Richard L. Tannen, 82, chair of the Department of Nephrology at the Medical School from 1978-88, passed away peacefully on Feb. 22, in New York City, following a long illness. 

Richard L. Tannen
Richard L. Tannen

He leaves behind his loving wife of 30 years, Vivien Tannen; son, Bradford (Iris); daughters, Jennifer Geiling (Greg), Julie Art (Jonathan), Whitney Jones (Walter) and Alison McMillen; nine grandchildren; brother, Jay Tannen (Linda); and many friends.

Tannen was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1937, to Harold and Fannie Tannen. The family later relocated to Memphis, Tennessee. He attended Vanderbilt University and received his medical degree from the University of Tennessee. He completed his residency and fellowship in nephrology at the Brigham Hospital in Boston.

During the Vietnam War, Tannen served as a major in the U.S. Army at the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. Following his military service, Tannen and a colleague started the Department of Nephrology at the University of Vermont, where he became an associate professor and division chief.

In 1978, Tannen accepted a position as the chair of nephrology at the U-M Medical School, where he also served as associate dean for hospital affairs and director of the Kidney Research Center. In 1988, he accepted a position as chair and professor of medicine at the University of Southern California School of Medicine.

Tannen ended his illustrious academic medical career at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, where he served as senior vice dean from 1995-2002.

Tannen co-authored several textbooks on nephrology, published numerous articles in medical and scientific journals, was a frequent speaker at national and international medical conferences, and received research support from the National Institutes of Health for most of his career.

In 1991, he was elected president of the American Society of Nephrology. He also served on the Board of the American Heart Association. One of the highlights of his career was being invited with several associates to meet with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican to discuss the church’s support of organ donations, which the Vatican later publicly encouraged.

Upon retirement, Tannen’s love for science and medicine led him to retool himself with the study of biostatistics, with the ultimate goal of pursuing a passion project — investigating the utility of computerized ambulatory medical record databases to inform medical practices and the efficacy of clinical trials.

From 2002-17, Tannen received numerous grants from various entities totaling more than $2.5 million to pursue his research. His work in this emerging field of computational medicine laid the foundation for continued research in the efficacy of using medical record databases to impact medical research, and the development of new treatments. 

When not pursuing his interests in science and medicine, Tannen enjoyed spending time with his family, reading, playing tennis and golf, and cheering on the Michigan Wolverines. He will be dearly missed by his family and friends.

A private memorial service will be held and a bench in New York’ City’s Central Park will be dedicated in his memory.

— Submitted by the Tannen family

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