Robert F. Pitts

32nd APS President (1959-1960)
Robert F. Pitts

Robert Franklin Pitts became president in July 1959. Born in Indianapolis, he received a B.S. degree from Butler University. He earned his Ph.D. degree from Johns Hopkins under S. O. Mast in 1932, and from 1932 to 1938 he served on the staff of the Department of Physiology of New York University College of Medicine while earning his M.D. degree. He was elected to APS in 1934. From 1938 to 1942 he held research fellowships at the Neurological Institute of Northwestern University and the Johnson Foundation for Medical Physics at the University of Pennsylvania. He was assistant and associate professor of physiology at Cornell University Medical College from 1942 to 1946. In 1946 he became professor and departmental chairman at Syracuse University. He returned to Cornell as professor and chairman of physiology in 1950 and remained there until his retirement in 1974. After retirement he served as research professor at the University of Florida until his death in 1977.

Pitts was most noted for his contributions to our knowledge of kidney function. Application of his principles of acid-base, electrolyte, and water balance led to standard therapies in daily use in medical practice. It was his universal practice to serve as the first human subject in his own new research procedures.

Known also as a dedicated teacher, he was awarded the first Distinguished Teaching Award of the Association of Chairmen of Departments of Physiology in 1978. He authored two major texts: The Physiological Basis of Diuretic Therapy (1959) and The Physiology of the Kidney and Body Fluids (1974).

Pitts became president elect in 1958, after having served on the APS Council since 1955. He had previously been a member of the Board of Publication Trustees (1948-53) and chairman of the Membership Advisory Committee (1955-56), the Committee on the Use and Care of Animals (1957-59), and the Porter Fellowship Committee (1956-59). During his presidency, the membership category of "sustaining associate" was established for individuals and institutions making special contributions to the Society. It has proved to be a valuable asset both in terms of finances and in promoting communication between the Society and industry. Also during his presidency, a committee was established to study the relation of the Board of Publication Trustees to Council.

In public manner, Pitts was reserved and austere, but closer association revealed him to be warm and thoughtful with a provocative sense of humor. He was much admired by his students and colleagues.

Selected Publications

1. Alexander, R. S. Pitts and urine acidification. Physiologist 26: 364-366, 1983.

2. Fenn, W. O. History of the American Physiological Society: The Third Quarter Century, 1937-1962. Washington, DC: Am. Physiol. Soc., 1963, p. 47-48.

3. Pitts, R. F. Past president's address: the teacher and the ferment in education. Physiologist 3(4): 20-29, 1960.

4. Selkurt, E. E., et al. Robert Franklin Pitts (1908-1977). Physiologist 20(5): 9-11, 1977.