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A Career Built on Heartbeats

By Kimber Williams

Headshot

Robert DeHaan

Emory Photo/Video

Professor Emeritus Robert DeHaan, whose intellect, energy, and research enriched three different disciplines at Emory, died October 29, 2013, of complications from pneumonia.

DeHaan, who was eighty-two, came to Emory in 1973 to study the intricacies of the human heart, including cutting-edge research into the electrophysiology of heartbeats. An acclaimed cell biologist, he is also widely remembered for teaching embryology in Emory’s School of Medicine, one of the first classes required of every medical student.

But his career and intellectual curiosity were far-reaching. Following his personal interests, DeHaan also helped found the Emory Center for Ethics and in the 1990s switched academic gears, focusing upon a major initiative to help improve science curriculum in elementary schools.

His research career spanned five decades, including positions on faculties of the Carnegie Institution of Washington Department of Embryology, the Johns Hopkins University, and both Emory’s School of Medicine and College of Arts and Sciences.

Born in Chicago, DeHaan was raised in California, where he attended UCLA. Graduate work took him to Amsterdam, then to UCLA to complete a doctorate, where his research focused upon cardiac electrophysiology, recalled his wife, Marianne Scharbo-DeHaan, who served as an associate professor in Emory’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing from 1982 to 2000 before completing her career with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For many Emory medical students, DeHaan provided a critical—and memorable—introduction to embryology. “Because he was often [a med student’s] first professor, and a wonderful teacher, we often found that when we would go out to dinner, these doctors would come up and say, ‘Dr. DeHaan, I still remember that the heart starts beating at day twenty-one,’ ” Scharbo-DeHaan recalls. “Apparently, that left an impression.”

While at Emory, DeHaan was twice named Outstanding Teacher of the Year, in 1987 and 1990. He also received the university’s highest faculty accolade, the Thomas Jefferson Award, in 1998, and the Distinguished Emeritus Award in 2006.

Preceded in death by his first wife, Virginia S. DeHaan, DeHaan is survived by his son Benjamin DeHaan of Lucca, Italy; daughter Pippit Carlington and grandson Quinn Carlington of Atlanta. He is also survived by Scharbo-DeHaan, his wife of 23 years, and stepchildren Mark (Carrie) Scharbo, Grant (Gina) Scharbo and Dana (Josh) Lieberman, as well as ten grandchildren.

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