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Dr. Bruce P.M. Hamilton, retired chief of endocrinology at Veterans Administration Medical Center and professor of medicine, dies

Dr. Bruce P.M. Hamilton was known for his comforting bedside manner and took a deep interest into the lives of his patients.
Dr. Bruce P.M. Hamilton was known for his comforting bedside manner and took a deep interest into the lives of his patients. (handout)

Dr. Bruce P.M. Hamilton, whose career as chief of endocrinology at the Veterans Administration Medical Center spanned four decades and who was a pillar of the endocrinology division at the University of Maryland Medical Center, died of complications of dementia July 21 at his Roland Park home. He was 86.

“He was an absolute gentleman and scholar,” said Dr. Alan R. Shuldiner, the John J. Whitehurst Professor of Medicine and associate dean for Personalized and Genomic Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, in a statement.

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“Encyclopedic in his knowledge of endocrinology and endocrine hypertension. He was a role model for all of us. His work and practices live on into the scores of students, residents and fellows he has trained and the impactful research he led,” Dr. Shuldiner said.

Bruce Peter Milburn, son of Joseph Hamilton, owner of a commercial contracting firm, and his wife, Elizabeth Boult Hamilton, a homemaker, was born in Napier, a small seaside town on New Zealand’s North Island, and later moved with his family to Wellington.

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After graduating in 1953 from Wellington College, a high school, he earned his bachelor’s and medical degrees in 1959 from the University of Otago in Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand. He then completed residencies in medicine and pathology while serving in Her Majesty’s Royal New Zealand Navy.

In 1965, Dr. Hamilton became registrar of medicine at St. Mary’s Hospital in London, and from 1966 to 1967, he was assigned to the old Radcliffe Infirmary, which had been the teaching hospital of the University of Oxford.

While there, he met his future wife, the former Jennifer “Jenny” McLaren, who was completing her medical training. They married in 1967, and would later collaborate on multiple pharmaceutical and National Institutes of Health-funded research studies for more than three decades.

After a six-month stint working as senior registrar at a segregated Zulu hospital in Durban, South Africa, where he cared for “some of the country’s most economically disadvantaged patients,” according to a family-submitted biographical profile of Dr. Hamilton, he began an endocrinology fellowship in 1968 at Yale University.

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The couple settled in Branford, Connecticut, living in a small home on the Long Island Sound where they raised two of their eventual four children, and enjoyed sailing.

Dr. Hamilton was recruited by the University of Maryland in 1971 to become chief of endocrinology at the affiliated Baltimore Veterans Administration Medical Center, a position he would hold for 40 years.

Through the University of Maryland’s affiliation with what was then known as the Veterans Administration, he devoted much of his time to treating thousands of veterans as director of the hypertension, endocrine and diabetes clinics, regardless of their financial circumstances.

Known for his comforting bedside manner, he also took a deep interest into the lives of his patients from all walks of life, and as a result of this, formed many long-lasting and enduring relationships.

Dr. Hamilton was promoted in 1984 to professor in the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Division of Clinical Pharmacology, where he dedicated himself to patient care, research and teaching.

“He was a principal investigator for many ground breaking clinical trials, the results of which remain the standard care and treatment of hypertension and diabetes,” according to the profile.

Major research interests of Dr. Hamilton were the pathogenesis and treatment of hypertension, and new treatment modalities in diabetes and dyslipidemia, which is abnormally elevated cholesterol or fats in the blood.

“Hypertension was one of his major interests and there were many cases in Baltimore that resulted in strokes and heart attacks,” said Dr. John M. Hamlyn, a science researcher and professor of physiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, in a telephone interview.

“He realized that many cases could be turned around, so he set up a clinic at the VA and he was assisted there by his wife who was also a doctor,” Dr. Hamlyn said. “He had a big impact on the lives of so many people who wouldn’t be seen or cared for because they were poor.”

As a result of his work, he became an international expert in his field and was the author of more than 140 peer-reviewed articles and 10 medical textbook chapters.

Dr. Hamilton established a decadeslong interdisciplinary collaboration with Dr. Hamlyn.

In the profile, Dr. Hamlyn described Dr. Hamilton as “a rare one of a kind, a gentle and thoughtful person who possessed extraordinary energy and humor as well as a stunningly quick and insightful mind that allowed him simultaneously to be a brilliant physician, researcher and educator. It’s hard to overstate the role he played in the lives of many people, patients and scientists alike.”

The two men engaged in research regarding the sources of common high blood pressure which “90% of people have,” he said.

“We set up research and spent more than 30 years trying to crack that box and that problem,” he said. “When we were working together, it didn’t seem like work but rather like a holiday.”

Dr. Hamlyn added: “Bruce was just a wonderful guy, humble and modest, who was exceptionally quick and intelligent. And he also had a fantastic mind and an extraordinary memory. He could recall patient details from 20 years ago without looking at notes or a report. He was really something.”

Despite his demanding schedule, Dr. Hamilton found time to coach his children’s Roland Park Little League Baseball teams or help them with their homework late into the evening, family members said.

He and his wife enjoyed spending weekends at an 1890s farmhouse and property they had restored at White Hall, Baltimore County, near Norrisville.

“He was a man of all seasons,” Dr. Hamlyn said. “He could repair chainsaws, tractors and other things.”

Dr. Hamilton was an inveterate gardener who enjoyed landscaping, caring for his fruit trees, planting and growing vegetables, and tending to his fishing pond. He was also a fan of the Baltimore Colts, Orioles and Ravens, and was a tennis player who played with the same four Hopkins friends for 25 years.

Family members describe him as a “bit of a Renaissance man” who was gifted with a fine sense of humor and boundless cheer. He also was adept at quoting from memory quotes from Shakespeare and 19th century poetry, and singing Frank Sinatra standards. Other interests included stamps, coin collecting, furniture making and carpentry.

“Bruce had a very productive life and helped so many people,” Dr. Hamlyn said.

Plans for a celebration-of-life gathering are incomplete.

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In addition to his wife of 53 years, Dr. Jennifer “Jenny” Hamilton, he is survived by three sons, Dr. James P.M. Hamilton of Reisterstown, Simon R.B. Hamilton of Alexandria, Virginia, and Dr. Matthew J.D. Hamilton of West Roxbury, Massachusetts; a daughter, Emily J.E. Cave of Brussels; and 10 grandchildren.

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