Stanford hematologist Stanley Schrier dies at 90

A founding member of the Division of Hematology at Stanford, Schrier was an educator, mentor and investigator who trained generations of physicians and scientists.

- By Tracie White

Stanley Schrier was one of the first four members of Stanford's Division of Hematology. He died Aug. 16.
Norbert von der Groeben

Stanley Schrier, MD, a founding member of the Division of Hematology at the Stanford University School of Medicine whose research advanced the field of red blood cell biology, died Aug. 16. He was 90 years old.

Schrier continued to treat patients and conduct research until just two months before his death, said Ravi Majeti, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and chief of the hematology division.

“He had a full clinic up until July,” Majeti said. “He was beyond a legend. It’s so sad to think he’s gone.”

Schrier was known not only for his research skills, but as a compassionate, caring physician to thousands of patients during his 60 years at Stanford and for his talent for teaching and training physicians and scientists.

“Dr. Schrier’s contributions to the field of hematology and to Stanford Medicine are immeasurable,” said Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine. “Not only was he instrumental in developing Stanford Medicine’s hematology division, but he also served as a trusted physician, innovative researcher, and committed mentor. We will miss Dr. Schrier’s unique and contagious passion that inspired so many.”

Schrier joined Stanford as an instructor in 1959, the same year the school moved from San Francisco to the Palo Alto campus. He became a professor of medicine in 1972, then an active emeritus professor in 1999.

“Stan Schrier was a remarkable figure in the Department of Medicine,” said Robert Harrington, MD, chair of the department, which houses the hematology division. “He was considered a ‘doctor’s doctor,’ as well as an exceptional investigator, educator, mentor and leader.”

Early appetite for science

Schrier grew up in the Bronx, New York, where as a child his mother recognized his love for science and encouraged him to attend the Bronx High School of Science, where he was admitted in 1943, said his wife, Barbara Klein.

“His parents were immigrants from Hungary,” Klein said. “They were poor but rich in spirit. His mother saw she had a really bright son.”

As an undergraduate, he transferred from New York University to the University of Colorado-Boulder after spending a summer with relatives in Denver and falling in love with the mountains, she said.

Schrier graduated from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1954, then attended the University of Michigan and the University of Chicago for additional training. He served in the military as a member of the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, conducting research into treatments for Korean vivax malaria. The malaria project sparked Schrier’s interest in studying blood, his wife said.

When he arrived at Stanford, he was one of just four members of the division of hematology. In 1968, he became division chief, a position he held for 27 years, mentoring generations of hematologists.

“He was larger than life, a maestro of hematology,” said Ranjana Advani, MD, professor of medicine and the Saul A. Rosenberg, MD, Professor in Lymphoma, who worked with Schrier for 30 years, first as a fellow and later a colleague. “He shaped my career from day one and continued to be a mentor till the very end. He was like a father figure. He’s going to live in my heart forever.”

Schrier’s research focused on the study of the biology of red blood cells. In 1982, he began a more than 20-year study of thalassemia, a hereditary blood disease widespread in Mediterranean, African and Asian countries and among the most common genetic diseases in the world.

He conducted research projects in Israel, Italy and Thailand — countries with high rates of thalassemia — and was involved with the American Society of Hematology’s volunteer outreach programs in Uganda, Peru and Cambodia. He also served as president of the American Society of Hematology in 2004 and helped initiate the organization’s doctor volunteer programs to improve care for various hematological disorders in developing countries. He was editor of UpToDate, an online medical information service for physicians, and he had research grants to study anemia in elderly people when he died.

Sharing the patient’s journey

It was his passion for his work that spilled over into his teaching style and drew many into the field of hematology, said Jason Gotlib, MD, professor of medicine at Stanford. 

“He made me fall in love with hematology as a medical student,” Gotlib said. “He was able to translate blood smears at the microscope into what patients were experiencing at the bedside. He had a boyish sense of wonder that never faded.”

He also knew how to entertain his students, using his wit and storytelling skills to teach both a love of research and how to show compassion for patients, Gotlib said.

“He liked to sit down with his patients, not stand, and maintain eye contact, maybe hold their hands,” Gotlib said. “He taught us it’s OK to shed a tear as long as you show you’re going to be there with your patient through their journey. It’s hard for me to believe that future fellows won’t have the benefit of interacting with Stan.  However, we can sustain his legacy by nurturing what he imbued in all of us — excellence in patient care, teaching and scholarship.” 

Schrier received numerous teaching awards, including the Albion Walter Hewlett Award from the School of Medicine and the Walter J. Gores Award from Stanford University.

In his spare time, he enjoyed making wine with his son, David, and traveling with his first wife, Peggy Schrier, who died in 2001, and their children, and later with Klein and their grandchildren. He rode his bicycle to work at Stanford until he was in his 80s.

In addition to Klein, he is survived by his two daughters, Rachel Schrier of San Diego and Leslie Schrier of Foster City; his son, David Schrier of San Carlos; and two grandchildren, Andres and Emilia. 

Private graveside services were held Aug. 19 in Colma. A memorial event is being planned.

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