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Harry W. Fritts Jr., M.D.

[From a funeral home obit]

Harry W. Fritts Jr., M.D., professor and the first chair emeritus of the Department of Medicine at Stony Brook School of Medicine, died April 22, 2011. A longtime resident of Northport, N.Y., Dr. Fritts was 89 years old.

Born in 1921, he was one of two children of Harry and Hyder Fritts of Rockwood, a coal mining town in eastern Tennessee. He attended Vanderbilt University, later transferring to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he obtained a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering. In 1942, he enlisted in the Navy, achieving the position of commanding officer, USS LST 461. He served in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater (four stars) and in the Philippine Liberation (two stars). He was involved in the invasions of Saipan, Tinian, Leyte Gulf, Nasugbu Bay, Linguyan Gulf, and Okinawa and was a participant in the Second Battle of the Philippine Sea.

He was honorably discharged in 1946. Though trained in electrical engineering, he decided to pursue a lifelong dream to attend medical school and was admitted to the Boston University School of Medicine. After graduation, he worked at Columbia University’s prestigious Pulmonary Function Laboratory at Bellevue Hospital in New York with Drs. Andre Cournand and Dickinson Richards, whose groundbreaking research earned them the Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology and revolutionized the fields of modern cardiology and pulmonology. Dr. Fritts later succeeded Dr. Cournand as the laboratory director specializing in cardio-pulmonary physiology.

Certified in internal medicine, he pursued his passion for academic medicine as a professor at Columbia University, a visiting professor at the University of London, and a William Harris visiting professor at the National Medical School of Taiwan. His appointments include the Dickinson W. Richards chair of medicine at Columbia University, the visiting senior scientist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, and the Edmund D. Pellegrino chair of medicine at Stony Brook University. He retired in 1987 as a professor and the first chairman of the Department of Medicine at Stony Brook.

A former welterweight boxer and fraternity wrestler, Dr. Fritts’ hobbies included philosophy, fly fishing, and writing. He authored “On Leading a Clinical Department, a Guide for Physicians” (1997, Johns Hopkins University Press) and wrote a number of short stories and articles, many of which have been published. He had a passion for reading, a zest for life, a love of music, an undying devotion to his wife, Helen, and a wry sense of humor. He believed that no man was beyond saving and that in every man there was good, if not greatness. He served as a deacon and elder at the First Presbyterian Church of Northport.

Dr. Fritts is survived by many colleagues, friends, and loved ones, including his children, John, Ben, and Pat, and five grandchildren. He passed away comfortably with family at his bedside.