Dr. Ronald E. LaPorte, PhD
May 29, 1949 – October 30, 2021
Dr. LaPorte Professor Emeritus Celebration 2014
T1D is probably the disease with which Ron is most closely associated. Indeed, his pioneering contributions laid the foundation for not only T1D registries worldwide but also set a standard for epidemiologic international collaboration. Working closely with his colleague from Finland, Dr. Jaakko Tuomilehto and Dr. Hilary King from WHO, he persuaded over 100 investigators from more than 50 countries to set up registries of childhood onset T1D in a study called the WHO DiaMond Project, DiaMond being short for the French term Diabetes Mondiale. This was based on the design of the T1D registry established in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. The most remarkable feature of this project was not the extensive and novel data collected, nor the methodology that was established (including capture-recapture to determine completeness of case ascertainment), rather it was the fact that this was achieved with virtually no funding despite WHO recognition. Ron’s enthusiasm, passion and willingness to help collaborators day or night was sufficient for them to work, for free, on this project and on related studies like Diacomp, a worldwide study of T1D complications, and Diabetes Epidemiology Research International a four country study of mortality which developed a standardized classification process for mortality in T1D. His registry work also paved the way for early population genetic studies of T1D, the focus of his future wife’s research, and his major role across the world in organizing short intensive Diabetes Epidemiology Training Courses. These were modeled on the pioneer course in Cambridge, England for which he was a member of its founding faculty. His contributions to diabetes and registries led to the establishment of a WHO Collaborating Center at the University of Pittsburgh, for which he was the director, and his being an early recipient of the Kelly West Award for Outstanding Achievement in Diabetes Epidemiology from the American Diabetes Association in 1988.
In his retirement and before his terminal illness (Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis a condition as rare as Ron himself!!) prevailed, Ron remained active with his life’s mission of spreading knowledge. For example, he worked with Ismail Serageldin, the Founding Director of Bibiotheca Alexandrina, the Library of Alexandria to establish a research methodology component for which he again asked scientists across the world to donate epidemiology/statistical textbooks not currently being used and arranged for them to be shipped to Egypt. They are now made available by various means to any needing African student.
Ron, however, was not perfect. Despite his achievements with the internet and related technologies, paradoxically he was not “tech” savvy and had trouble with even simple computer and iPhone functions. He also had a terrible sense of direction and was not a detail person which often led him to turn up late and sometimes not at all, as when he flew to the wrong city (Augusta, not Alanta)! However, both attributes were part of what made this ‘superman’ more human and are quite consistent with his warmth and innate friendliness. This comes through so strongly in his mentoring and teaching capability as evidenced by his 30 PhD graduates, all of whom have had impressive careers. He was often praised as a selfless and highly devoted mentor, and it was not just his mentees who were aware of this gift. Outside faculty and researchers would often comment on how supportive, without a fault, Ron was in promoting his students. He was the role model of mentors and his students gained because of it. Ron gave it his all and required that his mentees did the same as they worked to develop their successful careers. In return, he desired nothing more than that his mentees pay it forward when training their own students. His mentees covered the globe and collectively held a range of prestigious positions including Minister of Health, Department Chair, Associate Dean, Presidents of National Societies, leading positions at the CDC and NCHS, members of the National Academy of Science and numerous pioneering women breaking gender limiting boundaries to name but a few. His teaching prowess led to his receiving both the Lilienfeld Lifetime Achievement in Teaching Award from the American Public Health Association in 2006 and the Distinguished Teaching Award from the GSPH, University of Pittsburgh.
Ron, in typical fashion, once sent a supportive email to one of his former doctoral students stating, “I want you to know that I am so lucky to have trained you”. In reality, it was his students and their students, and frankly, everyone he touched, who were the lucky ones.
Ron is survived by his loving wife, Dr Jan Dorman, of 24 years and a sister Susan Bennett, along with her husband Jerry and their children Timothy and Jennifer Bennett.
Though it is with great sadness that we say goodbye to Ron, his deep influence will continue through his many personal contacts and friendships across the world. It is doubtful if there has ever been a more inspiring “out of the box” thinker in the epidemiology world nor one with whom it was such fun to be. It is also doubtful if many have faced death with such calm and equanimity, nor with such humor, as Ron did throughout his long illness. Though those of us lucky enough to interact with him feel blest and grateful, it is especially comforting to know many across the world will be better off, through the Supercourse and his other endeavors, even though they never met our dear friend.
Friends received Monday, November 8, from 6-8 p.m. and Tuesday, November 9, 2-4 & 6-8 p.m. at Schellhaas & Sons Funeral Home, Inc., 1600 Stone Mansion Drive, Sewickley (Franklin Park/Wexford). Memorial services will be held in the funeral home on Wednesday at 11 a.m.
Gifts can be made in Ron’s memory to the Department of Epidemiology at the Graduate School of Public Health. Please visit giveto.pitt.edu/ronlaporte for more information. Please call the Development Office at 412-608-0058 with any questions.