In Memoriam: Robert A. Fishman, MD

Dr. Robert A. Fishman

Robert A. Fishman, MD, FAAN, who served as AAN president from 1975 to 1977, and led the neurology department at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) for 26 years, passed away on December 6 from complications of Alzheimer's disease at age 88.

Fishman, who became an AAN member in 1955 after attending the Annual Meeting, joined the Program Committee and later became its chair. During his tenure as president of the 5,000 member Academy, he championed separation of neurology from psychiatry in the American boards, contending that neurology was closer to medicine and had only a superficial relationship to psychiatry. AAN membership resisted this change, but when Fishman later became president of the American Board of Psychiatry in 1987, he was instrumental in creating separate councils for each of the two specialties.

Fishman also helped oversee the transition of leadership of the journal Neurology® from its founding editor Russell N. DeJong, MD, FAAN, to Lewis P. "Bud" Rowland, MD, FAAN, a future AAN President.

Born in New York City in 1924, Fishman's interest in medicine was encouraged by a high school botany teacher. Fishman graduated from high school at age 16, and completed his undergraduate degree at Columbia University in 1944 and medical school studies at the University of Pennsylvania in 1947 at age 22. His interest in neurology led to an internship at Yale University and first year of residency at Massachusetts General Hospital. His second year of residency was spent at New York Neurological Institute with H. Houston Merritt.

Drafted during the Korean War, Fishman spent two years working in neurophysiology at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Washington, DC. He then returned to Columbia University to complete his residency as chief resident and joined the faculty a year later, in 1954. There he teamed up with Rowland as co-principal investigators on a 1961 NIH grant to study the blood-brain barrier and cerebrospinal fluid physiology and biochemistry at Columbia's Neurological Research Institute.

In 1966, Fishman was invited to chair the UCSF neurology department, a post he held for 26 years, attracting some of the nation's top talent and building the department into one of the best in the country. Fishman continued his research as well, and authored the respected text Cerebrospinal Fluid in Diseases of the Nervous System. After stepping down as chair at UCSF, he continued to teach and conduct research, and was appointed professor emeritus in 1994.

Along with his leadership of the AAN, Fishman served as president of the American Neurological Association and the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, and as chief editor of Annals of Neurology. He received numerous awards and accolades for his roles as both a researcher and educator.

Fishman is survived by his wife Mary C. Fishman, three daughters, and a stepson. His first wife, Peggy Satz Fishman, died in 1980.