Patricia Buffler, known for her work on some of the world’s largest studies on childhood leukemia and environmental health, and a former dean at the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health, died of a stroke while in her campus office Thursday evening, Sept. 26. She was 75. Best known for her work on childhood cancers, Buffler’s work covered a broad range of environmental health issues, including the effects of secondhand tobacco smoke and electromagnetic radiation. “No question she was one of the world’s leading researchers in childhood leukemia, but also in cancer epidemiology,” said Arthur Reingold, UC Berkeley professor and head of epidemiology. “It is standard now to look at the interaction of genetic determinants and environmental factors in disease, but Pat was one of the first people to apply it to leukemia. Because of her work, we now have a better understanding of a rare disease. Her loss is enormous.”
Buffler was born Aug. 1, 1938, in Doylestown, Pa. When she enrolled in the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., she became the first person in her family to go to college. She graduated in 1960 with a bachelor’s degree in nursing and biology, and then moved to New York where she worked as a public health nurse in Harlem. While she was in New York, Buffler met her future husband, Richard Buffler, a U.S. Navy communications officer stationed in Rhode Island, on a blind date. The couple married in 1962 and soon moved to California. While Richard Buffler obtained his Ph.D. in geology at UC Berkeley, Buffler worked as a public health nurse in Alameda County. She then earned her master’s in public health in 1965, and a Ph.D. in epidemiology in 1973, both at UC Berkeley.
She served as advisor to the World Health Organization, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. EPA and the National Research Council, among others. Buffler also served on scientific advisory boards of several major corporations and industries, including the Scientific Advisory Panel on Electromagnetic Health Effects of the Electric Power Research Institute and the DuPont Company’s Epidemiologic Review Board.
The family asks that memorial donations be sent to the Patricia A. Buffler Memorial Fund to support Buffler’s long-held wish for strengthening the School of Public Health, including help for students and a new building in the future. Checks should be made payable to the UC Berkeley Foundation and mailed to the School of Public Health, 417K University Hall, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-7360. The name of the fund should be noted on the check. Those wishing to donate online may do so by going to http://givetocal.berkeley.edu/buffler/.