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Dr. Douglas B. Tang, a retired Walter Reed Army Institute of Research statistician, dies

Dr. Douglas B. Tang, a retired Walter Reed Army Institute of Research statistician, dies
Douglas Tang worked on development of tafenoquine, the newest antimalarial drug. (handout / HANDOUT)

Dr. Douglas B. Tang, a retired Walter Reed Army Institute of Research statistician who was an avid collector of railroad memorabilia, died Aug. 1 from pancreatic cancer at his Fulton home. He was 81.

“He was an amazing guy and so well-educated, which made him so valuable to the institute,” said Dr. Fred Tyner of Washington, who was a Walter Reed Army Institute of Research colleague and longtime friend. “He was not a stuffy person and was always accessible to new physicians as well as those who were old. He was just extraordinary.”

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Douglas Braxton Tang, the son of Lars B. Tang, a Western Pacific Railroad conductor, and his wife, Ruth Tang, a homemaker, was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and moved in 1946 to Winnemucca, Nevada.

After graduating in 1956 from Humboldt County High School with honors, Dr. Tang earned a bachelor’s degree in 1960 in mathematics from the University of Minnesota, where he was a member of Alpha Tau Omega.

In 1961, he received a master’s degree in statistics from Minnesota and in 1963 entered the Army and was stationed at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring for five years. He resumed his studies at Minnesota, from which where he obtained a Ph.D. in biometry and mathematics in 1974.

“While in an Army uniform from 1964 to 1968, he began a long career devoted to advancing the health and safety of the U.S. military with his assignment as a statistician at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research,” Dr. Tyner wrote in a biographical profile of Dr. Tang. “Then as a civilian, he served as the Institute’s chief statistician from 1970 to 1999.”

He wrote that Dr. Tang “contributed to the design and analysis of innumerable animal and human subjects studies concerned with topics as diverse as blood coagulation, prostate cancer, and Hodgkin’s disease. But he specialized in the technically and ethically challenging trials of established and candidate medical products directed against infectious diseases uncommon in the United States but which might endanger uniformed personnel overseas.”

Dr. Tang was “especially proud of his contributions to the efforts to develop diagnostic tests, drugs, vaccines directed against malaria, hepatitis, leishmaniasis, Japanese encephalitis, adenovirus, meningitis, gonorrhea, and dengue fever,” Dr. Tyner wrote.

One of Dr. Tang’s accomplishments was participating in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 2018 approval of tafenoquine, the newest antimalarial drug, an effort that began 40 years ago at Walter Reed.

During his career, Dr. Tang published nearly 60 professional articles, abstracts and technical reports in conjunction with his work, the last being published two months before his death.

He was also a member of an Army steering committee that was concerned with mathematics, experimental design and probability. He served as a consultant to the National Institutes of Health, the National Academy of Sciences and the Agency for International Development.

Dr. Tang also held academic appointments at George Washington University, Bowling Green State University and the Uniformed Services of the Health Sciences.

He taught numerous short courses and seminars on experimental design and data analysis throughout the Army and U.S. Department of Defense, and recently consulted for several years on the curriculum of a course in statistics and experimental design for students taught by Dr. Tyner at The Field School in Washington.

“Throughout his formal activities, Dr. Tang wove an endless series of one-on-one and small group interactions that made him an invaluable mentor and colleague,” Dr. Tyner wrote. “He mixed a comfortable, seemingly casual demeanor with superb technical rigor that enabled him to work easily and effectively with investigators ranging from the less experienced to the most senior; a generation of military biomedical scientists is indebted for his contributions to their growth.”

Dr. Tyner admired his friend’s ability to teach in a “straightforward language.”

“If you goofed, he would speak to you while not making you feel like an idiot,” Dr. Tyner said in a telephone interview. “He did not have a big ego, had a great sense of humor, and was rigorous about his stuff, and had a balanced view about how things should work."

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Dr. Tang retired in 1999.

His son, the Rev. Christopher Douglas Tang, rector of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter in Lutherville, said his father “loved trains and model trains, and particularly the line his father had worked for.”

Dr. Tang collected railroad lanterns, spikes and timetables and material that was germane to the Western Pacific, also known as “The Feather River Route.”

The former longtime Silver Spring resident was also an accomplished woodworker.

“For the last six or seven years, he was interested in the Tang family genealogy and had made a pilgrimage to Norway back to the original Tang farm,” said Father Tang, a Hampstead resident.

“He was also a faithful Episcopalian all of his life and was involved in many activities of the church,” his son said. “He especially enjoyed meeting newcomers and selling Christmas trees.”

Dr. Tang had been involved with the Boy Scouts and was an active member of his neighborhood association.

Dr. Tang was a member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 12700 Hall Shop Road, Highland, where funeral services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife of 58 years, the former Karen Mildred Lading; two daughters, Jennifer Claire Turner of Columbia and Emily Louise Higgins of Fulton; a brother, Gary Bernard Tang of Salt Lake City; and seven grandchildren.

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