Dr. Sumner Yaffe was born in Boston, Massachusetts on May 9, 1923 and died peacefully at the age of 88 in his home in Los Angeles on August 10, 2011. An internationally recognized researcher and advocate, he is considered the “Father of Pediatric Pharmacology.”
He is survived by his wife, Susanne H. Goldstein; children, Steven of Aquinnah, Kristine, Jason, Noah, Ian, and Zachary; and five grandchildren. He spent the better part of his life vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard and his children spent many of their summers (and winters) working on the Island.
Dr. Yaffe graduated from Boston Latin School and Harvard University — with an interruption during World War II to serve in the U.S. Army. He received his BA in chemistry, an MA in Pharmacology at Harvard, and finally his MD from the University of Vermont. He returned to Harvard to complete his pediatric training at Children’s Hospital in Boston. After a Fulbright Scholarship at St. Mary’s Hospital in London, and a fellowship in metabolism at Harvard, he joined the faculty at Stanford University as Director of the Clinical Research Center for Premature Infants. It is here that his interest in neonatal pharmacology grew. In 1963, he moved to SUNY Buffalo as Professor of Pediatrics and Adjunct Professor of Biochemical Pharmacology. In 1975, he moved to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to establish the first Division of Pediatric Clinical Pharmacology.
During his distinguished academic career, he published upwards of 300 scientific articles and books dealing with a wide range of developmental science. His work included studies on the ontogeny of drug metabolizing enzymes, including effects of malnutrition, vitamins, protein intake, and drugs on drug metabolism in the developing fetus and child, bilirubin metabolism, and the excretion of drugs in breast milk. He inspired and mentored countless young pediatric investigators who owe much of their career directions to his teaching.
In 1980, Dr. Yaffe took the position as Director of the Center for Research for Mothers and Children at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. During his 20 years at NICHD, Dr. Yaffe’s vision for improved pharmacotherapy for children came to fruition as he tirelessly pursued an agenda for increased research in diseases of childhood. He fostered the development of research networks including a neonatal and fetal/maternal medicine network, and, most crucial to pediatric and developmental pharmacology, the Pediatric Pharmacology Research Units.
Dr. Yaffe’s vision of improved therapy for sick children has become a reality. He inspired an entire generation of pediatric clinical pharmacologists to grow the field into a mature and evolving scientific discipline. The Pediatric Pharmacy Advocacy Group named its lifetime achievement award in pediatric pharmacology and therapeutics after him. A scholarship at the University of Vermont has been set up in his honor, ensuring that yet another (and another) generation of doctors will grow up with his guidance. The family requests that all tributes be made to the Sumner J. Yaffe Scholarship at the UVM School of Medicine.
Dr. Yaffe is sorely missed by his family, friends, and colleagues. He loved this Island, was unbelievably smart, very charming, a world traveler, deeply caring, remarkably funny, easily predictable, committed to the common good, naturally inquisitive, dedicated to his family, and determined to live his life to the fullest. While he is gone from us today, he is now finally at peace, and his spirit will live on through cherished memories and the many achievements he had during his extraordinary career.