June 9, 2006

Rheumatology pioneer Ben Alper remembered for dedication, humor

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Ben Alper, M.D.

Rheumatology pioneer Ben Alper remembered for dedication, humor

Ben Alper, M.D., a 1949 graduate of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine who established the first rheumatology clinic at Vanderbilt in the basement of Medical Center North, died May 30 of a heart attack at his home. He was 79.

Dr. Alper, a clinical professor emeritus of Medicine at Vanderbilt, directed the rheumatology clinic for more than 20 years, and was responsible for training a number of rheumatologists.

He was also a graduate of Vanderbilt University and did his internship and first year of residency at Vanderbilt from 1949 through 1951.

He and his wife, Phyllis, established the Ben J. Alper Chair in Rheumatology at Vanderbilt in 1995 for the support of research and clinical care in rheumatology.

“Ben was a pioneer in the area of treating rheumatology and arthritis patients, and he inspired so many to go into that field,” said Steven Gabbe, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine.

“When Pat and I moved to Nashville, Ben and Phyllis were two of the people who welcomed us so warmly,” Gabbe said. “And when we were at a School of Medicine event, at the beginning, he would always make sure we were introduced to people since we were new to the community.”

Gabbe said he will remember Dr. Alper most for his sense of humor and how he began almost every conversation with a joke. “And the funny thing is, I can't remember a time when he told me one I had heard before. I always looked forward to those jokes.”

In addition to Dr. Alper's affiliation with Vanderbilt, he also hand a longstanding partnership with Saint Thomas Hospital — where the emergency services department was named in his honor in 1996 — Baptist, and several other local hospitals.

He also helped bring the Arthritis Foundation to the area, and serves as the founding president of the Middle Tennessee chapter where he was recognized in 2002 as a special honoree, a distinction held by former Gov. Ned McWherter and John Siegenthaler, former publisher of the Tennessean and founder of the First Amendment Center.

Dr. Alper was also an active member of the boards of The Temple, the Jewish Federation of Nashville and the Nashville Symphony.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two daughters and four grandchildren.