News Release

Obituary: Victor M. Hawthorne

January 9, 2015, University of Michigan School of Public Health

Victor M. HawthorneVictor M. Hawthorne, professor emeritus of epidemiology in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and in the Department of Family Practice in the School of Medicine, died in Lansing, Michigan, on Nov. 23, 2014, of heart failure. He was 93.

Hawthorne was a graduate of the University of Glasgow, where he received the M.B. and Ch.B. (bachelor of medicine and surgery) degrees in 1951, M.D. degree (with commendation) in 1962, and Doctor of Science (honorary) degree in 1996.

Early in his career, he was involved in tuberculosis control in Scotland, which stimulated future interests in epidemiology and preventive medicine. His studies of respiratory diseases and hypertension in the general population of the Island of Tiree, and of the burghs of Renfrew and Paisley in Scotland, led to an appointment in 1966 as senior lecturer at the University of Glasgow Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine.

He served as the principal investigator in the Paisley and Renfrew MIDSPAN Health Study of 15,000 men and women, aged 45-64 years, who were screened for cardio-respiratory diseases. In this prospective study, which has been running for more than 50 years, he identified many of the important risk factors that predict excessive mortality due to coronary heart disease and other common chronic diseases, and, of related interest, the effect of environmental tobacco smoke on the health status of non-smokers. In recognition of this work, he received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of Glasgow "for undertaking the largest long-term study of the health of socially deprived populations in the U.K."

Hawthorne came to the University of Michigan in 1978 as professor of epidemiology and chair of the Department of Epidemiology in the School of Public Health. He served in that capacity until 1986. He received an additional appointment in the Department of Family Practice in 1982. On June 30, 1991, he was named professor emeritus of epidemiology and family practice, yet remained active in research and practice until shortly before his death, publishing his last article in 2009.

"Victor brought the department together at a critical time in its history, and contributed to the large body of chronic disease research that informs the Tecumseh Community Health Project to this day," said his colleague Arnold Monto, the Thomas Francis Jr. Collegiate Professor of Epidemiology.

During his tenure as department chair, Hawthorne participated in the Seven State Hypertension Control and Demonstration Project, and in studies of dietary methodology, diabetes and osteoarthritis in the Tecumseh Community Health Project. He also conducted studies of the medical care requirements and quality of care received by schizophrenic patients in Michigan psychiatric hospitals, and of the costs and survival in patients with end-stage kidney disease.

He served as a member of the Governor's Chronic Disease Advisory Committee from its inception in 1978, providing leadership in planning and implementation of a variety of disease prevention and control programs. In 1986, the Michigan Department of Public Health established the Victor M. Hawthorne Awards for research projects in disease prevention and health promotion.

In addition to being a distinguished scientist and beloved teacher, he also created an atmosphere of collegiality among the faculty. "Victor was kind and considerate, and a skilled storyteller," recalls Monto, "and it was a pleasure to have him as an after-dinner speaker. He loved to quote Bobby Burns poetry, which was a delight to hear in his Scottish accent."

Hawthorne was married to the late Jean Mackenzie for 65 years. They had three daughters: Hilary (died December 2003); Wendy, a resident of Edinburgh, Scotland; and Rosalind (William) Kirk, of Lansing, Michigan; three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Contributions in his memory may be made to the University of Michigan School of Public Health, 1415 Washington Heights, Ann Arbor, MI, 48109-2029.

Contact: Terri Mellow, Senior Media Strategist
Phone: (734) 764-8094