In Memory

Leslie Robert 'Bob' Bennett - Class Of 1936

Leslie Robert 'Bob' Bennett

The founders of the Society of Nuclear Medicine and the specialty itself consisted of a group of innovative scientists, a group of entrepreneurial technologists, and a few bright and dedicated physicians.  On September 19, 2000, one of those physicians, Dr. Leslie R. Bennett, passed away.  He died peacefully and graciously, as he believed it should be done.  Bob was a superb teacher and an excellent role model.  He taught by openly sharing his whole life with his students.  Even at his death, he showed us how to do so naturally and with grace.

Dr. Bennett was born on February 13, 1918, in Denver, Colorado, in a home where printing was the traditional family occupation.  He was raised in South Pasadena, California where during his summer vacations he worked in the orange orchards.  Very early on in his childhood, he learned facts about growing fruit trees which he used the rest of his life.  As a careful observer, he captured the essence of events faster than any one else.  Farming continued to always be a part of Bob's life.  It was his hobby.  He proudly owned three fruit tree farms.  He knew how to farm well, both from a technical and an economical perspective.

His work on the orange orchard awakened a strong interest in Bob to understand the intricacies of nature and the role of molecules in life matter.  To satisfy this curiosity, Bob went to Berkeley to perform his undergraduate studies.  In 1940 he graduated with a B.S. in biochemistry.  But, even before attending Berkeley, he had decided to become a physician to fulfill his burning desire to help people.  However, due to World War II the United States needed more physicians.  The government implemented programs to train medical students in the shortest amount of time possible.  Bob had been accepted at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, one of the top schools in the country, and was trained under this contentious plan.  During his second year of medical school he joined the Navy.  In December 1943, he graduated from medical school and thereafter he did an internship at one of the hospitals associated with the University of Rochester.  Following his internship he was put on active duty in the Navy.  In 1946, Bob finished his duties in the Navy and joined the United States Atomic Energy Commission at Rochester University to work on the late effects of radiation.  There, he met his life love, Vera Collier, and married her in December 1948.

In June 1949, Dean Stafford Warren, who had gone from Rochester to UCLA to found the UCLA Medical School, invited Bob to join the UCLA faculty.  Bob was appointed Assistant Professor of Radiology and Radiological Sciences.  He worked in the planning of the hospital, the nuclear medicine clinic and the nuclear medicine research labs.  The UCLA hospital was officially opened in 1955 and Bob was appointed Director of the Nuclear Medicine Clinic.  In 1960, he was appointed Full Professor of Radiology and in 1986 Chairman of the Department of Radiology.  In 1988 he stepped down from his administrative duties and chose to work exclusively as physician and teacher at the UCLA-Olive View Medical Center.

An old Spanish proverb that the Nobel Laureate Bernardo A. Houssay liked to quote states:  "The quality of a professor is determined by the success achieved by his former students."  Bob Bennett was a superb professor.  He taught in Chile twice, first in 1960 for six months and then in 1961 for one month.  In 1982, he taught in Uruguay for three months as an expert of the International Atomic Energy Agency.  He participated actively in most of the ALASBIMN meetings.  It is fair to state that most of the current Latin American nuclear medicine leaders have learned from him.  but it is also true, that he taught a large percent of the Californian nuclear medicine specialists, as well as a large number of the European, Asian, and Middle Eastern specialists.  The most important nuclear medicine contribution Bob made was to translate the thinking of mathematicians, physicists, biochemists, and scientists into the pragmatic and esoteric languages of physicians, patients, and students.  No single person has been as successful as Bob Bennett in attracting young physicians and scientists to the practice of nuclear medicine.  He was admired and respected because of his versatility, his warm personality, his enthusiasm and generosity for serving others, and his tender love for his family.

The day before his death, Bob worked as usual.  In the morning of September 19, he felt weak and short of breath.  He told Vera that it was time for him to go and that he would like to die at home.  He discussed with Vera how to proceed and gave instructions to the gardener.  At 10:00 am he had some breakfast in the kitchen because he suspected that the coldness he was feeling was due to hypoglycemia.  During breakfast, he further discussed with Vera plans for her future without him.  At 11:00 am he decided to go to bed because the weakness was more significant; his heart rate was at 24 beats per minute.  He went to rest in the bed of the guest room, the same bed that he had so generously offered to his friends when they visited UCLA.  At noon, he changed his mind.  He told Vera that it would be too hard for her if he died at home.  He asked Vera to have him taken by ambulance to UCLA, but not in a hurry.  He wanted to arrive at UCLA when nothing could be done.  He arrived at UCLA alive, but he requested no heroic procedures.  He passed away, as he wanted to, peacefully and with Vera at his side.  In his last moments, Bob, a superb teacher and loyal friend, contined to teach us how to be gracious.