Apr. 7—A Harvard-sponsored remembrance of Dr. Bernard Lown on Wednesday recalled the Lewiston High School graduate and Nobel Prize winner as a man who built bridges among people the world over to create a healthier, safer life for everyone.
Lown, who died in February at the age of 99, invented the defibrillator — a device that has saved many lives — and championed the effort to abolish nuclear weapons while promoting numerous initiatives to foster better health from his perch as a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.
“With Bernard, it was never just about the science,” Michelle Williams, dean of the faculty at the Chan School, said. He was able, she said, “to imagine and to fight for what many consider impossible.”
Lown, who was Jewish, fled Lithuania in 1935 as the Nazi threat in Germany grew ever darker, wound up in Lewiston, where he attended high school and graduated in 1938. After studying at the University of Maine, he earned a medical degree from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Dr. Jon Rohde said during the hourlong, online celebration of Lown that his friend of more than 60 years had an unyielding moral compass and “was seized by the great challenges of his time.”
Rohde said Lown spurred countless medical innovations, including establishing cardiac care units and recognizing the connection between stress and heart disease. “Listening to his patients” was the chief attribute behind his friend’s success, Rohde said.
At age 40, he said, Lown focused his attention on the threat of nuclear war, recognizing that only the elimination of nuclear weapons would “keep the world safe.”
He co-founded Physicians for Social Responsibility to organize U.S. doctors on the issue and later co-founded the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War in 1980 that brought tens of thousands of doctors around the world together on the issue.
When the latter group won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1985, Lown said in his acceptance speech that “we physicians who shepherd human life from birth to death have a moral imperative to resist with all our being the drift toward the brink. The threatened inhabitants on this fragile planet must speak out for those yet unborn, for posterity has no lobby with politicians.”
Rohde said preventing nuclear war was “the single issue of our era,” and Lown played a key role in the effort to consign the weapons to the dustbin of history, a struggle the groups he helped create are still focused on.
Through it all, Rohde said, Lown “never gave up being a doctor.”
Devaki Nambiar, a program head for the George Institute for Global Health, said Lown was a great mentor. He “saw possibilities in us,” she said.
She recalled getting one-on-one invitations from him to talk at his “museum of a house” in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.
For Joseph Brain, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who knew Lown for half a century, said his friend seemed “a giant among us.”
He said Lown had six great loves: his family, his wife Louise, “his passion to change the world,” his belief in public health, his readiness to engage in bold action and The Lown Scholars Program.
The Bernard Lown Scholars in Cardiovascular Health Program he created at the Chan School in 2008 brought him together with emerging health leaders around the world, Nambiar said, and “binds us all in belief in what is possible.”
For Dr. Ramfis Nieto-Martinez, a Lown Scholar, the energy, thinking and support from the program has helped spur cardiovascular programs in his country and beyond, empowering “different communities in different countries.”
Lown, he said, had “a deep interest in bringing people together.”
“Dr. Lown contributed to the salvation of humanity,” Nieto-Martinez said.
“He gave us a pat on the back and kick in the pants,” Brain said, because Lown firmly believed everyone can do great things.
Williams said Lown’s impact “will live on and the world will forever be grateful for his many contributions.”
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