Reducing more than 50 years as a pathologist into a short biographical sketch is a daunting challenge.
It was my introduction to pathology during my second year in medical school (Hahneman University Medical
College) that spiked my interest, aroused my curiosity and challenged my intellect. This has never
changed and has made the years speed by with joy. In 1947, two key professors, one
in pathology and one in bacteriology, "adopted" me as mentors. They encouraged me to engage in
research which I proposed, supplied lab space and all materials needed. This resulted in a publication
in 1948, my junior year, entitled "Penicillin Therapy in Subacute Bacterial Endocarditis". This event
set my medical compass on antibiotic and cardiovascular pathology research for many years to come.
Printer's ink was now in my blood. I received the Burr Prize for best research by an intern at the
Philadelphia General Hospital (PGH) in 1950. Two more papers followed on determining bacterial
sensitivity to antibiotics. The Korean War had started and since I had been deferred to finish my
medical education during the end of WWII, I was notified immediately that I was to volunteer. I started
my residency in pathology at PGH under Dr. William Ehrich who was studying cellular inflammation. The
plasma cell had just been identified as the antibody producing cell. First Lieutenant Wagner was
assigned to the Army Graduate Medical School (AGMS), Walter Reed Army Medical Center - Virus and
Rickettsial Disease Research Laboratory, 6 months later. During my residency, I performed over 45
autopsies. I reported for military duty on January 2, 1951.
For the first 5 months, I worked at AGMS and then was sent to Walter Reed Hospital Laboratories to
become Chief, Infectious Disease and Antibiotic Research Laboratory. My lab was down the hall from the
anatomical pathology section headed by Col. Joe Blumberg. He allowed me to rotate on the autopsy
service and attend all of the surgical sign-outs. Dr. Arthur Purdy Stout came once a month as a
consultant. Upon discharge from the Army, as a Captain, in December 1952, I became a Research Fellow in
Pathology, Mount Sinai Hospital,
New York, under Dr. Paul Klemperer, "father of the concept of collagen diseases". Dr. Ehrich
and Dr. Klemperer were good friends. This was a major turning point in my career for Klemperer was a
superb teacher with an encyclopedic knowledge of pathology who became my mentor and friend for life.
In 1954, I moved to Philadelphia, my home town, to serve as Assistant Professor of Pathology,
University of Pennsylvania (Upenn), and Associate Pathologist, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
(CHOP). Here I started my intensive study of rheumatic heart disease with experts in bacteriology,
immunology and virology. My papers and book chapters attracted the attention of Dr. Earl Benditt,
Chair, Department of Pathology, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle. He offered me a
chair in cardiovascular pathology and associate professor rank. It was now 1958 and my wife and two
daughters moved across the country to Seattle. This proved to be another pivotal point in my career.
While in Philadelphia, I had worked with the veterinary pathologists at Upenn searching for spontaneous
models of connective tissue diseases. The Department of Pathology, Washington State University
Veterinary School, was headed by Bob Leader. He was an instant collaborator and a friend for life. Bob
introduced me to Aleutian Disease of Mink which produced a widely read paper. However, the East Coast
beckoned again, and in 1960 we returned to New York City where I accepted the Chair in Pathology at New
York Medical College. I would have an entire floor in the new research building and could build a new
faculty. Dr. Klemperer was down the street for moral support. During this time, I became a member of
the Scientific Advisory Board, Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force. The Russians were convinced that
prolonged microgravity in orbital flight, would lead to atrophy of cardiac muscle. Our EM studies of
animal and human hearts interested the Soviet Space Program and in 1962, I was invited (the first
American scientist under the Kennedy-Khruschev Agreements) to visit the Institute of Normal and Abnormal
Physiology, Moscow University, by Dr. V. V. Parin, Director.
Because of the "Cold War", my trip was cleared by the U.S. Air Force, the State Department and CIA.
I returned to Moscow in 1963 and 1964, but the exchange of manned space data stopped in 1965 due to the
Vietnam War. By 1966, I was ready for a sabbatical and spent a year in the Cardiovascular Research
Division, Warner-Lambert Pharmaceutical Company. I needed to better understand cardiovascular
physiology, pharmacology and metabolism. Don King was now Chair of Pathology, Columbia University and he
invited me to join him. I agreed and at Columbia we developed a joint program in cardiovascular disease
between the departments of pathology and pharmacology. For the next 24 years, I retained the title of
Professor or Clinical Professor of Pathology, and explored many interesting activities. For the sake of
brevity and a total lack of modesty, here are some of the highlights.
In 1970, a distinguished committee of pathologists lead by Stanley Robbins, persuaded the W.B.
Saunders Co. to start a new journal dedicated to human pathology. It started as a quarterly and I wrote
a section called "Current Topics". However, the publisher did not want to deal with a committee and
insisted that an editor be identified. At the next committee meeting, in 1971, I was elected the first
editor of "Human Pathology". It was an invigorating challenge. I held this position until 1986.
Through the years, I was very active in the U.S.-Canadian Division, International Academy of Pathology,
and rose to the position of President in 1983. To preserve our financial integrity, we incorporated the
Division as independent from the other Divisions but remaining in the Academy. Thus, USCAP(Inc.) came
about. I began to lobby for a companion journal to Laboratory Investigation which would serve the needs
of practicing pathologists. In 1986, "Modern Pathology" was born with Nate Kaufman as Editor and I
served as his advisor. However, in 1987, I replaced Nate as Editor until 1994. USCAP awarded me the
Mostofi Distinguished Service Award in 1993.
I have been most fortunate to have received awards and honors during my career, such as Member, Royal
College of Pathologists, London; Honorary Member, American College of Veterinary Pathologists; Fellow,
Academy of Toxicological Sciences; Fellow, AAAS; Fellow, New York Academy of Medicine; Chairman, Board,
American Registry of Pathology; Member, Scientific Advisory Board, AFIP and Lifetime National Associate,
National Academy of Sciences. But, I am most proud of my former residents and fellows who have become
Chairs and Professors of Pathology in major medical schools. Only one went wrong and became a Dean. In
addition, USCAP gave me wonderful opportunities to serve my fellow pathologists. As I turn 80 in
January, 2008, I am reminded of the words by the philosopher, Schopenhauer. In his later years, he
wrote, "There was a plan to my life. But, as it unfolded, I did not know it, until now, in retrospect it
all comes together". With this award from USCAP, I agree with Schopenhauer.
Over the years, there have been so many pathologists who I convinced that USCAP should be their home
and work their way up the ladder of participation. After more than 50 years as a pathologist, I find it
difficult to search my memory since I would have to include those who gave short courses, participated in
long courses, gave invited talks, etc. But, here is a small sample:
Manny Rubin, Ed Smuckler, Ben Trump, Bob Leader, Ceil Fenoglio-Preiser, Bob Pascal, Fred Silva, Ron
Weinstein, Fred Gorstein, John Fenoglio, Louis Shapiro, Dan Knowles, Russell Ross, Virginia LiVolsi,
David Klimstra and others. If you count the pathologists I got to give short courses, participate in
three long courses and serve on Committees, I think you could easily add another 15 or 20 people. Hope
this gives you some idea of my long love affair with USCAP.
WHAT USCAP/IAP LEADERS SAY ABOUT BERNIE WAGNER:
Dr. Fred Silva, EVP of the USCAP states: "Bernie has been a major 'mover and shaker' for the
USCAP behind the scenes at the Academy. He has not only served the Academy in major ways, but has been a
great diplomat/ambassador for all of pathology. He has been on a half dozen Editorial Boards, served as
major Advisor/Consultant to numerous groups (such as the AFIP, NAS, FDA and many government and
regulatory agencies throughout the world). He is author of over 200 papers, editorials and 13 books. He
initiated the development of the specialty of toxicologic pathology at several major universities (Univ.
Penn; Washington State Univ; and Rockefeller Univ.). A symposium was convened at the New York Medical
College in 2003 in his honor ("Chemical Safety Assessment: Contributions of Toxicological Pathology and
Mechanistic Investigations"). At that symposium he was made an Honorary Fellow of the International
Academy of Toxicologic Pathology. Thus Bernie has served a great many people in a great many ways and a
great many venues. Thank you Bernie for all that you have done for all of us".
From Dr. David Hardwick, Past President of the USCAP and IAP and present Secretary of the IAP:
"Bernie Wagner is a man of many facets - Diagnostician, Researcher, organized and decisive leader! The
USCAP has indeed been fortunate to have Bernie's 'guiding hand' dedicated to its success and now
recognizes him for what he truly is, a 'Distinguished Pathologist'."