Kidney specialist Theodore N. Pullman, MD, 1918-2001

Kidney specialist Theodore N. Pullman, MD, 1918-2001

February 14, 2001

An expert on kidney function, Theodore N. Pullman, MD, 82, a research associate in the thyroid study unit at the University of Chicago and a former professor of medicine at the University of Chicago and at Northwestern University, died at his Hyde Park home on February 8 from kidney failure. He was an authority on the effects of hormones on fluid and electrolyte metabolism and on how the kidneys handled small proteins.

Pullman was unusual in that he made real contributions in three different fields over his long career. He played an important role in the 1940s in the development of new drugs for malaria, he contributed in the 1950s and 1960s to understanding kidney function, and in his 70s, well after his retirement, he was coauthor of several papers on the molecular biology of the thyroid.

"He was a brilliant scientist, an astute and careful clinician, and a teacher who inspired awe in his students," recalled kidney specialist Adrian Katz, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, who had been recruited to the University by Pullman. "His research helped in the understanding of the regulation of blood flow within the kidney, which had important implications for diseases like hypertension."

"He was someone who was absolutely trustworthy, who set very high standards for himself and for others," recalled Richard Landau, MD, professor emeritus of medicine and a long-time friend of Pullman. "This made him a splendid teacher but a challenging one if you were not prepared. The students called him 'Terrible Ted'."

"He enjoyed research so much that he continued to come to our laboratory meetings until just a few months ago," said Samuel Refetoff, MD, professor of Medicine and director of the thyroid study unit, where Pullman focused his energies after retirement. "Ted Pullman brought a vast knowledge of chemistry and biochemistry that made him extremely valuable to the lab and a great help for the students, who miss him a great deal."

Theodore Neil Pullman was born in New York City, on September 30, 1918. He was graduated cum laude from Harvard in 1938 with a BS in chemistry, did one year of graduate work in chemistry at Columbia University then transferred into medical school. He completed his MD in 1943 followed by a residency at Yale New Haven Hospital, where he joined the faculty as an assistant in medicine.

In January 1944, Pullman entered the Army and was stationed at the University of Chicago's Malaria Research Unit, directed by Alf Alving, professor of medicine at the University. He participated in the successful wartime effort to discover and test new and more effective drugs, including chloroquine and primaquine, which became the standard treatment for the tropical disease. He left the Army in 1946, with the rank of Major, and joined the faculty at the University of Chicago as a kidney specialist. Pullman rose quickly through the ranks and became a professor of medicine in 1964 and section chief of nephrology in 1965.

In 1973 he left to become associate chief of staff for research at the Veterans Administration Lakeside Medical Center and a professor of medicine at Northwestern University. In 1987, he retired from clinical and administration tasks and returned to the University of Chicago to learn a new field, genetics and molecular biology, and to assist in the thyroid study unit.

Pullman won many honors and awards. He was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American College of Physicians. He served as president of the Chicago Society for Internal Medicine, chairman of the Kidney Disease Foundation of Illinois, chairman of the research committee for the Chicago Heart Association and a member of the executive board for the American Heart Association's council on circulation.

He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Marjorie Pullman.

A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m., Wednesday, March 14, 2001 at Montgomery Place, in Hyde Park.