Friday, October 20, 2006

Remembering Harold Osterud

Yesterday, we received a patron request for materials on the history of the OHSU Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine. The mere question brought back a flood of memories of Emeritus Professor Dr. Harold T. Osterud (1923-2004), longtime chair of the department (1967-1990) and unofficial OHSU historian.

In the short time I knew him, Dr. Osterud was always working on a history of the university; in that endeavor, he sought to follow in the footsteps of another former faculty member, Dr. Olof Larsell, who wrote the magisterial book The Doctor in Oregon in 1947. As a matter of course, Dr. Osterud was also working on a history of the department of PH & PM, and I didn't realize that he had never finished that project until we got the call from the current departmental staff. Luckily, we received many of Dr. Osterud's working files after he passed away (Accession 2004-004). Although the collection remains unprocessed, we have a brief inventory of the contents and can provide access to the materials. (Incidentally, we also have many of the working papers of Dr. Larsell, in the Olof Larsell Papers, Accession 1999-011.)

Most everyone who knew Dr. Osterud spoke fondly of him; an obituary that ran in the Oregonian reads (in part): "Dr. Osterud's southern roots gave him two more skills that pleased and enriched the lives of his friends and colleagues. He was a gifted jazz pianist (playing by ear) and a colorful storyteller who knew how to weave a good yarn and a public health lesson into an unforgettable image." Experience some of his stories yourself by checking out his oral history interview.

What I remember most was his fascination with the details of the school's history, his extreme care and attention to detail. Some time ago, before we had in place the proper technology for safely scanning or copying fragile materials, he copied by hand the entire Record of Deaths, 1891-1901 (Accession 2001-010) in the hopes of elucidating patterns in the City's public health efforts. A bit like Tristram Shandy, his book on the history of OHSU never did get much past the birthing, but it was a wonderful tale.

1 comment:

Erin Fleming said...

My Dad struggled with becoming an historian or a doctor. He became a doctor, but the historian shadowed him his entire career. Erin Osterud Fleming