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Tiburon physician Robert Jaffe was a pioneer, mentor in women’s health

Dr. Robert Benton Jaffe of Tiburon, a pioneer in clinical reproductive endocrinology and infertility who spent much of his career at the University of California at San Francisco, died June 22 after a long illness. He was 87.

In the June issue of Endocrine News, the journal of the Endocrine Society, an article by Dr. Daniel Dumesic, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles and founder of the school’s Women’s Reproductive Health Research Program, described Dr. Jaffe as “an international icon in the field of reproductive endocrinology and infertility, who advanced our scientific understanding of reproductive disorders, cared for patients with complex female reproductive endocrine diseases and mentored countless medical students and postdoctoral fellows.”

Dr. Dumesic went on to note that Dr. Jaffe’s outstanding achievements included research contributions in fetal/placental endocrinology and oncology, a landmark textbook of reproductive endocrinology and establishment of an innovative Reproductive Scientist Development Program to train obstetrician-gynecologists in basic molecular and cell biologic techniques in leading U.S. laboratories.

“He was a scholar and a gentleman and he changed so many lives in a positive way,” Dumesic said.

The textbook, which he co-edited with Dr. Samuel Yen, “Yen and Jaffe’s Reproductive Endocrinology: Physiology, Pathophysiology and Clinical Management,” is considered a key resource for learners and teachers in the field, and is now in its eighth edition.

Besides the book, Dr. Jaffe also published 292 research papers.

In 1977, he established the Reproductive Endocrinology Center at UCSF, now known as the Center for Reproductive Sciences, and over the years mentored generations of physicians and physician-scientists who became leaders in the field, the journal said.

Dr. Jaffe’s many honors and awards included the President’s Mentorship and Distinguished Scientist Awards from the Society for Gynecologic Investigation, the Sidney H. Ingbar Distinguished Service Award for numerous contributions to the Endocrine Society, the Distinguished Scientist Award from the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, a fellowship ad eundem from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a National Institutes of Health Method to Extend Research in Time Award from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ Purdue Frederick Award for Excellence in Medical Research. In 2013, UCSF hosted a research symposium in his honor.

He was former president of the Endocrine Society’s Hormone Foundation, a public-education affiliate later renamed the Hormone Health Network, and was the first obstetrician/gynecologist elected to membership in the Institute of Medicine, now the National Academy of Medicine. He also was a member of the Association of American Physicians.

Dr. Jaffe led UCSF’s Reproductive Scientist Development Program, which he founded with Dr. Larry Longo and other researchers, for more than 25 years, according to the Society for Reproductive Investigation.

Dr. Jaffe did sabbatical fellowships at Inserm, the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Paris, in 1981 and at the Laboratories for Peptide Biology at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, in 1989.

Born Feb. 18, 1933, in Detroit to Dr. Jacob Jaffe and Shirley Robins Jaffe, Dr. Jaffe earned both his bachelor’s and medical degrees at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. As an undergraduate, he was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. As a medical student, he was in the top 10 of his class and was inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society.

He did his obstetrics/gynecology internship and residency at the University of Colorado, where he earned his master’s.

After serving as a postdoctoral fellow at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, he joined the faculty at the medical school at the University of Michigan, where he remained from 1964 to 1973, rising quickly from assistant professor to full professor. UCSF lured him away from the University of Michigan in 1973.

A professor emeritus of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences and physiology, Dr. Jaffe served as chair of his department from 1973 to 1995. He remained active on the faculty for another 16 years after stepping down as chair.

UCSF Professor Emerita Dr. Karen Smith-McCune, who is still active in clinical work, said that when she was a resident, Dr. Jaffe was chairman of her department.

“Dr. Jaffe was always very committed to training, mentoring and supporting the next generation of physician-scientists in ob-gyn,” she said. “When I was a resident, he supported me throughout my career. After I finished my residency at UCSF, I did some research and he did some fundraising to be able to create a lab space for me to set up a research program for me as a junior faculty member, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health. I was fortunate enough to be one of the beneficiaries of the earlier rounds of funding. The whole program provided a critical pipeline and it was his doing.

“He is known not only for his own knowledge base but the father of many, many others of us who went on in the field of reproductive endocrinology,” she said.

Dr. Jaffe and his wife, Evelyn “Evie” Grossman Jaffe, were sweethearts at Central High School in Detroit and were married in 1954. They had lived in Tiburon, where Evelyn still resides, for 48 years.

He was an avid reader and loved to watch and participate in sports, especially rowing. He also regularly rode his bike to UCSF before his illness forced him to stop. He was a patron of the arts, especially of the San Francisco Ballet, Mill Valley Chamber Music Society and San Francisco Performances.

He loved to write, his wife said. As an undergraduate, he wrote for the university’s daily newspaper and, after his retirement, he was working on a murder mystery and on his memoirs until the onset of his illness made it impossible to continue.

In addition to his wife, Dr. Jaffe is survived by two children, Dr. Glenn Jaffe of Durham, N.C., who is head of the retinal division in the ophthalmology department at Duke University; and Dr. Terri L. Jaffe, who owns Terri Jaffe Floral Design in San Rafael; as well as three grandchildren, Aliya Jaffe Whitney of San Rafael, Stephanie Jaffe of Durham and Michael Jaffe of Durham. His brother, Stuart, died in 2018.

Services have been held. Contributions in his memory may be sent to the Robert Jaffe Innovative Research Fund, c/o UCSF Foundation, P.O. Box 45339, San Francisco, CA 94145-0339; or to the Belvedere-Tiburon Library Foundation Expansion Fund. P.O. Box 483, Tiburon, CA 94920.

Deirdre McCrohan has reported on Tiburon local government and community issues for more than 30 years. Reach her at 415-944-4634.

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