Philip S. Birnbaum

Philip Stanley Birnbaum, 90, of Reston, VA, passed away peacefully Sunday, December 3, 2017. 


Born in 1927, Jersey City, New Jersey.  Philip was the son of the late Rosa Pollak Birnbaum King and the late Philip Stanley Birnbaum Sr.  Marriage to the late Susan Ellmann ended in divorce.  He was preceded in death by wife Bertha Ann Gibbons Birnbaum and son Richard Ruckstuhl.

Philip Birnbaum spent his formative years living with family and grandfather Dr. Berthold Pollak in staff quarters of the New Jersey Medical Center.  An original New Deal project constructed during the Depression, the hospital was renamed the Berthold S Pollak Hospital for Chest Diseases in 1940 and remained the tallest building in Jersey City until 1989. With parental permission, at age 17 (having completed a semester of college), Philip Birnbaum enlisted in the US Navy during World War II, also serving in the Korean War and in Vietnam. Using the GI Bill, he earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in science and engineering from Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon) and from Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute.  After retirement from the Navy as a Commander in 1967 following 25 years of active duty, he worked for Stanford Research Institute. In 1968 he began a long association with the George Washington University Medical Center including the School of Medicine, the Hospital, and the Medical Faculty Associates, serving as Dean for Administrative Affairs for twenty years, followed by many years as professor of Medicine and of Health Care Sciences.  He saw many changes at GWUMC from student protests of the 70s to the implementation of an early form of HMO.  Having a great love of music and performance, one of his fond memories was involvement during the early years of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington DC.  In 1981 he was involved with coordination between the GW hospital and the U.S. Secret Service following the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan; he received several commendations from the Secret Service for his efforts. For many years, he served on the International Academy for Preventive Medicine and spoke both nationally and internationally on the organization and financing of medical education and health care.  Dean Birnbaum was well known for daily rounds walking the corridors of GW, starting at 6:00 a.m., visiting patients, checking in with staff and observing activities first hand; upon retirement he was named Dean Emeritus of the Medical Center, for Administrative Affairs, and Professor Emeritus of Medicine.  In 1990, the medical school established the Philip S Birnbaum prize in primary care to honor Dean Birnbaum. In retirement, he greatly enjoyed travelling to Europe, Florida and Cape Cod, most recently with dear friend Claire. 

He is survived by his brothers John King (spouse Maria Jesus) and Jeff King (spouse Laurie), children Marte (Mary Susan) Birnbaum (spouse Jacqueline) of Baltimore, Mark Ruckstuhl of Fairfax, Mike Ruckstuhl (spouse Maria Teresa) of San Antonio, daughter-in-law Vicki Ruckstuhl of Annapolis, grandchildren Jonathan (spouse Hannah), Alison (spouse Mike), Jessica, Michael Philip, Andrea, Alexandra, great-grandchildren Grace, Charlie, and Lyla, along with dear cousins, and many former friends and colleagues, particularly among the GWU family.  

A service will be held at Arlington National Cemetery at a future date.

Memorial donations may be made to Capital Caring Hospice Services of Falls Church, Virginia.