PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Colleagues of Dr. David S. Greer, former dean of the Alpert Medical School and professor emeritus in the School of Public Health at Brown University, praised him as a deeply caring physician, educator, and advocate who accomplished an enormous amount of good not only at Brown, but also in the local community, and on the world stage. Greer died Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014, at his Fall River home. He was 89.
Greer, a fellow of the Institute of Medicine who was dean of medicine from 1981 to 1992, built a large legacy at Brown, said Dr. Jack Elias, dean of medicine and biological sciences.
“It is remarkable to consider how many of the initiatives that Dean Greer founded or championed have grown to become fundamental aspects of the Medical School and now, the Brown School of Public Health,” Elias wrote in a note to the Division of Biology and Medicine marking Greer’s death. “He founded and chaired the Department of Family Medicine, the Department of Community Health, and the Center for Gerontology and Healthcare Research.”
Greer also helped to establish the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies and Brown’s Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME).
Dr. Stanley Aronson, the medical school’s founding dean and Greer’s predecessor, called Greer “a close and faithful friend.” He recalled recruiting Greer, a fellow native of Brooklyn. Greer had been an outstanding medical student at the University of Chicago, where he earned his M.D. in 1953, Aronson said. He then went on to residencies at Chicago and Yale.
“Dave eventually established a practice in Fall River, building a reputation that extended into Rhode Island,” Aronson said. “In 1974, when Brown’s medical school was but two years old, there was a pressing need to recruit someone to organize and manage the many medical disciplines under the title Community Health. We recruited Dave, appointed him as associate dean of medicine, and in his new post, he flourished.”
Greer was not only a caring physician and loving husband, father, and grandfather, but also a visionary, said Dr. Julianne Ip, who since 1985 has been associate dean of medicine for the PLME program. Greer worked with Dr. Stephen Smith to establish a single eight-year course of study leading to a bachelor’s degree and then to the M.D.
“They viewed medicine as a humanitarian pursuit, not a trade to be learned but a lifelong dedication to patients through compassion — a broad-based education to give context to practice and ongoing learning,” Ip said. “They wanted physicians who would be thoughtful leaders in the community. PLMEs are encouraged to have a strong science background but also to go beyond that to understand the context of medicine: the social, behavioral, economic, cultural, political, religious, and ethical aspects of medicine.”
Vince Mor, professor of health services, policy and practice and a longtime friend, recalled how Greer brought him to Brown in 1980 to work together on a study of hospice care. That study led Medicare to establish a palliative care benefit.
“This is a guy who taught me so much about what it means to be a leader,” Mor said. “He’s the reason I’m here.”
A local and global activist
Ip said Greer was beloved by his patients in Fall River, but he also served the community beyond his own practice. In the late 1960s Greer helped to build Fall River’s Highland Heights Apartments, an early public housing facility for the frail elderly and other people with physical impairments, Mor said. Greer continued to work with the residents to study how they benefitted from the facility.
Greer and his late wife Marion also both served as trustees of Bristol Community College in Fall River.
In 1985 Greer became known across the world because as a founding director of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War he shared in the award of the Nobel Peace Prize.
This week the concern and caring Greer had exhibited for others was returned in the tributes of his colleagues.
“A hundred years from now, someone may decide to write a book about Brown’s medical faculty and its outstanding graduates,” Aronson said. “I hope that this historian will remember Dave as one of the pioneers of this academic and health-providing enterprise.”
Ip said, “Dr. David Greer was a warm, compassionate man who will always be remembered.”
Dr. David Lewis, founding director of the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, said, “He was a valued friend and mentor. His understanding, kindness and consistent support made it a privilege to work with him.”
And Mor praised Greer as someone who not only benefitted Brown students but also many others.
“He understood what a jewel and wonder it was to be at Brown, but he also knew there’s the hill and there’s the rest of the world,” Mor said. “He was very down-to-earth. He was a remarkable guy. He was just the best.”
A service for Dr. Greer will be held Friday Nov. 21, at Temple Beth-El in Fall River at 10 a.m.