Chester Scott Keefer, M.D., D.Sc. (1897-1972)

A superb clinician, a remarkably effective educator, an able and productive investigator, and an astute administrator.” – these are the words used by Henry J. Baskt, M.D., Dean of the Medical School, 1969-1971, to describe Chester Scott Keefer on November 29, 1971. On this day, an auditorium in Evans was dedicated to Keefer to recognize his essential role in the Medical Center’s creation.

Chester Keefer came to Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) in 1940 from the Harvard-affiliated Thorndike Memorial Laboratory at Boston City Hospital, a move that surprised many of his colleagues who saw Boston University as less distinguished than the Harvard affiliate. But unlike his colleagues, Keefer saw potential in the facilities of the medical campus.
Keefer was appointed Wade Professor of Medicine; Chairman of the Division of Medicine; and Director, Evans Memorial Department of Clinical Research and Preventive Medicine. Shortly thereafter, he was named Physician-in-Chief, Massachusetts Memorial Hospitals (what later became University Hospital, then eventually Boston Medical Center). Part of Keefer’s plan to create a world-class medical center was the development of the Evans Memorial Department of Clinical Research.
While director of this department from 1940 until 1955, he greatly expanded the physical space of the department, increased the number of clinical investigation sections to fifteen, and recruited young investigators who also had teaching responsibilities at the Medical School and patient-care duties at the hospital.

During World War II, while maintaining his administrative responsibilities at the Medical Center, he was appointed Chairman of the National Research Council’s Committee on Chemotherapeutics and Other Agents. In this role, Keefer made individual determinations for administering the severely-limited supply of penicillin to needy patients. This function granted him the name “czar” of penicillin.

From 1944 to 1946, Keefer worked as the Medical Administrative Officer of the Committee on Medical Research of the Office of Scientific Research and Development – the chief governmental scientific research agency of the time. He also served as the first Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. For his service on behalf of the American people, Keefer earned the United States Medal of Merit. He was also awarded His Majesty’s Medal of Freedom from the country of Great Britain.

Keefer was Dean of BUSM from 1955 to 1960 and is credited with brokering the merger of BUSM and Massachusetts Memorial Hospitals (the associated teaching hospital) to form, in 1962, the academic health center that exists today. Thus, Keefer’s vision for the Medical Center – a unified organization combining medical education, patient care, and clinical research – was realized. Keefer briefly became director of the new union, but gave up the position upon his appointment as University Professor through which he dedicated his time to teaching, research, and training physicians and clinical investigators. In 1961, as University Professor, he organized the Six-Year Program of Medical Education (a predecessor to the currently-offered Seven Year Liberal Arts Medical Education Program). At the time of his death, he was Wade Professor of Medicine Emeritus and University Professor Emeritus.