UW News

May 8, 1997

Dr. George N. Aagaard, former dean and long-time medical school faculty member, dies in Seattle

UW Health Sciences/UW Medicine

Dr. George N. Aagaard, who served as the second dean of the University of Washington School of Medicine from 1954 to 1964, died early yesterday, May 7, in Seattle. He was 83.
After heading a 10-year administration filled with remarkable achievements and unsurpassed growth in faculty, funding and facilities, Dr. Aagaard continued as a distinguished faculty member at the UW medical school for the rest of his career. Although officially retired in 1984, he remained active at the medical school until a few weeks before his death.

“Ever gracious and wise, George Aagaard epitomized the physician’s finest qualities of compassion and intelligence,” said UW President Richard L. McCormick. “His presence was vital in shaping the successful development of our medical school through and beyond its critical early years. In this and so many other ways, professionally and personally, his loss is one that the University of Washington will feel for a long time to come.”

“The medical school mourns the loss of a greatly admired past dean and long-term faculty member who provided leadership and wisdom to the University for 43 years. Administrators who followed Dr. Aagaard wisely turned to him for advise and counsel,” said Dr. John B. Coombs, acting vice president for medical affairs and acting dean of the School of Medicine. “George Aagaard and his wife, Lorna, always considered it a privilege to work hard for the University.”

When Dr. Aagaard became dean, the medical school was eight years old with 53 faculty members and no teaching hospital. He arrived at the UW with a reputation as a calm, diplomatic statesman who brought order out of chaos, He was soon known as a man of fairness and good will.

Coming in on the tail end of political and financial struggles, Dr. Aagaard pulled together public support for the creation of University Hospital, now called University of Washington Medical Center. Construction began in 1956 and the hospital opened in 1959 with two nursing units. At the time the corporate practice of medicine was frowned upon, but Dr. Aagaard had the foresight to form a partnership called Associated University Physicians, in order to sustain a strong base for teaching and research. He respected the concerns of local physicians and built good relations with the practicing community. University Hospital quickly became a hub for medical breakthroughs, such as long-term kidney dialysis and chronic pain treatment. The teaching hospital housed one of the nation’s first federally funded Clinical Research Centers.

Dr. Aagaard advanced the medical school in the basic sciences by developing multidisciplinary programs in genetics and other fields. He also helped establish collaborative programs across the University. Scientific enterprise flourished under his administration. In the days before jet aircraft, Dr. Aagaard would sometimes make weekly cross-country trips to serve on National Institutes of Health councils. By the end of his deanship, the school was among the top in federal funding of research.

Dr. Aagaard also set the direction for the school’s present prominence as the highest ranking primary-care training ground. In 1963, he appointed a group to consider the direction of medicine 20 years hence. The group was uncanny in its predictions of an expanded health-care system, based on a primary-care model, and of the need for flexibility and diversity to embrace the varied training needs of generalist physicians.

After his years as dean, Dr. Aagaard founded the Division of Clinical Pharmacology and returned to the teaching and practice of medicine. He conducted extensive research on high blood pressure and was a life-long advocate of the value of exercise. He was an avid walker and tennis player. In 1978 he became the University’s first Distinguished Professor of Medicine. He also was the first person to occupy the position of ombudsman for the UW, a post in which he helped solve administrative problems for faculty, staff and students. He also served as president of the UW Retirement Association.

A lectureship on social issues in medicine was named in his and his wife’s honor. Lorna Aagaard has been a devoted partner to her husband in all of his professional endeavors. They were married 58 years.

Dr. Aagaard, an approachable man of dry wit who never took himself too seriously, was agreeable when the University, following its tradition of naming its computers after poets, scientists and philosophers, asked him if it might name its new clinical e-mail computer aagaard. His namesake is a tribute to his avid interest in medical informatics and his role in obtaining computers for student use.

Born in Minneapolis in 1913, Dr. Aagaard earned B.S., M.B, and M.D. degrees from the University of Minnesota, and completed his internship and residency there. At 39 he became dean of the Southwestern Medical School, University of Texas. He was named dean of the UW medical school in 1954, when he accepted the post because of the spirit of cooperation he saw at the school and because the school was an integral part of a strong university.

Aagaard is survived by his wife; five children, Diane, Skip, Buzz, David and Steven; six grandchildren; and one great grandchild. A memorial service will be held at University Congregational Church, where Dr. Aagaard and his wife were leading, longtime members, at 4 p.m. on Thursday, May 15.

The family suggests that memorials be made to the UW School of Medicine or to University Congregational Church.