The Johns Hopkins Gazette: May 29, 2001
May 29, 2001
VOL. 30, NO. 36


Obituary: Russell Nelson, Former Hopkins Hospital President, Dies at 88

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

Russell A. Nelson, former president of The Johns Hopkins Hospital, died May 19 in Naples, Fla. He was 88.

Throughout his 34-year career at Hopkins, Nelson demonstrated his talents not only as a hospital administrator but also as an innovator in the field of health care delivery. Under Nelson's stewardship, the hospital greatly expanded its physical plant and made sweeping changes in its financial structure to accommodate pioneering prepaid comprehensive programs of health care in East Baltimore and Columbia, Md.

Russell A. Nelson, former Hopkins Hospital president, in an undated photograph

Nelson's contributions to hospital administration and management ranged well beyond his home institution. He served as a consultant on the design and operation of the medical complex at the Free University of Berlin and on the planning and development of the Leiden Hospital in the Netherlands. In 1965, during the height of the Cold War, Nelson joined a five-person U.S. delegation sent to study hospital services in what was then the Soviet Union. Closer to home, Nelson chaired the Board of Commissioners of the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Hospitals from 1961 to 1962 and had consulted frequently on other national, state and local health care projects.

Born in Grand Forks, N.D., in 1913, Nelson received his undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota in 1933 and his medical degree from Hopkins in 1937. Between 1937 and 1952, he rose from serving as an intern at The Johns Hopkins Hospital to director of medical clinics and assistant director of the hospital under Edwin L. Crosby. Succeeding Crosby as director in 1952, Nelson became executive vice president in 1958, president of the hospital in 1963 and president emeritus upon his retirement in 1971.

While leading the hospital, Nelson was from 1959 to 1960 president of the American Hospital Association. A decade later, he became chairman of the Executive Council of the Association of American Medical Colleges.

"The combination of these two appointments in one career testifies to Dr. Nelson's uniqueness as a top-flight administrator who consistently protected the fundamental commitment of Johns Hopkins to medical education, research and specialized management of individual patients," says Ronald R. Peterson, current president of The Johns Hopkins Hospital.

As a physician, Nelson also retained his early interest in clinical research. Between 1944 and 1975, he published papers on penicillin therapy for syphilis in addition to numerous articles on hospital management and the delivery of health care.

Nelson's outstanding leadership in hospital administration won him widespread recognition. He received the Distinguished Service Award from the American Hospital Association, an honorary doctor of science degree from the University of Miami and the Distinguished Service Medal from The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Other awards came from the University of Minnesota, Nufield Provincial Hospital Trust in London and the International Hospital Federation in Zagreb, Yugoslavia.

Nelson is survived by his wife, the former Ruth Jeffcoat, a graduate of the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing; one sister, Donna Marie Fawbush of Brookyln Center, Minn.; his sister-in-law, Mary Jeffcoat Bell of Knoxville, Tenn.; and several nieces and nephews.

Funeral services were held in Naples, Fla., on May 23. In Baltimore, a memorial service at The Johns Hopkins Hospital is planned for 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 30, in the auditorium of the Weinberg Building, JHMI campus.