Richard L. Baron, radiologist and authority on diagnosis of liver disease, 1949-2017

Richard L. Baron, radiologist and authority on diagnosis of liver disease, 1949-2017

May 22, 2017

Richard Baron, MD, a professor and former Chairman of the Department of Radiology at the University of Chicago, died suddenly from an apparent heart attack while playing tennis on Thursday, May 4. He was 68 years old.
One of the world's leading authorities on diagnostic imaging of liver disease, Baron enjoyed a distinguished career in research, education and patient care. He served as Chairman of Radiology at the University of Chicago from 2002 to 2011 as well as Dean for clinical practice and head of the faculty practice plan from 2011 to 2013. Prior to that, Baron was Chairman of Radiology at the University of Pittsburgh and founding President and CEO of the University of Pittsburgh Physicians.

He also served on the board of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) from 2008 to 2016 and as president of the board for 2015-2016. At the time of his death, he was also a member of the American College of Radiology's board of chancellors, a past president of both the Society of Gastrointestinal Radiology, and the Society of Computed Body Tomography and Magnetic Resonance.

"The radiology faculty benefitted during his chairmanship, from his thoughtful guidance, and his ability and eagerness to mentor younger colleagues," recalled David Paushter, MD, who succeeded Baron as chairman of radiology at the University of Chicago. "He was a master educator and a lifelong learner – a role model for trainees and clinical peers alike."

Baron published more than 150 peer-reviewed scientific articles, 53 book chapters and review articles, and was co-editor of the textbook Multislice-CT of the Abdomen. He provided quality and safety expertise on national and international levels, serving on the Joint Commission Professional Technical Advisory Committee from 2007 to 2011 and providing guidance to the International Atomic Energy Commission and the World Health Organization. He was a popular speaker, presenting hundreds of invited lectures throughout the world.

He served as a reviewer for several journals, including Radiology, The American Journal of Roentgenology, The Journal of Computer Assisted Tomography, Liver Transplantation, Gastroenterology, and European Radiology, and was an associate editor of Radiology from 1991 to 1996 and of Liver Transplantation from 2004 to 2009.

He earned international honors for his research and teaching, including awards from radiological groups in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Chile, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan Spain, Turkey and the US. Noteworthy among these awards were the Gold Medal of the Asian Oceanian Society of Radiology in 2014, the Medal of Honor and honorary membership in the French Radiological Society in 2015, and honorary membership in the European Society of Radiology in 2017.

Despite steady international recognition, one of his most urgent, high-profile investigations was close to home. On June 4, 2003, the Baseball Hall of Fame asked Baron to perform diagnostic X-rays on the two bats that Cubs player Sammy Sosa had used, one to hit his 500th home run and one for home runs 64, 65 and 66 in 1998. There was reason for suspicion: Sosa got caught using a corked bat.

"The Hall of Fame wanted to hear good news," Baron said at the time. "There was tension, but we could tell right away that the bats were clean. The baseball people were quite relieved."

But, ever meticulous, Baron wasn't done. The X-rays were persuasive, but in this case, absolute certainty required a CT scan. Fortunately, one scan of both bats quickly confirmed the benign diagnosis.
Richard Lewis Baron was born March 11, 1949, in Springfield, Massachusetts. He graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in 1967, from Yale University, cum laude, in 1972, and earned his medical degree and election to the student honor society Alpha Omega Alpha at the Washington University School of Medicine in 1976. His internship in internal medicine at Yale University was followed by a residency in radiology and an abdominal radiology fellowship at the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology at Washington University. Later in his career, faced with increasing administrative duties, he pursued further education in the MBA program at the Katz Graduate School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh.

"He was a mentor to many people, residents as well as senior faculty," recalled colleague and close friend Steven Montner, MD, professor of radiology. "The people he worked with tended to become close friends. As a leader, he was firm but very fair. He was warm and generous with his friends and colleagues. And I have to say, he always took the side of right. I never met a man with so much integrity." 

"He will be greatly missed," said Valerie P. Jackson, MD, Chair of the Radiological Society of North America's Board of Directors. She described Baron as an "internationally respected abdominal imaging radiologist and an outstanding administrator," adding that he was also "humble, kind-hearted and always willing to mentor others."

"Although Rich was recognized internationally as a gifted leader, educator, physician and scientist, his peers tend to focus on his altruism and mentorship," said Paushter. "This matches my experience. He was a thoughtful friend who helped guide colleagues and trainees through the difficult decisions of academic medicine, telling us to 'take the high road,' which he always did. He was the same with patients, placing them at the epicenter of his professional universe, long before it came into vogue."

Despite the demands of his career, "the man that we knew at home was totally devoted to his family," said his wife, Shirley Baron. "His focus was never on himself but rather on those he loved. We knew him as warm, loving, patient, generous and always available when needed."

"He brought his energy for fun and his enthusiasm to the smallest of tasks of everyday life," she added, "including cooking with me or just doing errands together. Richard was passionate about travel, skiing, tennis, and photography, which he loved to share with the rest of us. He was 'all in' when something was important to him."

"He was also a great dad," she said, "consistent in his guidance. 'Do your best,' he told his children. 'Nobody can ask for more than that.' And 'Life is a journey, not a sprint.' His basic message was: 'try hard but take your time; don't give up; I'm here for you.' "

Dr. Baron is survived by his wife Shirley; their son, Tim; daughter, Christine Turner; and Dr. Baron's brother John.

The Department of Radiology has organized a memorial service for Baron at 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, May 31, at the University of Chicago's Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, 5850 S. Woodlawn Avenue. In lieu of flowers, the Baron family requests that donations in memory of Dr. Richard Baron be made to the RSNA Research & Education (R&E) Foundation, to support a young radiology researcher in abdominal imaging.