NEW YORK- Ralph Bishop Dell, a research scientist and biomathematical modeling expert, outdoorsman, and craftsman, and loving husband, father, and grandfather, died peacefully at his home in New York City on February 11 from progressive dementia. He was 84.
Dr. Dell was born in 1935 and reared in Alaska. He spent his formative years in Skagway on the state’s panhandle northwest of Juneau. As a teenager, he read the book “Microbe Hunters” by Paul de Kruif, and decided to become a scientist and physician. He graduated from Pomona College in 1957 and from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 1961, paying for his education by repairing radios and TVs.
Dr. Dell became a full professor at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center/Columbia University Physicians and Surgeons, one of the youngest people ever to be so appointed. He spent 37 years at Columbia before retiring in 2000.
Dr. Dell performed biomathematical modeling for research studies, publishing dozens of academic papers. With Robert Winters, MD, he co-authored a medical bestseller, “Acid Base Physiology in Medicine.” He was an inventor and patent holder with Columbia on a formula to promote growth in infants born prematurely. Nicknamed “Ralph’s Pretty Good Baby Food” by a friend, the formula was given to his own grandchild, Milo Pomykala-Hein, in the neonatal intensive care unit when Milo was born prematurely.
Dr. Dell was a champion of the appropriate use and treatment of animals in research, and a frequent speaker on the topic. At the National Academy of Sciences, where he served from 1995 to 2000, he headed the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research, where he was responsible for updating federally required guidelines that govern the care and use of animals in research.
When Dr. Dell was diagnosed with probable Lewy body dementia in 2011, clinicians asked if he wanted upon death to donate his brain for research. He agreed, noting that he had always “donated” his brain to science, and wouldn’t stop. A short video documentary, “Ralph and the Gift of Alzheimer’s Disease,” shown at the Riverstone Adult Day Program Gala in 2016, captured his and his wife’s desire to learn from the experience of dementia. To see the video go to https://vimeo.com/162835203.
Dr. Dell returned to his rural roots when he and Karen retired to Whitingham, VT, in 2003. They restored an 1826 farmhouse and, with friends, built hand-crafted Shaker-style cherry cabinetry, a goat barn and a Mongolian “ger” on the property.
In addition to his wife, Dr. Dell is survived by his four children and their partners, Laura Dell (Hugh Carter), Kenneth Dell (Nadia Barker-Dell), Ethan Hein (Anna Pomykala), and Molly Hein (Dan Griffin); five grandchildren, Olivia, Zoe, Milo, Bernadetta, and Ramona; and two sisters, Dorothy Hopkins and Mary Louis.
Gatherings to honor Dr. Dell’s life will be held in New York City and in Vermont in the coming months. In lieu of flowers donations in his memory may be made to The Gathering Place, an adult day program in Vermont that he attended, or to the Alaska Conservation Foundation.