Obituary: Alexander Stavrides / Respected pathologist contributed to 1964 landmark report on smoking

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Raised in Greece during World War II, Alexander Stavrides became an eminently respected Pittsburgh pathologist working at West Penn Hospital for over three decades.

He also contributed to what is perhaps the most influential medical paper in American history — the U.S. Surgeon General’s 1964 report on smoking.

Dr. Stavrides died Monday at the Willows of Presbyterian Senior nursing home in Oakmont at the age of 85 as a result of congestive heart failure. He is survived by a sister, Helen Stavridou Astin of Los Angeles.

As children during the war years, Dr. Stavrides and his sister moved had to move in with their grandparents in Athens and later in Salonika. They grew close in their cramped quarters and had to stand in soup lines, manage with little water and study by kerosene lamp, Ms. Astin said. After the war, he attended medical school at the University of Salonika and she left for America, in 1951.

“When I came to America, I spoke no English,” said Mrs. Astin, who eventually became a UCLA education professor. Fearing that she might ”become nothing,” he counseled her against the move to the United States.

“He was always my hero. But when he saw that I became a professor, he said to me, ’Now you’re my hero.’ ”

Dr. Stavrides followed her in 1956, immigrating to do internships and training at Sisters of Charity Hospital in Washington, D.C., and Baylor University in Houston, Texas. Unable to get a U.S. visa, he moved to Canada to begin work at the University of British Columbia.

That changed when Dr. Peter Hammill, staff director for the surgeon general report, began assembling a team of doctors and experts to conclusively examine the effects of smoking on cancer.

 “The advisory board was sort of a who’s who in the field of medicine, but Dr. Hammill was desperate to get a very bright pathologist on his staff.” said Alexander Astin, Mr. Stravides’ brother-in-law, who was also part of the project.

After “a few pulled strings at the State Department,” Dr. Stavrides joined the work and became widely respected by the team as a “brilliant diagnostician,” said Mr. Astin.

In the 50 years since the landmark 1964 report established the link between smoking and cancer, anti-smoking measures have saved an estimated 8 million lives, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

Afterward, he came to Pittsburgh, living in Squirrel Hill and Oakland and working for a few years at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh before moving to West Penn.

“He was an outstanding physician, personal friend and a well-regarded teacher. No one talked to residents more than he did,” said Dr. Richard Easler, who worked with Dr. Stavrides for 27 years. “He was one of those people you never forget.”

“He was a very fine pathologist, hard-working and well respected,” said Dr. Cyril Wecht, a prominent forensic pathologist, who knew him through the Pittsburgh Pathology Society.

A lifelong learner, Dr. Stravides audited classes on art and history at the University of Pittsburgh after retirement in 1997. He also attended conferences and staff meetings at West Penn after retirement.

Colleagues and former residents recalled his “infectious laugh” and fondness for conversation, especially with foreign residents whom he would mentor.

“He knew everything about politics, history and economics. He was very curious, but also one of the most sociable people I knew,” said his sister, Mrs. Astin.

In addition to her, Dr. Stavrides is survived by a son, Alexander Stavrides II, an engineer who lives in Albuquerque, N.M.

The funeral was private. The family requests that contributions be made to the West Penn Hospital Foundation.

 


Idrees Kahloon: ikahloon@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2743.


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