Stephen Schwartz, MD, PhD, 1942-2020

Dr. Stephen Schwartz, one of Seattle’s first victims of the COVID-19 virus.

Dr. Stephen Schwartz, a tenured professor of pathology at the University of Washington and a world-famous researcher in the field of vascular biology, passed away this week, a victim of COVID-19. He was 78 years old.

Dr. Schwartz was born in Boston, where he attended Boston Latin and Harvard. He served in the US Navy so he could earn his doctoral degree, then moved to Seattle, where he did his residency in the Department of Pathology. He was named a full professor in 1984, and was also an adjunct professor in the Department of Bioengineering. His professional specialty was vascular biology.

After his retirement he devoted his considerable intellectual energy to a blog, Handbill.US, which became a bulletin board for his many interests: public affairs, liberal politics, international relations, Jewish history, economics, the environment, commentaries on Donald Trump and on China.

Dr. Schwartz was proudly Jewish. A couple of years ago, he described his early upbringing:

I grew up as the son of a family physician in Hyde Park, a lower class, Irish-Italian part of Boston. My mother chose Hyde Park because she felt Jews should not live in ghettoes. Anti-Semitism then was all to real. When my parents bought their house prior to WWII, our next-door neighbor was active in the American Bund. My parents received death threats even after my Dad returned from his Army service in WWII where he played a heroic role in the liberation of Buchenwald. Some patients avoided my Dad’s office because he was the Jewish doctor; others came to him for just that reason! I knew little of this until, one day on the way home from elementary school, I was stoned by neighborhood kids as a “Christ Killer” as a result of lessons taught by the nuns in catechism classes attended by all my classmates. Later, in the fifth grade, I was beaten with a bamboo stick by my Catholic teacher after her male friend, the shop teacher, had a heart attack. I assumed this was because I was the only non-Catholic kid in her class.

Life in Hyde Park was not all bad. While we did not celebrate Christmas, some of my Dad’s patients would gift us kids small presents that we found in stockings hung by the fireplace. I also made friends at school and learned a lot about life as a minority. Father Joe, the parish priest, became a special friend. He even secretly gave me last rites when everyone expected me to die from an abdominal bleed at age 12!

Stephen had friends and acquaintances of all persuasions, all over the globe. His Facebook friends were legion, and often mortal enemies of each other. He and his wife, Barbara, were also avid movie-goers and eager patrons of new restaurants. Most fondly, though, they both enjoyed boating, cruising the waters of Puget Sound along with their dog, an intrepid little Shiba Inu.

May his memory be for a blessing.