The Hematologist

January-February 2018, Volume 15, Issue 1

Harold Ross Roberts, MD (1930-2017)

ASH Staff American Society of Hematology, Washington, DC

Published on: January 11, 2018

Dr. Harold R. Roberts, the longtime hematology Division Chief and director of the Center for Thrombosis and Hemostasis at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, died peacefully on September 9, 2017, with his family at his side. Dr. Roberts will be remembered for his lasting contributions to research in hemostasis, but even more so for his tireless efforts in training physicians and scientists in the field of blood coagulation. For this latter effort, he received the ASH Mentor Award for Clinical Investigators in 2007.

Born in Four Oaks, NC, Dr. Roberts graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of North Carolina (UNC) in 1952 and from the UNC School of Medicine in 1955. He completed training in internal medicine at Vanderbilt University and completed a year as a Fulbright Scholar in Experimental Pathology at the University of Copenhagen from 1956 to 1957. After additional training in hematology, pathology, and neurology, Dr. Roberts joined the faculty at UNC in 1961, where he remained throughout his career.

Dr. Roberts rose rapidly through the professorial ranks at UNC-Chapel Hill, becoming division chief in 1968, a position in which he served until 1994, and becoming full professor in 1970. He also served as the long-time director (1978-1998) of UNC’s Center for Hemostasis and Thrombosis — an umbrella organization that co-ordinated and oversaw the remarkably broad program of basic and clinical research in blood coagulation taking place at UNC during that time.

Highlights of Dr. Roberts’ research career included the initial description and characterization of dysfunctional Factor IX proteins purified from the plasma of patients with hemophilia B (Factor IX Chapel Hill and Factor IX Alabama), and the development of the cell-based model of coagulation, which arose from efforts to better understand the mechanism of action of recombinant VIIa. Perhaps as important as his own work was his encyclopedic grasp of the field and his clear vision of problems that merited closer study. Others’ recognition of his intellectual leadership resulted in his service as chair of the hematology study section at the National Institutes of Health, chair of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) Program Project Review Committee, service on the NHLBI Advisory Council, and chairmanship of the Medical and Scientific Advisory Council of the National Hemophilia Foundation. He served as an associate editor of Blood (1983-1988), and as the first senior associate editor of the Journal of Thrombosis and Hemostasis. He served as the first executive director of the International Society of Thrombosis and Hemostasis, a position that he held for 12 years, and oversaw the organization’s growth from an international committee, to its current standing as the leading international organization for fostering basic and clinical research in coagulation.

All who knew Dr. Roberts understand that his most enduring legacy will be the work he did in training subsequent generations of coagulation experts. He set high standards for both himself and his trainees; he was available 24 hours a day for consultation, at the bedside if he thought it would help. He had a depth and breadth of clinical judgment that integrated a deep knowledge of anatomy, biochemistry, and pathophysiology, informed by years of clinical experience, and was a master at the art of guiding trainees in real-time through his decision-making processes. What came through very clearly in both his teaching and his mentoring was his deep and abiding interest in and concern for his fellow man, whether they were patient, trainee or colleague. His remarkable combination of clinical acumen, scientific leadership, and humanism influenced multiple generations of leaders in coagulation.

—Katherine High, MD, President and Head of R&D, Spark Therapeutics

—Gilbert C. White II, MD, Executive Vice President for Research, Director, Blood Research Institute, BloodCenter of Wisconsin

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