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January 15, 2014

Dr. Pittman, longtime former dean, dies at 86

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pittman_sJames Allen Pittman Jr., M.D., former dean of the UAB School of Medicine, passed away Jan. 12, 2014, at the age of 86.

Visitation will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 6 at Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, 2017 Sixth Ave. North, with a service following at 2 p.m.

Considered a principal architect of the School of Medicine, known for his ability to recruit and retain nationally and internationally known physicians and scientists to work at UAB, Pittman was dean for 19 years, from 1973 to 1992.

“The School of Medicine would not stand as an example of excellence in academic medicine were it not for Dr. Pittman’s vision for outstanding research and education, or his unwavering dedication and service to students, faculty and staff,” said Selwyn M. Vickers, M.D., current senior vice president for Medicine and dean of the School of Medicine. “Our hearts go out to his family and the many friends and colleagues who knew and loved him.”

Born April 12, 1927, in Orlando, Fla., Pittman graduated cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Davidson College in 1948, and earned his medical degree magna cum laude from Harvard Medical School in 1952. He trained at Massachusetts General Hospital and the National Institutes of Health and served as an instructor at George Washington University School of Medicine before moving to Birmingham in 1956 for a residency in medicine. He served as chief resident under Tinsley R. Harrison, M.D., a legend in internal medicine.

After serving in a number of teaching and administrative positions, including director of the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism and co-chair of the Department of Medicine, he was appointed dean of the medical school in 1973.

Pittman had an abiding interest in medical students, challenging them to excel. In 1964, while a young faculty member, he established Medical Student Research Day, a program that continues 50 years later. He is credited with restoring a four-year medical school curriculum, replacing the 35-month program that was in place when he became dean, and creating space in the academic cycle for students to pursue research and service activities. He retired from the deanship in 1992.

Pittman’s primary research interest was in thyroid physiology and disease. He was a popular visiting professor and lecturer at universities across the country and around the world, and received numerous professional awards, including the Abraham Flexner Award from the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Brotherhood Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the Founders Medal from the Southern Society of Clinical Investigation, and honorary doctorates from Davidson College and UAB. He was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor in 1982.

“Dr. Pittman’s work was truly transformational, and we owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude,” said UAB President Ray L. Watts, who served as senior vice president for Medicine and dean of the School of Medicine from 2010 to 2013. “There is no doubt that his influence and reputation extended well beyond UAB. He is one of the great people who, through his unwavering dedication, helped propel UAB’s growth into an institution that can and does change the world for the better.”

Pittman served as president of the American Federation for Clinical Research, as chair of the Liaison Committee on Graduate Medical Education (the accrediting body for medical schools), as president of the Harvard Medical Alumni Association, and on numerous scientific committees and boards at the Veterans Administration, the National Institutes of Health and the National Board of Medical Examiners.

He wrote Diagnosis and Treatment of Thyroid Diseases and many scientific papers published in professional journals, and was a member of The Endocrine Society, American College of Physicians, American Thyroid Association, American Chemical Society, National Library of Medicine and the Alabama State Committee of Public Health.

Pittman is preceded in death by his wife of 55 years, Constance Ming-Chung Shen Pittman, M.D. He is survived by two sons: James Clinton Pittman and John Merrill Pittman.

The family suggests gifts to the Dr. James A. Pittman, Jr., Memorial Fund at the School of Medicine at UAB, c/o Virginia Gilbert Loftin, 1720 Second Avenue South, FOT 1230, Birmingham, AL 35294-3412; (205) 975-5659; or via UAB Online Giving.

Note: This story, originally published on Wednesday, Jan. 15, was updated on Jan. 17 to provide memorial service arrangements.