In Memoriam: Major General (Ret) Philip King Russell, MD, FASTMH

Posted 1 July 2021

View this obituary on the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene website

Written by past presidents Donald S. Burke (1996), Scott Halstead (1991) and Thomas P. Monath (2005)

Major General (Ret) Philip King Russell, past president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine Hygiene in 1983, died on January 21, 2021, at the age of 88 years after a battle with lung cancer. Phil was born in Syracuse, New York, in 1932. He received his bachelor’s degree from the Johns Hopkins University and earned his medical degree from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in 1958, where he also became board certified in internal medicine. He began his extraordinary career in research in infectious diseases, and he published his first article, at the age of 27 years, on mumps virolysin, in 1959. He then began a 30-year career in the U.S. Army. His military assignments included chief of the Department of Virology at the SEATO Lab in Bangkok, Thailand; then chief of virus diseases, director of the Division of Communicable Diseases, and institute director of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR). Upon promotion to the general officer ranks, he be-came commander of the Fitzsimons Army Medical Center, and finally commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command, where he led all U.S. military medical research. His military awards included the Legion of Merit and Distinguished Service Medal. 

After retiring from the military in 1992, Phil accepted a position as a professor of international health at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, where he conducted research, taught, and advised graduate students. He created a new course on vaccine science and policy, the first of its kind, a blueprint of sorts for his later public private partnership initiatives. He retired a second time, this time from academia, in 1997. After the 9/11 terrorist at-tacks, and the anthrax bio attacks in the U.S. Capitol, Phil was brought back into service to his country as a science advisor in the Office of Public Health Preparedness in the Department of Health and Human Services. He was instrumental in the creation of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority and the Strategic National Stockpile. From the time of his retirement from the military, Phil was a major figure in the development of a new era of public–private partnerships for international health. He became the special advisor to the Children’s Vaccine Initiative, a forerunner of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization(GAVI).

He was the founding president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and a visionary behind the creation of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, the Malaria Vaccine Initiative, the Aeres tuberculosis foundation, the Pediatric Dengue Vaccine Initiative, and other new institutions created to accelerate vaccine development for infectious diseases of global concern. He was a trusted advisor to Bill Gates Senior at the time of the creation of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

Phil was at heart an arbovirologist. His first international assignment in the military was in Bangkok, where he worked on the pathogenesis of dengue hemorrhagic fever and co-developed the assays that became the global standards for detecting and measuring anti-dengue antibodies. Truth be told, field research on mosquito-borne viruses allowed Phil to camouflage his field adventures as scientific pursuits. He was an avid member of the American Committee on Arthropod-Borne Viruses of the ASTMH, with a worldwide network of arbovirologist friends. 

Read the entire obituary on the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene website