Dr. Robert H. Sagerman, a pioneering physician in the creation of modern radiation oncology, died on February 1, 2022 in Rhinebeck, NY. He is survived by his wife, Malyne; his children Jason (Rachel), Eric (Jane), Evan (Marci), and Roger (Abigail); and his grandchildren Lia (Nick), Alison, Owen, Aiden, and Piper.
Dr. Sagerman (Bob to his family and friends) was born on January 23, 1930, in Brooklyn, NY, to Irving and Ethel Sagerman. He was joined by a younger brother, Arthur, in 1934. Dr. Sagerman graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School 1947, New York University in 1951, and finally, hoping to become a physician like his father, New York University Medical School in 1955. He married Malyne Barnett in 1954, who for the next 67 years would be the central and most important person in his life.
After medical school, Dr. Sagerman worked at Meadowbrook Hospital in Long Island during the final polio epidemic, after which he went to Charity Hospital in New Orleans where he trained as a radiologist. Drafted into the Air Force during the Korean War, Dr. Sagerman was stationed at the 5040th US Air Force Hospital at Ladd Air Force Base in the Alaska Territory, where he was the northern-most radiologist in the Western Hemisphere. While stationed in Fairbanks, Bob and Malyne welcomed their first son, Jason. After his military service, Dr. Sagerman returned to New York, where he worked at Montefiore Hospital in both diagnostic and therapeutic radiology, during which time he and Malyne welcomed a second son, Eric. In 1961, they moved to Palo Alto, California, for work at Stanford University Hospital, where Dr. Sagerman trained in the nascent field of radiation therapy, and where a third son, Evan, was welcomed into the fold.
In 1964, Dr. Sagerman returned to NY to work at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, during which time he and Malyne had a fourth son, Roger. Finally, in 1968, Bob and Malyne moved to Syracuse, NY, where he established a department of radiation therapy at SUNY Upstate Medical Center. Dr. Sagerman served as chairman of that department until 1994. During those years he did research sabbaticals at The Institut Gustave Roussy (France), Stanford University School of Medicine, Hahnemann University School of Medicine, and Loma Linda University Medical Center.
As a medical researcher, Dr. Sagerman specialized in tumors of the eye and tumors in children. He wrote the premier textbook on tumors of the eye, and published over 240 peer-reviewed papers. He served on countless medical boards, refereed for numerous medical journals, and collaborated with colleagues across the globe. Working with medicine’s governing bodies, he established training and review programs and protocols for technicians, physicians, and entire departments in the field of radiation oncology. As a teacher Dr. Sagerman trained hundreds of physicians and medical students, and as a physician he treated tens of thousands of patients.
Bob was known to come home from work each day, put down his briefcase, and wrestle on the floor with his four boys before dinner. This continued until 1993, when he broke his daughter-in-law's couch while wrestling his sons before Thanksgiving dinner. Bob loved opera (although he could not sing a note), sailing (although he was once lost overboard), skiing (where he was known for his distinctive crouch), and good food (well, any food, really). He was intelligent, capable, hardworking, and modest. He steadily and unfailingly earned the love of his family and friends, the respect of his colleagues, and the gratitude of his patients.
When asked how he could work in a field as depressing as cancer treatment, Dr. Sagerman replied “You have to understand—the majority of my patients get better. Of those that I can't cure, I can add significant and meaningful years to their lives. I know what my patients’ prognoses are 95% of the time when I first meet with them. It’s only a small percentage of patients where I’m truly surprised—sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Overall, I feel like I add a lot of hope to the world."
His friends and family agree.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations may be made to the following:
Hudson Valley Hospice: https://www.hvhospice.org
NYU Grossman School of Medicine: https://med.nyu.edu
Jewish Federation of Syracuse: https://jewishfederationcny.org
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