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Dr. Robert Hopkins McLean, 63, kidney disease expert


Dr. Robert Hopkins McLean, an expert in the study of kidney diseases and the immune system, as well as an accomplished mountain climber, died Thursday at his Towson home of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease. He was 63.

Dr. McLean was a pediatric nephrologist whose study of the immune system contributed to advances in research of lupus and inflammatory kidney diseases, said former colleague Dr. Jerry A. Winkelstein, a professor of pediatric medicine and pathology and director of the immunology division at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

"Although he was a pediatrician, his research had implications for diseases of childhood and adult life," he said.

"As much as people respected his work, he was probably the most well-liked person that I ever met. People just adored this man," said Dr. Winkelstein, who worked in a lab across the hall from Dr. McLean's lab at Hopkins during the 1980s.

Dr. Winkelstein said Dr. McLean's noncompetitive nature, his willingness to help others and his dignified approach to his illness set him apart.

Dr. McLean last worked as professor and director of the pediatric nephrology division of the University of Maryland Medical Center from 1994 to 1999. Previously, he was an associate professor in the pediatric nephrology division of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine from 1981 to 1993.

Dr. McLean was born in Ayer, Mass. He earned his bachelor's degree at Amherst College in 1959 and his medical degree from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in 1964.

He and his wife, the former Ursula Eibl, moved to the Baltimore area in 1981.

In addition to his expertise in medicine, he was a student of the Civil War, a jogger, sailor, photographer and gardener.

But his greatest passion was hiking mountains, said Dr. McLean's son Robert E. McLean, of Prague, Czech Republic.

In the late 1970s, Dr. McLean aspired to become a member of the Four Thousand Footer Club of hikers who have climbed all 48 mountains in New England that are at least 4,000 feet high.

"He worked slowly at it until 1998," said his son. "It was almost a bittersweet end because he thought he had one more to go" when his illness prevented him from finishing.

But at a family Christmas party in 1999, one of Dr. McLean's brothers told him something he had forgotten -- that he had climbed that mountain, Mount Adams, in the 1940s.

"The last mountain he never climbed was the first mountain he climbed. He received his membership after a few months," his son said.

Dr. McLean's son was with him on his last real climb in 1998, up Owl's Head Mountain in New Hampshire, an 18-mile hike that takes about 12 hours.

Later, after his illness prevented him from hiking -- or even typing -- he used a computer mouse to compile a diary with photos of all his mountain climbs.

"Each height was documented, who climbed. ... It turned out to be a 100-page book," which the family had bound, Mrs. McLean said.

In addition to his work at Hopkins and the University of Maryland, Dr. McLean was a consultant to the Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital from 1994 to 1999.

He was also a member of the American Society of Nephrology, the National Kidney Foundation, the International Society of Nephrology, the Society of Pediatric Research and the American Society of Pediatric Nephrology.

In 1998, the National Kidney Foundation gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award.

In addition to his wife of 37 years and his son Robert, he is survived by another son, Philip of Philadelphia; two brothers, the Rev. J. Alan McLean of New Britain, Conn., and Dr. John Marshall McLean of Peoria, Ill.; and a sister, Anne Dorr of Simsbury, Conn.

Services were yesterday.

The family requests donations be made to the Bradley Pediatric Society, c/o Department of Pediatrics, University of Maryland, 225 S. Greene St., Baltimore 21201, Attention: Ms. Schmidt.

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