Home / News / As the AIDS epidemic began, Dr. worked on HIV. John Fair passed away

As the AIDS epidemic began, Dr. worked on HIV. John Fair passed away


Dr. John Phair was a professor of infectious diseases at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and one of the early leaders in the study of HIV infection.

Professor of infectious diseases at Northwestern, Dr. Robert Murphy said Phair was “a great mentor who was instrumental at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in keeping people sane and responsive during the biggest health crisis of the day.”

Dr. John Phair. (Photo: Liz Phair)

Phair, 89, died of heart failure Feb. 19 at Westminster Place nursing home in Evanston, said her daughter, recording artist Liz Phair. She previously lived in Winnetka.

Born in Paris, France, John Philip Phair was born during World War II. Pathologist Dr. D., who directed the Meningitis Section of the Army’s Commission for the Control of Influenza and Other Epidemic Diseases during World War II. He was the son of John J. Phair. His mother, Phillis Wolfe Phair, was a registered nurse.

Raised in Boston, Louisville, and Cincinnati, Phair earned a bachelor’s degree from Yale University in 1956; There he captained the swim team and was named to the All-American team his senior year. He received his medical degree from the University of Cincinnati in 1960 and then returned to Yale to train in internal medicine and infectious diseases.

In 1962, Phair moved to Hiroshima, Japan, to spend two years studying the effects of radiation among atomic bomb survivors on behalf of the federal Atomic Bomb Casualties Commission. He returned to the United States in 1964 and continued his medical education at Yale. After completing a residency in 1965 and an immunology fellowship in 1967, Phair joined the faculty of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

In 1975, Phair took a sabbatical to work in an immunology laboratory in Sheffield, England, and moved her family abroad. The following year, he accepted the position of chief of infectious diseases at Northwestern and settled in Winnetka with his family.

Beginning in the late 1970s, Phair and other infectious disease researchers confronted a persistent and deadly new virus, HIV, whose cause and method of transmission initially baffled them. In addition to her role as a prominent researcher on HIV infections and AIDS, Phair has taken a public role as an advocate for greater funding for the understanding of AIDS and in educating the public about the disease.

“With the AIDS crisis, social hysteria surfaced…leading to irrational, insensitive, and sometimes illegal responses,” Phair wrote in a 1986 Tribune article. “Such actions threaten to tarnish our history… and can be as crippling as the disease.” itself. Clearly, concern about AIDS is justified and there must be a balance between public health and respect for civil liberties. But certain known facts should prevent us from taking irrational, counterproductive, and potentially regrettable actions.”

Liz Phair said her father supported AIDS patients early on, “when no one wanted to treat them.”

“Throughout my career, people from that community would come up to me and say, ‘Your father is our hero,'” he said.

D., who oversees the Potocsnak Center for HIV and Aging at the Feinberg School. Frank Palella recalled his infectious diseases fellowship under Phair and Murphy at Northwestern in the early 1990s.

“Unless you were there at the time, it’s hard to imagine how stressful the (AIDS) situation was, medically, socially and socially,” Palella said. “John responded to this situation with his characteristic selflessness and lack of concern for what was socially desirable but not what should be done. “He put Northwestern on the map through his research efforts and clinical care at the outpatient clinic he founded a few years later.”

From 1987 to 2012, Phair chaired the steering committee of the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study (known as MACS), a study of the natural history of HIV sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. Phair collaborated on the study with researchers from Johns Hopkins University, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of California at Los Angeles.

UCLA infectious diseases professor Dr. “He was able to bring together four very ambitious and strong-willed principal investigators who formed MACS,” said Roger Detels. “Under his leadership, MACS has published more than 2,000 scientific articles that have contributed to our understanding of the AIDS epidemic and the biological consequences of HIV infection.”

In 1987, Phair founded the Chicago AIDS Clinical Trials Group, which evaluates the treatment and complications of HIV infection.

Currently chairman of the department of medicine at New York University Long Island School of Medicine, Dr. Bruce Polsky met Phair while working at the AIDS Clinical Research Group on the East Coast.

“He put me and many others of my generation into leadership positions and led us to early and sustained success in clinical research and academic medicine,” Polsky said. “I owe much of what I have achieved to the opportunities that John, among others, provided me.”

In 1987, a Wilmette boy would become the first Chicago-area public school student with AIDS. D., chairman emeritus of Northwestern’s division of pediatric, adolescent and maternal HIV infection. Ellen Chadwick was the teenager’s doctor. She asked phair to help ease concerns about the situation.

“He was very calming and reassuring while educating the public that this child was not going to put their own children at risk,” Chadwick said. “Overall, he was a great advocate for his patients and (helped) the public learn about HIV and AIDS in a very reassuring way. This was not a path of conflict. It allowed people to learn at their own pace; “He was a master at it.”

Polsky recalled the initial resistance the AIDS Clinical Trials Group encountered in the academic research community.

“John deserves great credit for engaging AIDS treatment activists in those early days and involving them in the running of the organization, creating transparency and increasing the legitimacy of the work we do,” Polsky said. “John, along with others like Tony Fauci, saw that this was the right direction to produce the results that all stakeholders were looking for.”

Phair chaired the AIDS Research and Advisory Committee of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases from 2000 to 2002. She has also been published in medical texts and journals.

Phair retired from Northwestern in 2000 but continued to participate in the MACS study until 2019, her daughter said.

Following Phair’s retirement, Northwestern established the John Philip Phair Professor of Infectious Diseases chair in his name as a recognition of Phair’s dedication and leadership in the field.

In addition to his daughter, Phair is survived by his wife of 66 years, Nancy; a son, Phillip; and three grandchildren.

A service is planned to be provided towards the end of this year.

Goldsborough is a freelance reporter.


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