Campus & Community

David G. Freiman, pathologist in chief at Beth Israel

3 min read


David G. Freiman, pathologist in chief at Beth Israel Hospital from 1956 to 1979 and the first person at Beth Israel to hold a chair endowed by Harvard Medical School, has died from complications resulting from a fall in his home. He was 92.

Mitchell T. Rabkin, former president of Beth Israel Hospital, shared the following observations about his colleague: “David Freiman infused the vision of excellence and early history of Beth Israel Hospital into its more contemporary growth that made the institution internationally recognized for both scholarship in teaching and research, and its hallmark of (a) warm, personalized approach to the care of patients. For the members of his department, Dr. Freiman created a productive, effective, and comfortable academic home in which to work and to grow. Beyond that he was a thoughtful counselor and honest friend to many, forging much of the happy trajectory of Beth Israel during and well beyond his tenure as chief. So valuable and wide-ranging were his contributions that he continued in the service of the hospital until the accident that led to his demise. A rare gem of a man, he will be sorely missed.”

Added Joseph B. Martin, dean of Harvard Medical School, “David Freiman was a loyal member of the Harvard medical community, a respected leader in the study of pathology, and an inspirational teacher. He was a tireless contributor to the mission and goals of the Medical School, and he will be missed.”

A New York City native and a graduate of Long Island College of Medicine (now SUNY-Downstate), Freiman trained at Jewish Hospital in Brooklyn, Kingston Avenue Hospital for Contagious Diseases, and Montefiore Hospital before joining Massachusetts General Hospital as an assistant pathologist in 1944. He joined Beth Israel as pathologist in chief in 1956 and held the post until his retirement in 1979. Under his administration, the pathology laboratory was merged with the clinical laboratories and blood bank – and the department grew into what today is nationally recognized as a training and diagnostic center.

The author of more than 60 papers on various aspects of heart, blood vessel, and lung pathology, he was particularly well known for contributions to the pathology of blood clotting and for his studies of sarcoidosis, a disease of unknown cause that resembles tuberculosis and affects the lungs and other organs of the body.

In 1969, his accomplishments as an educator led to his appointment as Mallinckrodt Professor of Pathology, the first chair endowed by Harvard Medical School at Beth Israel. He played a key role in a major curriculum reorganization during the 1960s and 1970s, moving the curriculum away from the concept of “core” information required of all physicians to one that focused on multiple course options designed to give students more time and opportunity to explore their interests and achieve individual goals.

Following his retirement as pathologist in chief, Freiman served as a special assistant to Rabkin, coordinating efforts to space needs of clinical and research programs. He also continued his service at the medical school, participating in the development of student-faculty societies. Later, he worked on developing the archives of New England Deaconess Hospital after its merger with Beth Israel.

Freiman was the beloved husband of Ruth (Schein) Freiman, the medical center’s archivist, who has served as a volunteer and employee for more than 40 years.

In addition to his wife, Ruth, Freiman is survived by his daughter, Nancy; son, Leonard; and three grandchildren, Emily Webster, Nathan Freiman, and Eli Freiman. A funeral service was held Dec. 14 at the Levine Chapel, Brookline.