Vol. 33, No. 2     Fall 2010
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Robert L. Nielsen, M.D., Res. ’51

Adapted from The Seattle Times, March 21–22, 2010

Robert L. Nielsen, M.D., Res. ’51Robert Louis Nielsen, M.D., died on March 13, 2010. Born in Livingston, Mont. on Feb. 22, 1925, he spent his childhood in Montana. During the Depression, he and his family lived in a tent in Yellowstone National Park, where his father worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps. Bob learned to hunt and fish with his father, lifelong passions that he later shared with his sons. He was married in 1951 and raised four children.

After being stationed in England during World War II as a lab tech, Bob was accepted to Harvard Medical School, and he graduated in 1951. He moved to Seattle for a residency at King County Hospital. After his residency, he did a fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital with Dr. Fuller Albright, then returned to Seattle. Bob joined the Mason Clinic in 1957, where he spent most of his career as an endocrinologist, specializing in diabetes and thyroid disease. He was head of the endocrinology department at the Mason Clinic from 1967 to 1982. He was an early proponent of diabetic patient education and a pioneer in the use of the insulin pump.

In 1979, Bob married Gail Gilpatrick. Together, they enjoyed birding, fishing and boating, music and books, bridge and especially travel. Italy, Greece, Mexico and Turkey were favorite destinations. Whether traveling or at home, Bob enjoyed many friends of all ages, and he loved to cook and entertain. He loved a good conversation and was a lifelong learner, recently hosting a neighborhood discussion group that listened to a Harvard lecture series on philosophy. He was well-loved for his dry sense of humor, practical jokes and brutal honesty. He made a mean margarita.

For more than two decades, Bob volunteered two weeks each summer as camp doctor, first at Camp Parsons and later at YMCA Camp Orkila, introducing and integrating diabetic children to camp life. He educated and helped hundreds of diabetic children gain independence. Bob also served on many boards, including the boards of the YMCA, Planned Parenthood and NOW. He was president of the Washington and Alaska Diabetes Association for many years and founded the nonprofit Diabetic Health and Education Foundation, which created dozens of educational TV programs for people with diabetes and other patients. After retiring from the Mason Clinic, he continued working for a variety of healthcare organizations; he donated his services to the University of Washington, teaching medical residents and seeing patients at Harborview. He continued to work until he became ill last June.

He is survived by his wife of 30 years, Gail, his four children: Andy, Peter (Lori), Rob (O’Reilly), and Karn (Paul Fish), and eight grandchildren: Katie, Andrea, Norman, Bryan, Whitney, Kacie, Laurel and Robyn.

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