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Charles Rubin, MD, 1953-2015

Pediatric cancer specialist at the University of Chicago Medicine passes away

July 21, 2015

Dr. Charles "Chuck" Rubin

Charles M. Rubin, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago Medicine, a highly respected specialist in the care of children with cancer and a role model for medical students, residents and even established physicians, died while at work on Friday, July 17. He was 62.

Rubin had just arrived at the pediatric clinic Friday afternoon at the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox when his heart stopped. Resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful.

An authority on all aspects of pediatric cancers, Rubin had a particular interest in brain tumors and cancer occurring in children with genetic syndromes. He combined considerable experience in basic laboratory research on the genetics of cancer with broad clinical expertise and an inborn talent for informing, calming, comforting, motivating and inspiring patients and their families.

“I can’t put into words how much I respected him,” said his colleague Tara Henderson, MD, associate professor of pediatrics and director of the Childhood Cancer Survivors Center at the University of Chicago’s Comer Children’s Hospital. “He was amazingly knowledgeable, compassionate and thoughtful -- traits at the core of our program. I take his influence with me as I care for my patients.”

“He could also be funny, with a dry, quiet sense of humor. We never knew when it was coming,” Henderson said. “We miss him dearly.”

The head of pediatrics remembered Rubin for his trusted guidance and his ability to put patients and colleagues at ease.

Dr. Charles "Chuck" Rubin

“Chuck was highly respected by his research and clinical colleagues and was a popular mentor, not only for many medical students and pediatric residents, but also for fellows and junior faculty,” said John Cunningham, MD, Donald N. Pritzker Professor and interim chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the university. “Even his senior colleagues sought his ideas and counsel frequently on complex pediatric oncology and hematology problems.”

“He also introduced what we called ‘social moments,’ ” Cunningham said. “Just before each clinic, he would have everyone briefly mention something fun they had done recently with friends or family. It put the team at ease and helped connect us with each other.”

Charles Martin Rubin was born Feb. 10, 1953, in Long Branch, N.J. He earned his bachelor’s degree with highest honors from the University of Pennsylvania in 1975 and his medical degree from Tufts University School of Medicine in 1979. He completed his pediatric residency at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in 1982, followed by a fellowship in pediatric hematology/oncology at the University of Minnesota in 1985.

He came to the University of Chicago in 1985 as a cytogenetics and molecular biology fellow in the laboratory of Janet Rowley, MD, an internationally recognized pioneer in understanding the genetics of cancer. Rubin joined the faculty as an assistant professor of pediatrics and medicine and a member of the university’s Cancer Research Center in 1987. In 1991, he and adult oncologist Funmi Olopade, MD, co-founded the university’s nationally recognized Cancer Risk Clinic.

“Chuck Rubin was one of the finest individuals I have ever known,” said Michelle Le Beau, PhD, a former colleague in the Rowley laboratory and now director of the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center. “He was a consummate academician and physician who blended compassion and sensitivity with brilliant clinical acumen. His dedication to his family, his patients and the University of Chicago was selfless and unparalleled. It was a privilege to work with him and an honor to learn from his example.”

Although he continued to work closely with his basic-science colleagues, contributing to more than 50 original reports in academic journals, his interests increasingly focused on patient care -- at which he excelled.

At the same time, he took on several administrative roles. He served as course director for pediatric grand rounds and the medical center’s pediatric tumor board. He directed the pediatric hematology/oncology fellowship for seven years and the pediatric neuro-oncology program for 10 years. He also volunteered for medical staff positions in various educational and rehabilitative summer camps for children with cancer.

Rubin also was a leader in the University of Chicago Medicine’s efforts to take a research-driven approach to pediatric cancer care into the community, serving as director of pediatric hematology/oncology outreach since 2008. Accomplishments in this area include extending pediatric oncology care to three sites in the southern suburbs and his recent appointment as physician director for University of Chicago Pediatrics outreach efforts at Edward-Elmhurst Healthcare in Naperville.

In 1988, Rubin’s clinical achievements and popularity with patients caught the attention of the medical center’s media-relations specialist for pediatrics, Gretchen Flock. They married in 1989. Together, they raised four daughters, including Gretchen’s daughter Elizabeth (Liz) from a previous marriage.

Liz, a professional writer, nicely summed up their family dynamics in a recent Facebook post. She and her stepfather, she wrote, shared a deep interest in books, especially books on tape. He taught her “how to listen closer and better,” she wrote. “He even convinced our family to read one book all together,” a 2005 novel by Jonathan Safran Foer called Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.

The title, she wrote, “sums up our family.”

“I feel fortunate to have known this man of few words because each one was carefully chosen,” she added. He lived “too few years, but did so very much within them.”

Rubin is survived by his wife, Gretchen; their four daughters, Elizabeth, Jane, Lucy and Claire; brothers Michael, Peter and Richard; and many nieces and nephews.

A wake will be held from 3 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 21, at Hallowell & James Funeral Home, 1025 W. 55th St. in Countryside, and a service at 10 a.m. Wednesday, July 22, at St. Francis Xavier Church, 124 N. Spring Ave., La Grange, followed by burial at Bronswood Cemetery in Oak Brook. Donations may be made to the Charles M. Rubin Memorial Fund, Department of Pediatrics, University of Chicago, 5721 S. Maryland Ave., Chicago, IL 60637.

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