Dr. Robert E. Farber, 85, family physician, health commissioner

April 09, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Dr. Robert Ennis Farber, a retired family practice physician and former Baltimore health commissioner, died of lung disease Wednesday at his Roland Park home. He was 85.

Born in Pierce, W.Va., Dr. Farber was raised in Sparrows Point, where his father practiced medicine. He was a 1936 graduate of Gilman School and earned a chemistry degree from Princeton University.

After graduating from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1943, he joined the Navy and was a ship's doctor aboard the USS Karnes, an attack transport that delivered troops for landings in the Pacific island-hopping campaign of World War II.

Dr. Farber crossed the Pacific several times and participated in engagements at Okinawa, Saipan and the Marshall Islands. After the war, he assisted Chinese nationalists regaining control of China.

"One day the surgeon was not available, and he went off and performed a successful appendectomy at sea," said his son, Robert E. Farber Jr. of Arlington, Va. "He found his war services challenging, but it was one of the great experiences of his life."

Dr. Farber attained the rank of lieutenant commander and joined his father in a general practice in Sparrows Point in the late 1940s.

"A point of pride for him was the 600 babies or more he delivered over the course of the seven years he was in practice," his son said.

In 1954, Dr. Farber turned from private practice to work for the city Health Department and later earned a master's degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health.

"My father was not a flashy person. He was a reliable man who held strong feelings and a personal responsibility for what he was doing," his son said. "He took a small health department and made it deliver many services to large parts of the population. He felt the health of the city was better because of what his department accomplished."

In 1962, then-Mayor J. Harold Grady appointed him as commissioner of health. He held the job for 12 years and oversaw enlargement of an agency that benefited from increased federal funding under the Great Society initiative of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

"He was a competent, conscientious health commissioner," former Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro III said yesterday. "He was not a crier. He accepted the responsibilities of his task in businesslike fashion. He governed his agency with a great deal of attention."

Newspaper articles and editorials noted that city infant mortality rates fell 15 percent under his administration. Polio, measles and tuberculosis were virtually eliminated.

He retired at the end of 1974, and focused his free time on doing wood and needle work and researching family history.

Services will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday at St. David's Episcopal Church, Roland Avenue and Oakdale Road.

In addition to his son, survivors include his wife of 57 years, the former Mary Raymond Streeter; another son, Allen S. Farber of Oneonta, N.Y.; a brother, Dawson Farber of Towson; and two granddaughters.

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