Francis H. Straus, dedicated pathologist and gifted educator, 1932–2014

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Francis H. Straus, professor emeritus of pathology at the University of Chicago, died at his home in Mackinac Island, Mich., on Jan. 8. He was 81 years old.

Straus spent his entire career, from medical school to retirement, at the University of Chicago. He helped train many of the leading surgical pathologists in the country. He was nationally known for his work, together with Drs. Leslie De Groot and Edwin Kaplan, on thyroid pathology. He also made significant contributions to the understanding of other endocrine and urologic disorders.

Although he published two books—Hypoparathyroidism and Essentials of Surgical Pathology—authored 12 book chapters and contributed to nearly 100 research papers, Dr. Straus thought of himself primarily as a teacher and a clinician. He taught the courses in basic pathology and surgical pathology to medical students for decades and was selected by the medical students as one of the school’s 20 best teachers 15 times in the 1970s and ’80s. For three decades he and his wife, Lorna, developed and co-taught a popular course on mammalian anatomy and physiology for third- and fourth-year students in the College. His philosophy of life, he wrote in a letter to the alumni association, was to help society “by being creative and precise in my practice and teaching.”

Straus’s colleagues consistently praised his professional skills and treasured his friendship. “He was an outstanding pathologist, a valued colleague, a wonderful friend and the kindest and most thoughtful person,” said endocrine surgeon Edwin Kaplan, professor of surgery at the University. “He played an important role in defining the pathogenesis of several endocrine diseases. One of our papers on papillary thyroid cancer, for example, has been cited nearly 900 times.”

“Francis was an excellent teacher, thorough and encouraging with the students, as well as a valued member of the thyroid clinical care and research teams,” said endocrinologist Leslie DeGroot, professor emeritus of medicine. “I worked with him for 35 years and he was always available to help with the research or to review pathology specimens. No matter what time, day or night, he did his job with kindness and thoughtfulness.”

Francis Howe Straus II was born in Chicago on March 16, 1932. He graduated from the Francis W. Parker High School in 1949 and from Harvard University in 1953. He completed medical school at the University of Chicago in 1957, followed by an internship, United States Public Health Fellowship and residency at the University of Chicago Hospitals and Clinics. In 1963, while serving as the chief resident in pathology, he was appointed an instructor in pathology. He was promoted to assistant professor in 1965, associate professor in 1971 and professor in 1978.

Throughout his career, Dr. Straus took on many additional professional roles. He served as president and on the board of directors for the Chicago unit and the Illinois division of the American Cancer Society, for which he was honored with the 2006 St. George Medal, the society’s highest distinction for volunteer service. He also lectured widely on endocrine and surgical pathology.  

He was active in the University’s Medical Staff Organization, serving as its vice president from 1977 to 2001 and as associate director for surgical pathology from 1977 to 2003. He was a member and, for one year, chairman of the medical school admissions committee. He also was a key player on many hospital quality-assurance and laboratory-services committees.

Dr. Straus also had strong interests outside of medicine, including travel, art, architecture, history, classical music and gardening. He was chairman of the faculty advisory committee to the University’s Smart Gallery of Art from 1972 to 1984 and a member of the gallery’s board from 1984 to 1988.

He also was devoted to his family, which had multi-generational connections to the University of Chicago, medicine and biology. His father was a surgeon and his mother graduated from the University’s former joint medical program with Rush Hospital in 1926. In 1955, while in medical school, Straus married Lorna Puttkammer, daughter of a University of Chicago Law School dean and professor. While he completed his MD and residency, she began work on her master’s and doctoral degrees and is now a professor emerita in organismal biology and anatomy. She also served as dean of students in the College, dean of admissions and University marshal.

Francis Straus is survived by his wife; their four children: Francis III, a senior member of the legislative staff for the Illinois Speaker of the House; Helen, SB’86, MD’90, an emergency department physician at Cook County’s Stroger Hospital; Christopher, AB’88, MD’92, an associate professor of radiology at the University of Chicago; and Michael, a physician assistant in Lansing, Michigan; and two grandchildren.

A memorial service is being planned. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent to the Eleanor Humphreys Visiting Professorship Fund, care of the University of Chicago Department of Pathology, 5841 S. Maryland Avenue, Room AMB S-329 (MC 3083), Chicago, Illinois 60637.

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