By Janice O’Leary
The Keck School of Medicine community mourns the February 5 death of Allen W. Mathies, MD, PhD, who served as dean of the medical school from 1975 to 1985. In 1999, he was named Dean Emeritus of Keck School of Medicine of USC. He was 92.
During his tenure, he oversaw some of the Keck School’s most significant years of growth, including the building of the Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, the doubling of the number of faculty, substantially increasing the school’s endowment, and making the decision to build and operate a university hospital.
“That represented a 180-degree turn for USC,” he said in an interview for the USC Living History Project in 2007, taking responsibility for a hospital rather than partnering with Los Angeles County, as had been the model for the LAC+USC Hospital relationship. “It would put us so far ahead with research and translational science,” he said.
“He felt strongly about this decision,” his wife, Weta, recalled in an interview. “He felt the faculty needed a place where they could also see private patients.”
During his time as dean, he helped change the character of the school, a shift he says began with his predecessors, Franz Bauer, MD, Roger Egeberg, MD, and Clayton Loosli, MD, PhD, who wanted to see it move from a school that trained physicians to practice, to one that also encouraged scientific investigation. It was Dean Bauer who first named Mathies to an administrative post, as associate dean of the medical school.
During his 2007 Living History interview, Mathies told the story of when he questioned Bauer, “What does an associate dean do?” And Bauer answered, “You do whatever I want you to do. And when I’m not here, you act as dean.” He found himself participating in the recruitment of faculty, allocating budgets and space. “It was a wonderful apprenticeship,” he said.
It’s no surprise that Mathies was as passionate about research as he was the practice of medicine. After growing up in Colorado and doing his undergraduate work at Colorado College, he served as an Army hospital lab technician at Fort McClellan, Ala, and then earned a master’s degree and PhD in parasitology from Columbia University. He ultimately sought to understand both the organism and the host, which led him to pursue a medical degree, which he received, cum laude, from the University of Vermont College of Medicine in 1961.
He came to USC as an intern and then a resident in pediatrics. In 1963, he was appointed senior lecturer in biological sciences at USC and then was named an assistant professor of pediatrics in 1964. He served as the head of the communicable disease service at LA County Hospital. He saw a diphtheria epidemic grip the city, and treated cases of meningitis, typhoid, tuberculosis. He witnessed the rollout of new classes of antibiotics and vaccinations. “It was a glorious time to be engaged in that kind of activity,” he said in his 2007 interview.
After 10 years as dean, Mathies left USC in 1985 and became the chief executive officer and president of Huntington Hospital. He helped shape that institution’s future, beginning with outlining a master plan and then building a new hospital. Upon his retirement 1995, he became president emeritus and a member of the board of directors, where he served until his last day.
Mathies continued his affiliation with USC as an Emeritus Member of the USC Board of Councilors and a member of the Institutional Biosafety Committee, helping to ensure the safety of laboratory technicians and scientists as they worked with gene transfers and viruses. In his 2007 interview, Mathies spoke of his relationship with USC with genuine fondness, “It’s been a wonderful association, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
“He loved his time at USC,” said Weta. “He was very proud of his time there. And of course, he loved USC football. We had season tickets.”
Mathies is survived by Weta, his beloved wife of 67 years, their two sons, John and Bill (Lisa), his sister Margaret (Ed), his granddaughters, Amanda (Jack) and Riley (Mark), and his great-granddaughter, Georgia. Donations can be made in Mathies’ memory to the Keck School of Medicine.