Obituary: Monto Ho / Brilliant Pitt medical researcher, administrator
March 18, 1927 - Dec. 16, 2013
December 21, 2013 12:41 AM
Pitt medical researcher Monto Ho.
By Gary Rotstein / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Monto Ho did not follow precisely in the footsteps of his father, a Chinese ambassador, but the eminent University of Pittsburgh virologist and infectious disease specialist had his own gift for diplomacy and views of how to make global contributions.
Dr. Ho, who came to Pittsburgh in 1959 with undergraduate and medical degrees from Harvard, was held in such high regard here that he was in put in charge of three different departments at Pitt and UPMC simultaneously. During 38 years at the university, his work in researching and diagnosing disease contributed to advances in the fights against AIDS and organ transplant rejection, among other accomplishments.
For all the success that accompanied his work, which took him to his office and lab at Pitt at least six days a week for decades, his demeanor and dress were modest. His humility was such that he did everything possible to have his family ignore his birthdays and avoid other fuss, but there was no chance to hide his intellect from colleagues.
"I used to teach and tell students that all of us are average, and then there's Dr. Ho. He was the most brilliant person I ever met," said Dr. Robert Yee of Point Breeze, a friend and retired Pitt professor of microbiology.
Dr. Ho continued research work long after his formal retirement. The Upper St. Clair resident, who previously lived in Mt. Lebanon for many years, died Monday after complications from a fall. He was 86.
Born in the Hunan province of China, he was the son of Feng Shan Ho, who would serve as the Republic of China's ambassador to Egypt, Mexico and elsewhere. In the late 1930s, Dr. Ho's father was consul general in Vienna and was credited with issuing visas to hundreds of Jewish refugees to get them out of Nazi-controlled territory to Shanghai, when their lives would have otherwise been imperiled.
Dr. Ho's own dedication to his work, combined with skills at interpersonal relationships, led to his simultaneous appointments in charge of Pitt's department of microbiology, its division of infectious diseases and UPMC's diagnostic microbiology lab.
Dr. Charles Rinaldo, chairman of what is today known as Pitt's department of infectious diseases and microbiology, noted it now takes three people to fill the roles that Dr. Ho once handled capably on his own.
"He could see things from the aspect of preventing disease, diagnosing disease, treating disease and curing it as a clinician," Dr. Rinaldo said. "To have strength and expertise in all of those areas is extraordinary. ... It was not common then, and it's even less common now as we specialize more and more."
At Harvard, Dr. Ho studied infectious disease under and assisted Dr. John Enders, a Nobel Prize winner in 1954. Dr. Ho became an expert on interferons, which had been newly recognized as molecules active in the body against viruses.
As UPMC became a center for organ transplantation, he did leading research on cytomegalovirus, or CMV, which he recognized as a major problem infecting transplanted organs and risking the lives of patients.
He also collaborated with Dr. Rinaldo and others in the early 1980s on some of the original AIDS research in Pittsburgh, helping put together what became the ongoing Pitt Men's Study of the disease and heading a clinical trial group researching it.
After retirement from Pitt, Dr. Ho worked in Taiwan in 1997-2002 as a distinguished investigator with its National Health Research Institutes. He was credited with helping the country reduce overuse of antibiotics, which had become a problem due to bacterial resistance to the drugs.
In 2006, he and his wife, Carol, pledged $2 million to establish an endowed chair in infectious diseases and microbiology in Pitt's Graduate School of Public Health. During retirement, he also wrote an autobiography, "Reminiscences and Reflections of a Chinese-American Physician."
In addition to his wife, Dr. Ho is survived by a daughter, Bettie Pei-wen Carlson of Murrysville; a son, John Ho of Wellesley, Mass.; a sister, Manli Ho of San Francisco; and three grandchildren.
A memorial service will be at 10 a.m. Jan. 4 in St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 1066 Washington Road, Mt. Lebanon.
Arrangements are by Strathers Funeral and Cremation Services, Lincoln Place.
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