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Dr. Roy Benjamin Dawson Jr., blood specialist who taught at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, dies

Dr. Roy Benjamin Dawson Jr. helped found the Artists’ Gallery in Columbia, a cooperative art gallery.
Dr. Roy Benjamin Dawson Jr. helped found the Artists’ Gallery in Columbia, a cooperative art gallery. (Check with Baltimore Sun Photo)

Dr. Roy Benjamin Dawson Jr., a retired blood transfusion specialist who taught at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, died of complications of congestive heart failure July 22 at Gilchrist Center Howard County. He was 86.

Born in Norfolk, Virginia, he was the son of Captain Roy Dawson, a harbor pilot, and his wife, Marguerite McDaniel, a teacher. He was a graduate of Maury High School.

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Dr. Dawson, known by many as “Dr. Ben,” earned his bachelor’s degree from Hampden-Sydney College and his medical degree from the University of Virginia before completing his internship and residency training at Jefferson Medical College and Hospital and Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia. He did a fellowship in hematology at Tufts-New England Medical Center.

He was also a special graduate student at Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Family members said he had a passion for hematology. As a senior scientist at the the Army Medical Research Laboratory at Fort Knox, Kentucky, he worked on groundbreaking research on blood preservation.

He then served as blood bank and transfusion service director at the University of Maryland Medical Center and professor of pathology and medicine at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine.

He met his future wife, Frances Motyca, through a friend on a blind date. He was in medical school and she was a graduate student at the Peabody Conservatory of Music. They married in 1962 and settled in Columbia in 1968.

“I was excited about Mr. Rouse and what he planned to do,” said his wife, referring to the town’s developer James Rouse. “My husband liked to windsurf on Lake Kittamaqundi.”

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A 1985 Evening Sun article described his work wherein he believed he found a cheaper and more effective way to boost oxygen levels in transfused blood, a technique that could benefit surgical patients.

Dr. Dawson and a co-investigator, Wuan-Mei Chiu, discovered a common amino acid, alanine, that helped the red blood cells in stored blood deliver oxygen immediately upon transfusion, the article said.

“We think that with improved oxygen delivery capacity from the transfused blood, recovery will be faster from trauma surgery requiring massive transfusion and for cardiac surgery,” he said in the 1985 story.

“His dedicated work led him to become a pioneer in hemapheresis at the Baltimore RH Typing Laboratory,” said his daughter, Anne Dawson, a Randallstown resident. “His service and expertise supported many respected organizations throughout his career, including the Red Cross.”

A friend, Robert “Bob” Bury said: “He was the kind of man who did not ask for much, but gave much. He was plain and simple and helped people overcome their illnesses through his bloodwork. ... “He was quiet and unassuming and yet he wanted to have fun. He could rattle off a lot of stories.”

Mr. Bury added: “I would compare him to a silver dollar that through time gets scratched and scuffed but never loses its original value. Ben kept his value and his character throughout his life.”

Dr. Dawson was also an eager athlete, despite suffering polio as a child and post-polio syndrome later in life, his family said.

Having grown up on the water in Virginia, Dr. Dawson developed a passion for activities such as racing sailboats throughout the Chesapeake Bay and enjoyed taking nautical-themed photographs.

He also read literature, attended plays and musical events, and traveled.

He was a member of the New Arts Alliance in Columbia.

He enjoyed photography and exhibited his work at the Artists’ Gallery at the American City Building in Columbia, a cooperative art gallery he helped found and financially supported in 1995.

“Ben was friendly and gregarious. He was generous and paid for a young photographer to be able to exhibit there for three years. Ben would do anything for the gallery — he’d pick up a paint brush or help hang a show,” said Bonita Glaser, a watercolor artist and friend.

“Ben was tall and could reach places the rest of us could not,” she said.

He is survived by his wife of 59 years, co-director of the Columbia Pro Cantare chorus; a daughter, Anne Dawson of Randallstown; a sister, Mary Roy Edwards of Schuyler, Virginia; and nieces and nephews.

His memorial service will be private.

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