Ellsworth physician, co-founder of genetics center, dies

Posted April 06, 2010, at 10:54 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:45 a.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — Dr. Morris “Mo” Lambdin was a driving force in the formation of the Center for Human Genetics that helped to pave a way for information developed through genetic research to be made available to physicians and their patients.

Lambdin, 88, a pediatrician who practiced in Ellsworth for 20 years, died last week.

“This is really the end of an era, an era that Mo started,” said Dr. Thomas Roderick, a former senior scientist and now professor emeritus at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor. Roderick and Lambdin co-founded the center along with Dr. James H. Thaidigsman and Merrill C. Bunker.

“He was the instigator,” Roderick said this week. “He was the one that really pushed for it.”

The center, founded in 1968 as the Genetic Counseling Center, is now in its 41st year. Over the decades, it has helped thousands of patients and their families to identify potential genetic problems and provided support through research, counseling, referrals and information.

Lambdin had been in practice in Maryland and was a professor of pediatrics at his alma mater, the University of Virginia, before he and his family moved to Ellsworth in 1962 to set up his pediatrics practice. In the early 1960s he began attending weekly lectures at The Jackson Laboratory, which were presented and attended mostly by staff members.

According to Roderick, Lambdin was concerned about some of the medical problems affecting his patients and was trying to determine whether they might have genetic origins.

That was in the early days of genetic research, when researchers were starting to make connections between genetic problems and specific medical conditions. Medical schools were just beginning to provide genetic training for physicians, and there was a gap between what was happening in research and the practicing physicians in the state.

Lambdin recognized the need to bring the benefits of the research to practicing physicians and to patients, according to Dr. Robert Beekman, an Ellsworth pediatrician and president of the board of directors at the center.

“He was way ahead of his time,” Beekman said. “He understood that this was important to clinical medicine; it wasn’t just lab stuff. … He was passionate about wanting to get this to his patients and to his colleagues.”

Roderick also said Lambdin saw the need “right off.”

“He saw that we needed to do something more concerted,” he said.

The center continues to provide services to physicians and to individuals with genetic disorders or diseases with genetic implications. The volunteer staff at the center, which includes practicing physicians and researchers, offers clinics and other kinds of support, including consultation for health care providers along with research and educational presentations.

As it has since its inception, the center provides all services without a fee.

Lambdin remained involved in the activities of the center and attended yearly clinical presentations each summer after his retirement. He was named an emeritus director at the center and, according to Roderick, remained an active and effective fundraiser.

Roderick said Lambdin was always positive. Although he could be “highly critical when it was warranted,” he was never negative, he said.

“I admired him so much. He was a great guy,” Roderick said. “He was a great singer and a fisherman, just a marvelous man. We see sadness now, but we’re happy that he had such a wonderful, productive life.”

A celebration of Lambdin’s life was held Tuesday at the Jordan-Fernald funeral home in Ellsworth.

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