University of Minnesota

Stallones, Reuel Arthur

Stallones, Reuel Arthur


No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; …. any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bells toll; it tolls for thee.
John Donne, Devotions, XVII, I623

On Sunday, June 22, 1986, Reuel A. Stallones, the founding dean of The University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston, died at the age of 62. The loss of his extraordinary personality, intellect, creativity, and wit is a grevious blow
not only to the school that bears his imprint so unmistakably but to public health as well.

Dean Stallones was born in Little Rock, Arkansas on October 12, 1923, and educated at Ripon College in Wisconsin and the University of Michigan. He received his medical degree from Case Western Reserve in Cleveland in 1949, and subsequently earned a master’s degree in public health from the University of California in Berkeley in 1952. He then spent several years in the Army, culminating this phase of his career as Assistant Chief of the Department of Epidemiology at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. He joined the faculty of the School of Public Health at Berkeley in 1956 where he was to remain until 1968 when he was invited to Houston
to found The University of Texas’ only School of Public Health.Through these years he accumulated numerous accolades that went with his office and abilities-a distinguished
professorship, the James Wade Rockwell Professor in Public Health, a variety of editorial functions, including participation in the editorial board of Genetic Epidemiology, membership in the American Society of Epidemiology, the Institute of Medicine, and the like. But these facts provide little insight into the man, and his legacy.

Stony, as he was known to acquaintances, colleagues elsewhere, students, staff, and faculty alike, was a tall, slender, almost gaunt but readily approachable person whose most arresting physical feature were his penetrating blue eyes. They could dance, rivet, be querulous, and reward a particularly apt phrase or thought. He distrusted intellectual shibboleths and the lemming-like trends of science and more specifically of his disciplines, epidemiology and public health. He was one of those exceptional persons, impatient with tendentiousness and obfuscation, who could see through the fog of sloppy thinking when most of us can only see the glare of our own notions. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in his brief commentary on mortality and the multiple risk factor intervention trial (see American Journal of Epidemiology117:647-650, 1983); in language both forceful and direct, he charges the Research Group with failing to draw the only permissible conclusion from their study, namely, that their failure to detect a beneficial effect of the intervention trial was that no benefits accrued.

He could not, and would not dissemble. The quintessential rational man, always poking, prodding, and encouraging deeper thought, withal he was a sentimentalist who despised sentimentality. Throughout his illness, he kept his colleagues
and students apprised of his progress in handwritten notes, punctuated with humor and no sense of the seriousness of his ill-health nor the imminence of death.

A longtime advocate of the importance of genetic factors in the origin of disease and disability, well before it became fashionable to do so, he commonly included among his precepts for a long, healthy and productive life the admonition “Choose your parents wisely. One of the strongest predictors of health and longevity is a family history of long-lived parents and grandparents.”

Arguably, however, his greatest legacy will be his contributions to public health education in particular, and to universities more generally. The school of public health he founded is unlike any
other; at a time when the expression innovative has become almost trite, it is truly different. Others obviously contributed, and importantly so, to its development, but none made it so indelibly an extension of themselves as did Stony. No administrative detail nor student or faculty concern was too small to warrant his attention. Its modular structure, its multidisciplinary approach to problem solving, even the spatial
distribution of its faculty reflect Stony’s philosophy of education and aspirations for public health medicine. These were not to him matters to be confronted in Olympian isolation; as regularly as diaconal activities permitted, he taught epidemiology and his In Memoriam 383 lectures were colored not only with the force of his personality but his own rigorous intellectual habits. Students initially awed by his office and reputation as an epidemiologist were soon vigorously challenging his remarks; he sought to instill in them courage in their persuasions and the belief that it is the thought and not the thinker that counts.

While no single statement adequately captures his educational philosophy, perhaps his Delta Omega Lecture (American Journal of Public Health 60(7): 1298- 1302, 1968) comes as close as any. Many of the remarks therein warrant prolonged
pondering, but one has seemed timeless to us. He presciently noted “Faculty are privileged to be granted time to think, to inquire, and to question, and this privilege we must value and exploit. Within the schools of public health we should study the
past but teach the future. We should serve our students by providing them with an environment in which they may seek to develop their capacities for determining how this future shall be shaped.”

He believed fervently in the precept that we grow intellectually only in an atmosphere that is both free and supportive. To fall on one’s face is an inalienable right; it is a way of discerning how much we have, and how much we will never have. He recognized too that we discover ourselves through others, when we learn what we are through the recognition of ourselves, wholly or in part, in another. If one is always surrounded by the familiar, the comfortable, how can we ever learn of what we are capable? But he held equally strongly the belief that to be irreparably marked by an unwitting error in judgment or intellection, however egregious it may seem to others, is a failure of society and its institutions.

Rationality and passion seem mutually exclusive, but if concern with the inequities in our society connotes the passionate man, he was not only rational but passionate.
He has observed “I have long believed that a child born in Mississippi should have equal opportunity for survival, education, and health as a child born in Connecticut,
and that to the extent that the principle of state’s rights contributed to inequity, then state’s rights were being purchased at the cost of human rights, and this price
was too high.”

He was not a blame-seeker, merely a believer in the dignity of each human life, and in this sense, an unqualified, but perhaps unacknowledged supporter of John Donne’s eloquent words. Although not a religious man, at least in the formal meaning of that expression, he certainly had an abiding faith in the perfectability of individuals and in that sense was the ultimate in religiosity. An avid and eclectic reader, he could quote equally well from Ross MacDonald’s latest mystery or Eric Hoffer’s musings on creativity. He especially liked Hoffer’s remarks that a creative organizer creates an organization that can function well without him. Indeed, he sought through his own administrative style to further this belief. Stony’s wit, almost legendary amongst his colleagues, was acerbic and sometimes pointed, but he never consciously sought to diminish another to his own advantage.

Lest these remarks seem an uncritical paean, he was a human being with all of the foibles this connotes but he would be the first to acknowledge his own shortcomings and to deplore them. However, to those of us privileged to know and to be enlightened by his presence, his graces so outnumbered his human failings that we acknowledge reluctantly the transitory nature of life and his departure.

William J. Schull
Darwin R. Labarthe
Center for Demographic and Population Genetics
Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences
The University of Texas at Houston
P. 0. Box 20334 Astrodome Station
Houston, Texas 77225

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