In Memoriam: Kurt M. Dubowski, PhD, AAFS Founding Member and Past President

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Kurt M. Dubowski, PhD

It is with great fondness and reverence that we remember AAFS Founding Member and Past President, colleague and friend, Dr. Kurt M. Dubowski, who passed away Monday, October 23, in Oklahoma City at the age of 95. Dr. Dubowski was designated as an R.B.H. Gradwohl Laureate in 2011, the most prestigious honor of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. His dedication to forensic science and service to AAFS began nearly 70 years ago when, at the tender age of 26, Dr. Dubowski was instrumental in the formation of the Academy in 1948-50. Dr. Dubowski was the last surviving Founding Member of the AAFS.

Dr. Dubowski was educated at Johns Hopkins University, New York University (AB), and The Ohio State University (MSc, PhD). He held an honorary Doctor of Laws degree conferred by Capital University. He joined the medical faculty of The University of Oklahoma in 1961 and was honored with the George Lynn Cross Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Medicine. He was Principal Research Scientist, Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Civil Aerospace Medical Institute, Federal Aviation Administration, in Oklahoma City, OK; he was also Chairman Emeritus, Board of Tests for Alcohol and Drug Influence, and State Director Emeritus of Tests for Alcohol and Drug Influence of the State of Oklahoma. Dr. Dubowski had served as a charter member of the Indiana University/Bloomington Borkenstein Course Faculty since 1958.

Dr. Dubowski was a Founding Member of the AAFS Toxicology Section in 1950; he served as Toxicology Section Secretary in 1958-60, as Section Chair in 1960-61, and as Program Chair in 1967-68. He was a Member of the Executive Committee from 1966 until 1969, and served on the Journal of Forensic Sciences Editorial Board from 1956 until his passing. Dr. Dubowski was elected by the AAFS membership as President-Elect in 1977-78, and he served as AAFS President in 1978-79. He also served on the Forensic Sciences Foundation Board of Trustees from 1976 through 1983. His enduring accomplishments included:  the permanent representation of all Sections on the AAFS Board of Directors; the introduction of academic qualifications for membership in the Toxicology Section; the introduction of the first proficiency test program in forensic toxicology; the establishment of the first Registry of Human Toxicology for postmortem toxicology findings; the establishment of the AAFS Section Awards; and he chaired the Committee on Certification, which proposed and established certification programs in forensic sciences in 1974-75.

Dr. Dubowski’s many contributions to forensic science included the following:

  • One of seven USPHS consultants who created the Poison Information Center program, 1957;
  • Assisted Centers for Disease Control in determining the cause of Legionnaires’ Disease by eliminating poisoning, 1976;
  • Created Dubowski “Blood-Alcohol Table,” 1954-2011, which became the most widely used single BAC interpretation document;
  • 180 peer-reviewed publications, 1947-2011;
  • Participated in formalizing and regulating military drug-use testing as a consultant to SAODAP, Executive Office of the President of the United States, 1970s;
  • Participated in the formalizing and regulating civilian workplace drug-use testing as a consultant to NIDA, 1970-80s; and as a Charter Member of the DHHS Drug Testing Advisory Board, 1990-94;
  • Mason & Dubowski (1974, 1976) proposed direct reporting of breath-alcohol concentration, replacing conversion of a BrAC measurement to a calculated blood-alcohol concentration (now the near-universal practice for forensic breath-alcohol testing);
  • Organized and served as Founding President, and later as a Director, of the American Board of Forensic Toxicology, which was conceived as the template for the Board Certification in the Forensic Sciences, 1975-2003.

Dr. Dubowski’s professional activities focused on the twin tracks of laboratory medicine and forensic science, especially clinical and forensic chemistry and toxicology, in their research, teaching, and service aspects. Active in many professional organizations, he was Past President of the American Association for Clinical Chemistry and was President Emeritus of the American Board of Clinical Chemistry. He served as a member of the National Safety Council Committee on Alcohol & Other Drugs since 1950 and as past member of the Committee on Alcohol, Other Drugs, and Transportation of the Transportation Research Board, National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Dubowski’s research involved various aspects of clinical chemistry and toxicology methodology as well as many clinical studies with human subjects. Kurt was particularly active in studies on the analysis, metabolism, and pharmacokinetics of ethanol as well as in various forensic science practice aspects of ethanol, and in issues of drug-impaired driving. Over the past 40 years, his research also included studies on the behavioral toxicology of marijuana and other substances that affect the central nervous system and are subject to abuse. That work included development and evaluation of tests for drugs-of-abuse in biological specimens, and consultation for many governmental agencies. He was a charter member of the Drug-Testing Advisory Board of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Dr. Dubowski’s professional honors and awards included selection as a Widmark Laureate of the International Council on Alcohol, Drugs, and Traffic Safety (1980), conferral of the George Lynn Cross Distinguished Professor of Medicine chair by the University of Oklahoma (1981), designation as an American Academy of Forensic Sciences R.B.H. Gradwohl Laureate (2011), the first Rolla N. Harger Award recipient of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (1983), designation as a Distinguished Fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (1991), the AAFS Award of Merit (1976, 1979), the Robert F. Borkenstein Award of the National Safety Council (1992), designation as a Distinguished Alumnus of The Ohio State University (1994), the Distinguished Service to Safety Award of the National Safety Council (1995), the Award for Outstanding Contributions to Clinical Chemistry by the American Association for Clinical Chemistry (1996), establishment of the Kurt M. Dubowski Award by the International Association for Chemical Testing (2002), and proclamation as Honorary Texas Ranger by the Texas Department of Public Safety (2007).

Dr. Dubowski was a visionary leader and educator who is missed terribly by his colleagues, friends and family — especially by his wife, Natalie Essary, who accompanied Kurt to AAFS annual meetings for many, many years.