Obituary: J. Russell Little, professor emeritus of medicine, 87

J. Russell Little, MD, a professor emeritus of medicine, died Saturday, Aug. 18, 2018, in St. Louis following a long illness. He was 87.

Little was on the faculty at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis from 1964 to 2005. He served as chief of infectious diseases at what was then Jewish Hospital from 1967 to 1996.

He was known for his dedication to teaching, mentoring and patient care.

“He was the supreme role model of the caring physician, teacher and scientist,” said Victoria J. Fraser, MD, the Adolphus Busch Professor and head of the Department of Medicine. “He was always incredibly kind and gracious in everything he said and did with patients, colleagues and students.”

In 2017, the Division of Infectious Diseases established the J. Russell Little Award for Excellence in Teaching in his honor.

“Russ was a teacher and mentor to generations of infectious disease trainees at Washington University,” said William G. Powderly, MD, the Larry J. Shapiro Director of the Institute of Public Health, the J. William Campbell Professor of Medicine and co-director of the Division of Infectious Diseases. “His compassion and expertise were remarkable, and he was a significant reason why the infectious diseases program here is one of the best in the country.”

Little had a distinguished career in immunology. He helped characterize the structure of antibodies and contributed to an understanding of how they recognize their targets. He also studied how the fungus Histoplasma survives inside immune cells, and showed that the antifungal medication amphotericin B changes the behavior of the immune system.

He earned his medical degree from the University of Rochester before beginning his medical residency at Barnes Hospital in 1957. After a brief research appointment at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), he returned to St. Louis in 1961 as chief resident at what was then Barnes Hospital. He then completed a fellowship in the Department of Microbiology in 1964 before joining the faculty.

In recognition of his achievements, Little was elected to the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society and to the American Society of Clinical Investigation. He also was named a fellow of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

He is survived by his daughters, Nancy Little and Susan Little; son, Bryan Little; and four grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, at the Ortmann Stipanovich Funeral Home, 12444 Olive Blvd., Creve Coeur, Mo. Visitation will be from 5 p.m. until shortly before the service begins.

Memorial contributions may be sent to the Division of Infectious Diseases, via Rachel Hartmann at Washington University School of Medicine; Medical Alumni & Development Programs; Campus Box 1247, 7425 Forsyth Blvd.; St. Louis, Mo. 63105-2161.

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