Michael W. Shannon, the first African-American professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, whose work on environmental health and modern dance delighted colleagues and audiences alike, died Tuesday.
Shannon was returning from vacation when he collapsed for unknown reasons, according to the Boston Globe. He was 55.
The former head of emergency medicine at Harvard-affiliate Children’s Hospital was a leading authority on pediatric toxicology, said Gary R. Fleisher, chair of the Boston hospital’s department of medicine.
“He was extremely reliable—you could depend on him for anything,” said Fleisher, who was Shannon’s close friend and colleague. “He always did more than his share of what needed to be done.”
Shannon was returning from Argentina, where he spent his vacation taking tango lessons with his wife and friends.
Fleisher recalled Shannon’s passion for dance—which, along with his pursuit of medicine, would come to define his life.
“At our annual holiday parties, all the women would want to dance with Michael,” Fleisher said. “It was part of who he was.”
Shannon first began dancing during his undergraduate years at Washington University in St. Louis, before heading to medical school at Duke. The newly minted doctor then came to Children’s in 1983 to complete his training as a resident and fellow—and had not left since.
The pediatrician’s research on substance abuse and environmental health brought him to Washington, D.C., where he testified before the Food and Drug Administration on the unproven value of cold medicines for children.
In 2003, Shannon was named director of the hospital’s newly established Center for Biopreparedness, which is charged with delivering antidotes to children in case of biochemical terrorism.
Shannon’s interest in children’s health carried through to his life outside the hospital, leading him to form a youth group at his church to address teen issues such as sex, drugs, and alcohol.
“His quiet, gentlemanly ways will be greatly missed,” Children’s Chief Executive James Mandell wrote in a message to staff Tuesday afternoon.
Shannon is survived by his wife, Elaine, and two children, Evan and Lila—bothundergraduates at Stanford University.
—Staff writer Noah S. Rayman can be reached at email@example.com.
—Staff writer June Q. Wu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.