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Herbert Perkins

Herbert Perkins Obituary
Herbert Asa Perkins, MD

Herbert Asa Perkins, MD, a beloved husband, father, grandfather and mentor passed away early Tuesday morning at the age of 94. Herb lived his life with grace and humility. His actions spoke louder than words possibly could; Dr. Perkins' lifetime achievements contributed profoundly to the scientific foundation of the fields of transfusion and transplantation medicine, and to the education and training of scientists, fellows, physicians, and medical technologists in these fields.

Born and raised in Boston of two first-generation immigrants, Herb diligently earned an undergraduate degree from Harvard University. He went on to complete medical school at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, during which time he courted and married the one true love of his life, Frances Perkins.

In 1944, Dr. Perkins commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant in the Medical Corps of the United States Army and served active duty in the Southwest Pacific. While stationed in Japan, he was joined by his wife and newborn daughter Susie whom he had not yet met, exemplifying their inseparability and his devotion to family. "FrananHerb," as they were amicably called by friends, returned to the United States where he discharged as a Major and launched a purposeful medical career.

Herb and family traveled from coast to coast, during which time he served teaching appointments at Tufts University School of Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and Washington University School of Medicine amongst others, before settling in Palo Alto to raise a family which grew to five daughters.

Dr. Perkins' work ranged from studies in the early 1960s that contributed to understanding of blood coagulation, solved the bleeding problem of heart-lung bypass and led to the first open heart surgeries, to work in the 1970s characterizing the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) system and the role of HLA matching in organ and bone marrow transplantation, to studies in the 1980s on prevention of transfusion-transmission of HIV and other infections. Herb's multidisciplinary expertise grew to encompass Coagulation, the HLA System, Virology, and ultimately Legal Medicine. He was retained by Irwin Memorial Blood Bank (now Blood Centers of the Pacific) as the Director of Research, where he achieved the reference lab's accreditation by the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB), set up a training school for blood bank technologists, and carried out research of his own which was instrumental in combatting transfusion associated AIDS. Herb went on to serve as Scientific Director, Medical Director, President & CEO of Irwin, often wearing multiple hats. After retirement in 1993, Herb remained involved at Irwin and continued to mentor fellows and discuss research through the completion of his life.

In other notable accomplishments, Herb also co-founded and served as director and chair of the board for the National Marrow Donor Program, acted as president of the American Society for Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics, chaired the Standards and Histocompatibility committees for the AABB and was an associate editor for the Journal of Transfusion. Dr. Perkins was one of only four recipients of AABB's prestigious Fantas Award, which recognizes lifetime contributions to the fields of transfusion medicine and cellular therapy, and is the namesake for a Scientific Lectureship Award which sponsors a distinguished scientific speaker each year at the California Blood Bank Society Annual Meeting. Ever humble, Herb attributed much of his career to serendipity.

Throughout his life, Dr. Perkins remained dedicated wholly to his wife and children. At one point he rved as chair of the board for Peninsula School which his daughters attended, and was the camp doctor at Camp Trinity where they spent their summers. Next to family, Herb considered education to be of the utmost importance, andprovided every opportunity for higher education to his 5 daughters and their children for generations to come. Herb could be found in best spirits when surrounded by those dear to him as punctuated by a smile, whistle or a hum. His benevolence educed respect, and Herb stood steadfast as a rock for support or a guardian for direction at all times.

Herb is loved and missed by his family who continue to care for his wife of 71 years. His loss will be felt by all who knew him and benefitted from his wisdom, support, leadership and friendship. As Dr. Michael Bush, his successor as Director of Research at Irwin testified, "I was extremely fortunate to have Herb as my mentor, colleague and friend for 30 years. He was wonderful scholar and human being. He lived 95 years without a wasted moment, and never said an unkind word to or about anyone. His legacy will live on in so many that he has trained and mentored." As Herb would be the first to acknowledge, great advancements are launched from the shoulders of giants. Herb's shoulders will stand as a cornerstone for generations to come.

A memorial service will be held on a later date at Blood Centers of the Pacific in San Francisco, CA. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Jewish Community Federation, FBO Herbert & Frances Perkins Fund at 121 Steuart St. San Francisco, CA. 94105. For further contact, email

[email protected]

Published in San Francisco Chronicle on Aug. 4, 2013
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