Friday, June 08, 2007

Mysterious death just got more mysterious

A few weeks ago, a faculty member here at OHSU was in the History of Medicine Room and mentioned to us that his current office was the site of an old death: the head of toxicology had "keeled over at his desk," according to the story. Who was it?? we asked--but the name of the deceased wasn't known by this particular faculty member. Mostly, he wanted to know who else might have inhabited that office over the course of the last 100 years, and whether anyone else had met their demise in its confines.

Well, this morning, I stumbled across the name of the dead toxicologist, all unexpectedly, going through the materials from the News & Pubs faculty files donation we received last month. In the folder labeled "Aitchison, John P., PhD" I found the following typewritten document:
John P. Aitchison
3710 SW Caldrew Street, Portland
born: August 18, 1934
age: 49
associate professor, department of clinical pathology, chief of toxicology
with the handwritten note:
found in his office at approx 6:20 this morning by a lab technician
There are also some mysteriously vague phone message notes included in the folder, and the entire obituary page from the Wednesday, April 6, 1983 Oregonian--which makes NO mention whatsoever of Aitchison's death. Hmmmm...

A search of the online Social Security Death Index is not much more informative:
BIRTH: 18 Aug 1934
DEATH: Apr 1983
LAST RESIDENCE: (not specified)
LAST BENEFIT: (none specified)
ISSUED: California

As it turns out, Aitchison had been born in New Westminster, BC, and educated at UBC, UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco. He joined the University of Oregon Medical School in 1969 as an assistant professor and had achieved the rank of associate professor in 1973. He had been considered an authority in industrial and forensic toxicology.

He is buried in Crescent Grove Cemetery in Tigard, Oregon; the cemetery register lists him as a Mason.

I can only begin to wonder whether he was the victim, inadvertent or intentional, of the substances he studied. The mystery lingers for the next researcher...

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