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Obituary: Joseph R. Williamson, former professor of pathology, 84

His research advanced understanding of diabetes, metabolism

June 13, 2016


Joseph R. Williamson, MD, a distinguished diabetes researcher and former professor of pathology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, died June 9, 2016, in St. Louis after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 84.

Williamson’s extensive body of research greatly advanced the understanding of diabetes, metabolism and vascular pathophysiology.  His work helped provide the infrastructure for clinical trials and a road map for the creation of innovative therapies for diabetes.

“Dr Williamson was an energetic, passionate and dedicated investigator and collaborator with many faculty at Washington University,” said Victoria J. Fraser, MD, the Adolphus Busch Professor and head of the Department of Medicine. “He continued to publish papers well into his 80s. He came from a very humble background and built his career studying diabetes through hard work and insatiable curiosity. He had a great sense of humor and a delightful personality and will be greatly missed.”

Williamson received many honors over his career, among them the Joslin Medal from the American Diabetes Association and the Moses Barron Award, named after the well-noted diabetes physician-scientist. In 2015, Williamson received the Alumni Achievement Award from Washington University.

Among several other highlights spanning his 50-year scientific career, he was a member of Alpha Omega Alpha, had chaired the World Conference on Diabetes Research and was a Pfizer visiting professor at Boston University. He was a frequent national and international lecturer, and had published 154 peer-reviewed articles in medical journals.

Williamson also was a veteran of the U.S. military, having served in Korea before pursuing his medical training at Washington University School of Medicine.

He received his medical degree in 1958 and completed his residency in pathology in 1961, also at Washington University. He joined the faculty the next year.

Williamson is survived by his loving wife of 62 years, Janet; his daughters Catherine (Paula Gianino) and Sherry; sister, Luella Claire; and two granddaughters.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 25, at The Willows at Brooking Park, 211 South Woods Mill Road, Chesterfield, Mo.

Memorial contributions may be made to Heifer International.