Dr. Robert Woods Brown, a prominent San Francisco Internist and longtime seasonal resident of La Quinta, died December 23 at his home in the Coachella Valley after a year-long battle with leukemia. He was 84. Born in Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1928, Bob graduated from DePauw University in 1949, and followed his brother, Arnold L. Brown, to medical school. He graduated from Cornell University Medical College in 1953, followed by an internship at the University of Chicago. In 1954 he joined the Air Force as a Flight Surgeon, and was on board the service's first non-stop flight from Japan to Australia. Residency was back at the University of Chicago Clinics and Hospital in 1956-59; from 1959 to 1961 Bob was among the hospital's instructors and researchers. In those years, he also accomplished one of his life's goals in earning his pilot's license, giving him many joyful hours. Bob moved to San Francisco in 1962 and built a storied solo medical practice at 500 Sutter Street. The commercial pilots of the Bay Area were among Bob's most enduring and dedicated patients. For 50 years Bob was a Senior Aviation Medical Examiner for the Federal Aviation Administration. He was committed to upholding the exacting health standards for pilots that were required for aviation safety. Bob married the love of his life, Vera, in August 1968 on Madeline Island, off the south shore of Lake Superior in Wisconsin, saving him from his extended bachelorhood. Bob and Vera were inseparable for 44 years, building an active and joyful life together on the crooked block of Lombard Street on Russian Hill, traveling whenever possible to such destinations as Alaska, Europe, the Mediterranean, and Indonesia. Golf often defined, and bedeviled, their life together, and Bob and Vera became among the most venerable members at the San Francisco Golf Club, the Olympic Club, and PGA West. Bob's generosity, humor and good cheer were infectious, and his life and his medical practice attracted people like columnist Charles McCabe, author and television host Alistair Cooke, and Robert Cameron, the famed San Francisco photographer. In 1965 Bob's off-hand advice to Cameron to lose weight through the Air Force Diet accidentally inspired a publishing sensation that was "The Drinking Man's Diet." That light-hearted, low-carbohydrate nutritional guide - to Bob's amazement and occasional professional discomfort - was featured in both Time and Newsweek magazines, and eventually sold 2.4 million copies in 13 languages. (Bob's contribution, at his request, was acknowledged in the first edition only). In an example of the intellectual inquisitiveness that guided his life, Bob graduated from the Golden Gate School of Law in 1973 at the age of 45. As a physician and attorney, Bob became one of California's few agreed medical examiners for workmen's compensation cases, a role that required the respect and trust of all sides. Bob is survived by his wife, Vera, of San Francisco and La Quinta; his brother Arnold of Rochester, Minnesota; and eight nephews and nieces, many of whom were with him as he died.
Published in The Desert Sun from Jan. 19 to Jan. 27, 2013