Richard K.C. Hsieh

Public health specialist and medical librarian traced his lineage in China to about A.D. 600

  • Richard K.C. Hsieh
Richard K.C. Hsieh (unknown, Baltimore Sun )
January 09, 2012|By Timothy B. Wheeler, The Baltimore Sun

Richard K.C. Hsieh, a public health specialist and former National Library of Medicine official who in retirement traced his family tree back to seventh-century China, died of a heart attack Dec. 31 at his Towson home.

He was 79.

Born in 1932 in Tianjin, China, not far from Beijing, Richard Hsieh (pronounced Shay) moved with his family to Taiwan after World War II, according to his wife of 51 years, the former Rebecca Tung. He came to the United States in 1953 from Hong Kong to enroll at the Johns Hopkins University, where his father had done graduate studies in the 1920s.

He earned four degrees at Hopkins: a bachelor's in engineering science, two master's and a doctorate in public health. It was while he was in school in Baltimore that he became reacquainted with his future wife, a friend's sister he had met when both were teenagers in Hong Kong. She came to the United States to finish college, and they were married in 1960.

Upon graduation, Dr. Hsieh became a U.S. citizen and a reserve officer in the U.S. Public Health Service commissioned corps. He served as chief of health services research from 1966 to 1981, and he represented the U.S. government in negotiating international health agreements with Israel, Yugoslavia and Pakistan.

He later spent a decade working at the National Library of Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, retiring in 1996 as director of international programs.

Throughout many of the years he commuted to the Washington area from the family's Towson home, Mr. Hsieh drove the same 1967 red Mustang — the floor of which, his wife recalls, had rusted through by the time he sold it.

"He worked for over 15 years in Washington, but he refused to move," said his daughter, Dr. Karen Lu, 47, a cancer surgeon and researcher in Houston. "He had such a deep love for Baltimore. It was his first home after coming as a young college student from China."

Dr. Hsieh was a great believer in the value of education and managed on his federal salary to put two children through private school and universities, said his son, Timothy Hsieh, a patent attorney in Potomac. Dr. Hsieh was a loyal Hopkins alumnus, serving at one point as president of the health school's alumni society.

Besides his full-time work, Dr. Hsieh was a lecturer at Hopkins' School of Hygiene and Public Health — now the Bloomberg School of Public Health — from 1966 to 1987, and served on a seven-member review board for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene from 1983 to 1995. He published more than 17 articles on public health in journals and conference proceedings. He also wrote two books on Chinese calligraphy.

His children remembered Dr. Hsieh as a doting father and grandfather, and said that in his younger days he had been an avid tennis player and the coach of his son's baseball team. Dr. Hsieh was also a Baltimore Orioles fan who enjoyed taking in games with his children.

"He brought me to my first game when I was 7 or 8," recalled Mr. Hsieh, who said his father would buy peanuts and hot dogs before they settled in on the bleachers.

After his retirement, Dr. Hsieh had two main hobbies: watching his grandchildren play sports and genealogy, his daughter said.

Documenting his family history took Dr. Hsieh around the world to archives and libraries in China and Salt Lake City, among other places, his family said. His wife, who taught Chinese at Hopkins until her retirement last year, accompanied him on a few trips. Dr. Hsieh traced his lineage to around A.D. 600 and gave copies of his meticulously researched family tree, much of it in Chinese, to his children.

A memorial service is planned for Jan. 28, at a location to be determined.

In addition to his wife and two children, Dr. Hsieh is survived by a brother, Thomas Hsieh, and a sister, Carol Lee, both of San Francisco; and five grandchildren.

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