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Duane Alexander

Mar 6, 2020

Duane Alexander, M.D., head of the maternal and child health institute at the National Institutes of Health for more than two decades, died on February 16 of Alzheimer’s disease, near his home in Shepherdstown, WV. He was 79.

As Director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development from 19862009, Dr. Alexander led efforts to improve the health of mothers and children through research and its translation to practice. Examples include reducing HIV transmission from mother to infant, improving intact survival of premature infants, markedly expanding newborn screening and reducing sudden infant death syndrome fatalities through the Back-to-Sleep Campaign.

Born in Baltimore in 1940, Dr. Alexander grew up in Annapolis and earned his B.S. degree from Penn State in 1962. He received his M.D. in 1966 from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, where he completed his training in pediatrics and developmental disabilities. He began his NIH career in 1968 as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Public Health Service, retiring after 31 years with the rank of Assistant Surgeon General (Rear Admiral). His career in the USPHS included many years in research administration at NICHD, as well as four years as the physician on the staff of the federal commission that developed the U.S. regulations governing the protection of human subjects in research. This experience led to his service for 12 years as the U.S. Observer to meetings of the Council of Europe’s Committee on Bioethics.

For his leadership in improving maternal and child health, Dr. Alexander received numerous awards, including the Surgeon General’s Medallion, the American Medical Association’s Nathan Davis Award for Outstanding Government Service and awards from eight other national organizations for his outstanding public service in advancing maternal and child health in this country.

Dr. Alexander stepped down from the directorship of NICHD in 2009, moving to the NIH Fogarty International Center, where he served as an advisor to the director on global maternal and child health issues for several years, before moving to Shepherdstown, WV to be closer to grandchildren. Prior to this move, he lived for nearly 50 years on a small farm near Ellicott City, MD where he raised sheep, chickens, fruits and vegetables. He also loved music, history, nature and travel.

Dr. Alexander is survived by his immediate family in the Shepherdstown, WV area: wife, Marianne; son, Keith, and his wife, Eva Olsson; daughter, Kristin, and her husband, Jeff Feldman; and three grandsons, Felix Alexander, Max Alexander and J.J. Feldman. His brother, Arnold G. Alexander, also a physician, resides in Naples, FL. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, March 21 at 3 p.m. at the Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church in Shepherdstown, WV. A private burial took place at the family farm cemetery near Keyser, WV on February 21.

In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts can be made to SAIL (Shepherdstown Area Independent Living), an organization that enables older adults to remain active, connected, independent and in their homes and community as long as possible, and significantly contributed to Dr. Alexander’s quality of life in recent years.

SAIL, P.O. Box 2091, Shepherdstown, WV 25443.