University professor leaves legacy

The world-renowned geneticist will be remembered for his humanitarianism.

by Sam Darcy

Dr. Robert Gorlin, an internationally-acclaimed expert in oral pathology and genetic birth defects, died Aug. 29 after an eight-year battle with lymphatic cancer. He was 83.

Gorlin, whose research led him to discover more than 100 syndromes caused by genetic defects, spent more than 50 years treating children with disfiguring diseases at the University’s School of Dentistry.

“Bob Gorlin was one of the most famous faculty members of the University of Minnesota, and, without question, the No. 1 person in his field in the entire world,” said Dr. Michael Rohrer, director of the School of Dentistry’s Division of Oral Pathology.

Rohrer said Gorlin’s combination of genius and humanitarianism toward everyone he came into contact with made him a favorite of patients and their families.

“Some patients were grotesque to the general community, but he treated them like absolutely normal people,” Rohrer said. “Patients and parents loved him, and they kept in touch for years.”

Relatives and colleagues described him as an easygoing, humble man who had a funny quip for everyone he met, from janitors to royalty, Rohrer said.

Dr. Guilan Norouzi, a former student of Gorlin at the University, said she remembers her first year as an international student.

She said Gorlin treated her like his most distinguished colleague despite her lack of confidence.

“He could spot someone a little behind and give them hope and support,” she said.

In addition to having six syndromes named after him, Gorlin’s book “Syndromes of the Head and Neck” has been published in five languages and is the absolute “bible” for the entire field, Rohrer said.

His wife, Marilyn Gorlin, said he always had a great love for Minnesota, the Twin Cities and especially the University.

“He loved the social consciousness and the decency of the people of Minnesota,” she said. “And the University was the most important part of his life.”

Robert Gorlin, born in Hudson, N.Y., earned his doctorate in dental surgery at Washington University School of Dentistry in 1947 and his master’s in oral pathology from Iowa State in 1956.

He also served as a soldier in World War II and as a doctor in the Korean War, Marilyn Gorlin said.

Robert Gorlin retired from the University in 1993, but continued to research and lecture through July.

The University named him a Regents’ Professor in 1978, and in 2002 he received

“arguably the University’s highest honor,” an honorary

Doctor of Science Award, Rohrer said.

Robert Gorlin was diagnosed with cancer eight years ago and given three years to live, Marilyn Gorlin said. But, she said, he had too much work to leave behind.

“The whole world lost a great asset,” Norouzi said. “It will be decades before we have another with the character of Bob Gorlin.”

He is survived by his wife of 54 years; a daughter, Cathy; a son, Jed; and five grandchildren.