Patricia Buffler, professor of epidemiology and dean emerita of the School of Public Health. Buffler died of a stroke while in her campus office Thursday
Patricia Buffler, professor of epidemiology and dean emerita of the School of Public Health. Buffler died of a stroke while in her campus office Thursday evening, Sept. 26. She was 75. (Jim Block photo)

BERKELEY -- A UC Berkeley researcher known for studying childhood leukemia and environmental health, and a former dean of the university's school of public health, has died.

Patricia Buffler died of a stroke in her campus office Sept. 25. She was 75.

Buffler began her 22-year tenure at UC Berkeley in 1991, when she joined the faculty as professor of epidemiology and dean of the School of Public Health, a position she held for seven years.

At the time of her death, Buffler was leading the California Childhood Leukemia Study, which she launched in 1995 to investigate the relationship between diet, genes, infections and environmental exposures and the development of leukemia, campus officials said.

She was also a principal investigator with the Center for Integrative Research on Childhood Leukemia and the Environment to study the role of prenatal and early life exposures to carcinogens in developing leukemia, campus officials said.

"No question she was one of the world's leading researchers in childhood leukemia, but also in cancer epidemiology," said Arthur Reingold head of epidemiology at UC Berkeley. "It is standard now to look at the interaction of genetic determinants and environmental factors in disease, but Pat was one of the first people to apply it to leukemia. Because of her work, we now have a better understanding of a rare disease. Her loss is enormous."

In 2006, Buffler established the Childhood Leukemia International Consortium, an international group for studies of childhood leukemia that includes more than 30 investigators representing 22 epidemiologic studies of the disease in 14 countries. In fact, Buffler was going to be in France this week to lead the consortium's annual meeting, which started Tuesday.¿

"She was such a leader in her field, and such an example of grace and intelligence, especially for the women in our department," said Brenda Eskenazi, professor of epidemiology.

She mainly studied childhood cancers but also looked at the effects of secondhand tobacco smoke and electromagnetic radiation.

Born on Aug. 1, 1938, in Doylestown, Pa., she was the first person in her family to attend college when she enrolled in the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. She earned a bachelor's degree in nursing and biology in 1960 and the moved to New York where she worked as a public health nurse in Harlem. There, she went on a blind date and met her future husband, Richard Buffler, a U.S. Navy communications officer stationed in Rhode Island. The couple moved to California and she went on to earn her master's degree in public health in 1965, and a doctorate in epidemiology in 1973, both at UC Berkeley.

Buffler is survived by her husband of 51 years, her son Martyn Buffler of Austin, Texas, her daughter Monique Does of Berkeley; and five grandchildren.

The School of Public Health is planning a campus memorial Nov. 10. The time and location will be posted on the university website later this month.

Donations should go to the Patricia A. Buffler Memorial Fund to support Buffler's wish for strengthening the School of Public Health, including helping students and building a new home for the school. Checks should be made payable to the UC Berkeley Foundation and mailed to the School of Public Health, 417K University Hall, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-7360. The name of the fund should be noted on the check. Those wishing to donate online can go to http://givetocal.berkeley.edu/buffler.