Former Anesthesia Department Chair and Vice Dean for UCSF Clinical Affairs, William K. Hamilton, Has Passed Away

William (Bill) Kennon Hamilton, M.D., was born December 15, 1922 in Guthrie Center, Iowa and died peacefully June 29, 2017, in Carmichael, California, having lived a long, useful, and productive life.  Bill earned his B.A. (1943) and M.D degrees (1946) from the University of Iowa.  Following an internship, he entered the United States Army and served in Germany in the 97th General Hospital as Chief of Anesthesia. He returned to the University of Iowa and completed his anesthesia residency from 1949-1951, and subsequently joined their Anesthesia faculty. At the age of 35, he was appointed Chair of the University of Iowa Anesthesia Department.  Early in his career, a polio epidemic in Iowa greatly affected him and spawned a lifelong interest in pulmonary physiology and pulmonary care, and in the development of intensive care units, then a new concept.  His research interests included the effects of anesthetics on the venous system and measures to make anesthesia more effective and safe.  In 1967, he joined the faculty of the University of California, San Francisco as Professor and Chair of the Department of Anesthesia, a position he maintained until 1983.

As the Chair of Anesthesia at UCSF, Dr. Hamilton built the department into one of the premier Anesthesia Departments in the world.  While maintaining his commitment to superior patient care, teaching, and research, he greatly increased the number of faculty to meet the academic and clinical needs of the University.

Bill’s commitment was first and foremost to the care of patients.  Despite his administrative commitments, he continued to provide anesthesia for patients and was often asked to do so for faculty members and their families. To foster continued advances in clinical care, he taught the importance of integrating physiology and pharmacology into the daily practice of anesthesia and intensive care, as well as the need to do research that improved the care of patients.

Dr. Hamilton was one of the first academic anesthesia department chairs to provide anesthesia faculty with both financial support and time for research.  By doing so, he served as a scientific bridge between clinical care and research. Before the terms existed, Dr. Hamilton “thought outside the box” to support “translational” “bench to bedside” research.  With an unwavering focus on exemplary patient care, he sent faculty to other centers to learn new techniques and allowed some faculty to work in other clinical departments with like goals in mind. 

Dr. Hamilton also influenced the practice and teaching of anesthesia in many other countries, including Canada.  Many physicians from these countries came to San Francisco to work and study with him and his faculty.  They returned home and became outstanding clinicians and teachers, chairs of anesthesia departments, and deans of medical schools.  Thus, through his dedication to teaching and learning, he influenced medicine, not only in the United States, but also in many other countries.

In 1983, Dr. Hamilton became the first Vice Dean for Clinical Affairs at the University of California, San Francisco, serving as a liaison between the medical school and the hospital.  He was enormously successful in helping advance the academic and clinical missions of both entities.  As a result, the relationship between the hospital and medical school flourished. This has significantly benefited future generations of clinicians and, more importantly, patients.

Dr. Hamilton was an outstanding teacher. His insight into problems and ability to help students learn, not only for the day, but for the future, was exemplary.  He received many accolades for his outstanding contributions to medicine, but the awards he most cherished were “teaching awards.”

In 1992 Bill retired from the University to spend time with his wonderful and equally charismatic wife of 46 years Shyrlee, who was Bill’s best friend and confidant.  She contributed to his success in many ways. Unfortunately, Shyrlee died in 2002, which left a significant void in Bill’s life. When asked what he was doing in retirement he said, “Making music in two concert bands, golfing three times a week, napping in the afternoons most days.”

Bill was a great mentor, teacher, clinician, administrator, and friend.  He supported and developed many young (and some old) faculty and allowed them to flourish.  His guidance and leadership will be sorely missed.

Dr. Hamilton is survived by his son and daughter-in-law Douglas and Rebecca Hamilton, of Sacramento, CA, by his daughter Deborah Hamilton, of Lagunitas, CA, and by his grandchildren Courtney and Andrew Hamilton, of Sacramento, CA.

Click here to make a memorial contribution to the William K. Hamilton Distinguished Professorship, in support of research and scholarly endeavors in the Department of Anesthesia and Perioperative Care. You may also contact Allison White at [email protected] or 415.502.5868 for more information.

Donations can also be made in Dr. Hamilton’s name to Family House, 540 Mission Bay North, San Francisco, CA 94158, (415) 476-8321. Family House supports the families of children requiring long term hospital care, often for cancer.

A memorial service has been planned for Tuesday, October 10, 2017, from 4pm - 6pm in the Lange Room of the UCSF Kalmanovitz Library on the Parnassus Campus.