Dr. Raymond Seltser, Hopkins associate dean

Dr. Raymond Seltser

Dr. Raymond Seltser, former associate dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health who was the author of seminal epidemiological articles on smoking, stroke and radiation, died Feb. 16 of pneumonia at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington. He was 90.

The son of a tailor and a homemaker, Raymond Seltser was born and raised in Boston. He graduated from Boston Latin School in 1941.


"His parents expected him to go into medicine, but he never wanted to practice," said a son, Barry Jay Seltser of Silver Spring. "He gravitated to preventive medicine and the public health area. He loved public health. It was his professional passion and a good fit."

He received his bachelor's degree in 1943 from Boston University and medical degree in 1947 from the Boston University School of Medicine.


From 1947 to 1948, he was an intern at Massachusetts Memorial Hospital in Boston, and a fellow in infectious diseases at the hospital from 1948 to 1949. He was an assistant in medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine from 1948 to 1951.

Dr. Seltser was an assistant resident from 1949 to 1950 at Massachusetts Memorial Hospital, and completed his residency in 1951. He was a teaching fellow in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School from 1950 to 1951.

Dr. Seltser served in Korea with the Army Medical Corps as a preventive medicine officer with the 25th Infantry Division, where he attained the rank of captain.

He was a post surgeon at Fort Story in Virginia Beach, Va., and later served as assistant chief of the Army Medical Intelligence Branch's Preventive Medical Division in Washington from 1953 to 1954. His decorations included the Bronze Star.

He ended his Army medical career in 1956 with the Army's Medical Information and Intelligence Division.

After earning a master's degree in public health in 1957 from the Johns Hopkins University School of Health and Public Hygiene — now the Bloomberg School of Public Health — he began working with the U.S. Public Health Service in Washington as chief of the international epidemiology section in its Division of Public Health.

He returned to Hopkins later that year when he was named assistant professor of epidemiology at the School of Hygiene and Public Health.

In addition to his work at Hopkins, Dr. Seltser was associate professor of epidemiology at the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania from 1963 to 1966, and was visiting professor at the college from 1966 to 1968. He also taught at the Boston University School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School.

In 1964, Dr. Seltser and Dr. Philip E. Sartwell released a study that concluded occupational exposure to X-rays shortened the lives of radiologists and other doctors who used X-rays.

By 1981, the long-term statistical study suggested a link not only to cancer from X-ray exposure but also heart disease, according to an article at the time in The New York Times.

Dr. Seltser, who had been professor of chronic diseases and professor of epidemiology, was named associate dean in 1967 of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, a position he held until 1976.

From 1977 to 1981, he served as deputy director for preventive oncology at the Johns Hopkins University Oncology Center.


At the time of his appointment, The Evening Sun described Dr. Seltser as "a prominent national figure in preventive medicine" who had been "cited for his research in understanding the risk factors involved in radiation injury, cigarette smoking and stroke."

"I think there should be the same urgency about preventing cancer as there is about treatment," he told the newspaper at the time.

Dr. Seltser left Hopkins in 1981 when he was appointed dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh, where he also was professor of epidemiology until he stepped down in 1988.

"He was particularly proud of making the school of public health at the University of Pittsburgh smoke-free in the early 1980s, even though he caught some flak for it from the administration," said his son.

From 1988 to 1990, he was associate director of disease control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Washington. He ended his career nine years later as senior adviser at the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research.

During his long career, Dr. Seltser had been a consultant to the surgeon general's advisory committee on smoking and health, which discouraged cigarette smoking and cigarette advertising.

He had also had served other federal agencies and commissions on hypertension, stroke, polio, pneumonia, influenza and the environment.

The former Forest Park and Pikesville resident lived in Chevy Chase for the past 25 years.

He had been a member of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, serving on the board of electors and the religious school committee. He also had been a member of the Baltimore Board of Jewish Education.

Dr. Seltser was a member of the Washington Hebrew Congregation.

He enjoyed photography.

Services were held Feb. 19 at the Washington Hebrew Cemetery in Clarksville.

In addition to his son, Dr. Seltser is survived by his wife of 67 years, the former Charlotte Gale; another son, Andrew David Seltser of Friday Harbor, Wash.; and a granddaughter.

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