Donald Sherrard, MD
January 20, 2019
Donald J. Sherrard was born on November 29, 1934, Thanksgiving Day. As he put it in his mostly unpublishable, bawdy, self-written obituary, "My parents had two turkeys that day. I was the smaller one." He never had another birthday on Thanksgiving Day, however (a riddle to be solved).
Don was born in Yakima, Washington, but his parents soon moved to Seattle, where he grew up. He attended Highline High School in South Seattle, where he graduated in 1952.
Although his undergraduate pre-med studies presaged his later endeavors, he was an English major at Yale. He wrote his senior thesis on pre-Victorian English poets, from Alexander Pope to William Blake, and was a lifelong reader and lover of literature. A fan of Jane Austen, he annually reread Pride and Prejudice for years, and loved to quote Shakespeare and T. S. Eliot in occasionally inappropriate circumstances. His musical tastes veered from Haydn to Tom Lehrer, whose 'Poisoning Pigeons in the Park' was a perennial favorite. His skill as a writer later served to strengthen his many major publications-papers, articles, chapters, and books on kidney and bone diseases, related symptoms, and other medical research in some of the most prestigious medical journals in the world (or, as he would later write, self-deprecatingly, as always, "200 or so largely now-irrelevant papers, attempting to follow the old cliche; to learn more and more about less and less until I knew everything about nothing"). In fact, his colleagues often asked him to review their work for style and conventions before sending it on to medical journals.
Don began medical school at the University of Washington in 1956. After serving in the Army Medical Corps in Germany from 1962 to 1964, he completed his medical residency at the University of Washington between 1964 and 1966. A pioneer in the early days of dialysis, studying nephrology under Belding Hibbard Scribner ("a pretty dynamic man . . . [he] put this huge machine in the back of a pickup and [would] drive around the city and treat people with acute renal failure!"), he treated history's first chronic renal dialysis patient, Clyde Shields ("I took care of Clyde for many years. He taught me a lot"). He served as chief of the Renal Dialysis Unit at the Seattle Veterans Administration Hospital and professor of medicine for decades at the University of Washington. An internationally renowned researcher and expert in his field, often gallivanting to conferences around the globe, Don also cared deeply about his family and the natural world.
He married his beloved wife Edith in 1956, who he claimed was "one of two saints I have known." Together they raised three sons, lived simply, and used most of his income to support Hillside Student Community, the school Edith founded, and its mission of helping students to discover their own gifts to share with the world. They were married 55 years, until her death in 2011.
Don loved nature and taught his sons and grandsons to love it too, taking them hiking and camping throughout the northwest. In the 60s and 70s he turned his suburban yard into a wilderness by filling it with firs, cedars, hemlocks, and ferns. Then in 1979 he purchased for the school a forest that he tended for the rest of his life, planting giant sequoias and rhododendrons, and defending it against attack through environmental organizations he helped to found such as the Northwest Preservation Trust and Save Lake Sammamish. He fought for justice in the natural, medical, and social worlds.
His last years he struggled with Parkinson's but lived them to the end at home in the green woods he loved. He died at the age of 84, on January 22, 2019, surrounded by family and friends.
Don is survived by his sons, Jean (& Karen), Kael (& Anne), and Nathan (& Sara), their children, Ethan, Noel, Kalan, and little Elanor (the first girl born in Don's line in generations, and the last person for whom he opened his eyes), as well as his brothers, Jean, Jerry, and Roger, and their families.
In the end, we must echo his unique, if contextually morbid, method of tucking in his sons (and grandsons) for bed, borrowed from the last scene of Hamlet: "Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest"-or else, the last words from his self-written obituary, "Cheers! Live long and prosper."
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