s, he was making classical lutes and collecting samples from period piece instruments for a dream project to bring early music to the electronic age.

He is survived by three daughters, Katharine Auchincloss Lorr, Sarah Auchincloss, MD, and Priscilla Auchincloss, and seven grandchildren. A memorial service celebrating his life will be held on Saturday, April 6 at 2:00 at May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society, 3800 East Genesee Street, Syracuse, New York 13214. Contributions in his memory may be made to the May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society, or to the Upstate Medical Center Palliative Care Service.

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