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Obituary: Robert M. Senior, MD, professor emeritus of medicine, 86

Distinguished pulmonologist known for excellence in research, teaching, patient care

June 9, 2023

Robert M. Senior, MD, a highly regarded physician-scientist and professor emeritus of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, died peacefully Thursday, June 8, 2023, at his home in St. Louis. He was 86.

Joining the faculty in 1969, the noted pulmonologist spent a long and distinguished career at Washington University, where he was a professor of medicine in the Division of Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine and a professor of cell biology & physiology.

In recognition of Senior’s outstanding contributions to the field of pulmonary medicine, in 1988 he received an endowed professorship, the Dorothy R. and Hubert C. Moog Professor of Pulmonary Diseases in Medicine, a position he held until his retirement in 2015.

Originally from White Plains, N.Y., Senior earned his undergraduate degree from Oberlin College in 1957. He went on to earn his medical degree from George Washington University School of Medicine in 1961. He conducted his internship and first year of medical residency at what was then Barnes Hospital and was a senior resident at what was then Jewish Hospital of St. Louis. He pursued postdoctoral research as a fellow in cardiorespiratory physiology at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

After completing his medical training, Senior became chief of the pulmonary function laboratory at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he also was assistant chief of the pulmonary and communicable disease service and a research internist in the Division of Medicine. From 1966-69, he served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, where he was promoted to major.

Senior returned to St. Louis to serve as the director of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Jewish Hospital and also interim physician-in-chief and director of the Department of Medicine from 1989-90. He also served as a consultant at the John Cochran Veterans Administration Medical Center, and was an attending physician at Barnes, Jewish, and Barnes-Jewish Hospital for more than 40 years.

He earned a master’s of liberal arts degree from Washington University in 1997.

“Bob Senior had a remarkable clinical career, was a gifted teacher and an outstanding investigator,” said Victoria J. Fraser, MD, the Adolphus Busch Professor and head of the Department of Medicine. “He was an exceptional role model for other faculty, fellows, house staff and medical students. He was a warm, compassionate individual who always provided outstanding patient care. He was well-loved by the entire faculty in the Department of Medicine and his close colleagues throughout the medical school, and he will be missed greatly.”

Senior served as a past vice president of the American Thoracic Society, was an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and was a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation. He received the Distinguished Achievement Award from the American Thoracic Society, the Distinguished Service Award from Washington University’s Medical Center Alumni Association, and the Distinguished Alumni Award from Washington University, among other honors. Senior also received the Daniel P. Schuster Award for Distinguished Work in Clinical and Translational Science in 2014.

The Robert M. Senior, MD, Award was established by the pulmonary fellows at Washington University to recognize the outstanding attending physician of the year.

“Bob Senior was a prince of a person inside and outside of work,” said Michael J. Holtzman, MD, the Selma and Herman Seldin Professor of Medicine. “He was a truly selfless and remarkable human being and a world-class physician-scientist as well.”

He is survived by his wife, Martha Senior; his daughters Jocelyn and Rebecca Senior and Devra Bram; his son, David Senior; and seven grandchildren.

Visitation is planned for 11 a.m. Sunday, June 11, at United Hebrew Congregation, 13788 Conway Road, in St. Louis County, Mo., with a funeral service to follow at 11:30 a.m.

Memorial contributions may be made to United Hebrew Congregation or Forest Park Forever.