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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University September 17, 2007 | Vol. 37 No. 3
Obituary: Martin Abeloff, 65, Director of Kimmel Cancer Center

Photo by Rich Riggins

Martin D. Abeloff, the chief oncologist and director of the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center for the past 15 years, died Sept. 14 of leukemia. Abeloff, 65, was an international authority on the treatment of breast cancer.

He is remembered by his colleagues and friends across the globe for his characteristic humility, wry sense of humor, extraordinary devotion to his patients and students, and the collaborative spirit he nurtured in his long tenure at Johns Hopkins, where he spent most of his career.

"Marty was that iconic Hopkins physician, scientist, educator, leader and good citizen rolled into one," said Edward D. Miller, dean of the faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine. "He was there for his patients, his residents and fellows, his colleagues and at so many challenging times, the institution he graced for so long."

"All of the Johns Hopkins Medicine family will miss his presence and his wisdom," said Ronald R. Peterson, president of The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System. "He was the consummate quiet man who worked tirelessly to achieve greatness in his field."

In typical Abeloff fashion, he recently credited the Cancer Center's growth and advances against malignant disease to the faculty and staff, counting himself "lucky" to work among individuals whose intellect and values made coming to work "an absolute joy."

"He was the ultimate role model," said friend and colleague Stephen Baylin, the Virginia and D.K. Ludwig Professor of Oncology and Medicine, and deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. "What he didn't know, he took the time to learn. And with a combination of qualities best summarized as wisdom, he helped transform both the treatment of cancer and the way that Johns Hopkins delivers that care. These are his legacies."

During his 15-year tenure as director of the Cancer Center, Abeloff doubled the size of its faculty, increased research funding sixfold and saw it consistently ranked among the nation's top three cancer centers in U.S. News & World Report surveys.

"Marty built an impressive and unparalleled team of cancer experts and a world-class reputation for the Kimmel Cancer Center," Miller said.

He also was instrumental in bringing the largest single gift to Johns Hopkins, the $150 million donation from philanthropist and fashion entrepreneur Sidney Kimmel, for whom the Cancer Center is now named.

Under Abeloff's direction, the cancer complex expanded to include nearly 1 million square feet of treatment and research space. Inside the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Building, Abeloff revealed his passion for the arts, establishing the Art of Healing program that includes a performing arts series and a collection of more than 100 works of museum-quality art for the enjoyment of patients, visitors and staff.

Abeloff received his medical degree from Johns Hopkins in 1966. After residency and fellowship training in Boston's Beth Israel Hospital and Tufts–New England Medical Center, he returned to Johns Hopkins for an oncology fellowship. He joined the faculty in 1972, focusing on lung and breast cancer research, and later headed the Medical Oncology Department before directing the entire Cancer Center.

Abeloff served as president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology and chair of the FDA oncology drug advisory committee. He also was chair of the board of scientific counselors to the Intramural Division of Clinical Science at the National Cancer Institute and a member of the NCI executive committee.

Martin David Abeloff was born in 1942 in Shenandoah, Pa. He is survived by his wife, Diane, a medical illustrator; daughters Elisa Abeloff and her husband, George Landau, and Jennifer Abeloff and her husband, Howard Wasserman; three grandchildren; and his sister and brother-in-law, Marilyn and Morrell Fox.

The funeral service and interment took place on Sunday. A memorial service at Johns Hopkins is being planned.

The Abeloff family has requested that memorial donations be sent to the Martin D. Abeloff, M.D., Scholars Program in Cancer Prevention and Control at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, Suite 234, 100 N. Charles St., Baltimore MD 21201. Tributes and notes of sympathy may be submitted to for posting on the Kimmel Cancer Center Web site.

For more about Abeloff's work and to read tributes, go to


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