Dr. John Hartmann, Who Pushed Research Into Children's Cancer

Dr. John Hartmann was one of the generation of physicians that, through rigorous experiment, helped raise the survival rate for children who contract cancer.

The survival rate just after World War II, when Dr. Hartmann was in medical school, stood at just 3 percent.

Dr. Hartmann, long associated with Children's Hospital and Medical Center, died last Friday (May 31) of lung cancer in Friday Harbor. He was 67.

A hematologist by training, Dr. Hartmann's friends and associates alternately described him as "explosive," "intense," "gentle" and "brilliant."

When he believed in a project, Dr. Hartmann pushed himself and others as far as they could go to make it happen, his friends agreed.

His work, said his wife, Elma Hartmann, was "98 percent of his life."

Dr. Hartmann was born Jan. 2, 1924, in Everett. He attended medical school at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, then trained further at Boston Children's Hospital.

In the service from 1950 to 1952, Dr. Hartmann served with the Aero-Medical Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base and later in Japan.

He and Elma were married July 7, 1956, in Seattle. They had four children.

In 1957, Dr. Hartmann started the department of pediatric hematology/oncology at Children's.

At first, he was a one-man department. Today, the unit has seven staff doctors and eight academic fellows in pediatric hematology and oncology.

All the while, he was active nationally in organizing the thousands of drug tests that led to today's treatments.

The umbrella effort in the United States was called the Children's Cancer Study Group. It was aligned with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

When this group detached from Sloan-Kettering, Dr. Hartmann became its chairman, and he coordinated cooperative clinical trials around the nation.

The study group at that time advocated a multidisciplinary approach to cancer cases. They teamed up surgeons, radiotherapists and chemotherapists.

"You must remember that all of this - only two decades past - was taking place in a medical climate that was often openly critical and hostile to any attempt to intervene in the lives of these doomed children," said Dr. Herb Abelson in remarks he delivered upon Dr. Hartmann's retirement in 1985.

"Programs' don't develop by themselves," Abelson said then of the Children's program. "There is a complex intermix of factors, but there is always a singular personality with vision and determination and grit who maintains the course."

He was speaking of Dr. Hartmann, who also supervised many physicians on academic training fellowships. Those people included Dr. Ronald Chard, who today is clinical director of Children's pediatric hematology/oncology unit.

"Jack was a wonderful teacher," said Chard, who first met Dr. Hartmann in the late 1960s. "Many of the professors were not around, but he was there for you and there for the patients, too."

In the 1970s, when funding became available to establish the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Dr. Hartmann stepped forward and oversaw the writing of the key grant application.

He served on the board of trustees at the Hutchinson center from 1972 to 1986. During his career, he also served as a consultant to the National Cancer Institute's Acute Leukemia Task Force.

In 1987, the University of Washington Medical School established at Children's a $500,000 endowed professorship in Dr. Hartmann's name. It is dedicated to the study of childhood cancer and blood diseases.

The professorship is supported through $500,000 in matching gifts from Children's Hospital and a trust fund that was established by the state Legislature in 1985.

Besides his wife, Dr. Hartmann is survived by two sons, John and Andrew Hartmann, both of Seattle; two daughters, Anne Burnham of Fisher's Island, N.Y., and Allison Abraham of New York City; a brother, Dr. Robert Hartmann of Tampa, Fla.; and three grandchildren.

A private service has been held.

Memorials are suggested to the John R. Hartmann Endowed Professorship at Children's Orthopedic Hospital and Medical Center.