"He Never Wanted to Retire"

TouroCOM Remembers Dr. Robert Stern

June 29, 2018
Dr. Robert Stern, a founding faculty member of TouroCOM, passed away on May 23 from complications of leukemia. He was a beloved faculty member and continued teaching until shortly before his death. The picture above was taken during one of his last lectures.
Dr. Robert Stern, a founding faculty member of TouroCOM, passed away on May 23 from complications of leukemia. He was a beloved faculty member and continued teaching until shortly before his death. The picture above was taken during one of his last lectures.

“Dr Stern was a consummate teacher,” stated TouroCOM executive dean, Dr. Kenneth Steier. “He will be missed by faculty, students and staff.”

“Dr. Stern was a beloved faculty member,” said TouroCOM Harlem dean, Dr. David Forstein. “He was a mentor to students and professors alike. His spirit and curiosity were unsurpassed and we will miss him dearly.”

Dr. Stern joined the TouroCOM faculty in 2009. It was what he called his “third act” in a life replete with accomplishment. Born in Germany to Jewish parents, Stern fled with his family to the United States in 1938. At 17, he received a full-scholarship to Harvard University and attended medical school at the University of Washington. He worked as a staff scientist at the National Institute of Health for twelve years before joining the University of California in San Francisco where he taught pathology for 30 years. His main area of study was hyaluronan, an enzyme believed to play a role in cell proliferation that contributes to the development of cancer.

On a visit to Israel after his retirement at 2007, Dr. Stern heard about al-Quds university in Abu Die, the first Palestinian medical school. He taught, pro-bono, the entire pathology course to third-year medical students.

In 2009, at the tender age of 73, he joined TouroCOM where he quickly became a well-loved professor and congenial colleague. He was known for planning faculty outings to the most-interesting restaurants in the area (and introducing several staff members to dim sum), a warm teacher and a champion of students’ research

“One can never stand still, not in life, …not professionally,” Dr. Stern said during a lecture in Israel in 2014. “I have my health, and I have energy. I feel that I have been blessed with a third life, and that I must do something special with that extra life.”

Dr. Sushama Vallabhajosy Rich joined the faculty at the same time as Dr. Stern.

“He was the nicest man you could ever meet,” she recalled. “He went out of his way to introduce himself to new people and make them feel welcome. He was a renaissance man who could talk about anything.”

Dr. Tipsuda Jusanto-Bahri taught pathology with Dr. Stern.

“He was my colleague, my work-husband, my friend and like a father and an educator to me,” said Dr. Bahri, adding that Dr. Stern also encouraged other staff members in their own research. “He always nudged us to create research questions and to not take any information with face value.”

During Dr. Stern’s fifty-year career, he published more than 250 papers, many co-authored with his students. Among the many accolades he achieved during his time at TouroCOM, was the Faculty Research Award in 2012 and a Presidential Excellence Award in 2017.  He was editor of the textbook Hyaluronan in Cancer Biology 

Dr. Stern was diagnosed with leukemia in 2017, but continued working until two weeks before his death

“He would go to chemo on Wednesday, rest for a day and come back to work,” Dr. Rich said. “In the hospital, he wanted to talk about our research.”

Dr. Bahri estimated that she and Dr. Stern taught more than 1300 students during their time at TouroCOM. 

“He said that our students kept him alive,” she said. “He never wanted to retire.”