William Darrel Ensminger, professor emeritus of internal medicine and pharmacology, died peacefully in his sleep at age 79 on March 11. In an instant, the world became less inquisitive, generous, sensitive, funny, creative and wise.
He was born April 3, 1942, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to the late William F. and Elizabeth Ensminger.
As an oncologist and clinical researcher in the early 1980s, he played an instrumental role in the development of implantable ports. These medical devices continue to improve and extend the lives of hundreds of thousands of patients a year by providing safe, reliable venous access for treatments like chemotherapy.
A skilled clinician, Bill valued frankness and honesty. In later years, he relished spending more time getting to know each patient in the clinic.
Bill was preceded in death by Karen, his wife of 53 years, who experienced two decades of relentless medical challenges, which Bill approached with the unstoppable determination of a loving husband, analytical scientist and world-class physician.
He is survived by his son Alexander, grandson Isaac (Ike), daughter-in-law Julie Claycomb, sisters Zelda Zimmerman and Lois Parker, brother Joel Ensminger, sister-in-law Ruth Ensminger, Karen’s extended family, and numerous nieces, nephews, friends and colleagues.
A lifelong learner, Bill received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Michigan, a Ph.D. from Rockefeller University in virology, and an M.D. from Harvard Medical School. He completed a medical oncology fellowship at Harvard Medical School, where he was an assistant professor from 1977-78.
In 1978, he returned home to U-M as an associate professor of internal medicine in the Division of Hematology/Oncology. In 1982, he was promoted to professor of internal medicine and of pharmacology. As a physician-scientist, his work helped cancer patients near and far.
Bill’s commitment to leadership and service touched every aspect of his life. At U-M, he served as associate director (1980-90) and then director (1990-2001) of the Clinical Research Center, director of the Upjohn Center for Clinical Pharmacology (1983-2010), and director of the Cancer Pharmacology Program (1982-99). He was vice chair of the Medical School Institutional Review Board from 2004 until his death.
Within the broader university community, Bill chaired the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs (1998-99) and was a longtime member of the Academic Freedom Lecture Fund Board and the American Association of University Professors.
Away from the university, he and Karen were active members in the First United Methodist Church. When the church opened a new Green Wood location, they helped shape it into a vibrant, welcoming community.
Bill and Karen loved entertaining friends and family at their cottage on Independence Lake, where Bill served as Lake Association president from the 1980s until 2021. Even at university events, Bill would frequently joke about — and take pride in — being known as “Karen Ensminger’s husband.” She co-founded the Scrap Box, a local institution, in 1983. Its success and longevity is a testament to their generosity toward the community and their steadfast commitment to one another.
Since Karen’s passing in 2018, Bill found joy in his grandson Ike, his family, and the familiar routine of life in Ann Arbor. The family would like to thank those in the community whose small acts of kindness served as waypoints in Bill’s life.
Friends, family and other well-wishers are invited to attend an outdoor memorial service at 11 a.m. June 11 at the First United Methodist Church 120 S. State St., Ann Arbor. As a tribute to Bill’s legacy of care, the family kindly asks for all attendees to wear masks.
— Submitted by Alexander Ensminger