Memorial Service May 23 for Robert Fortuine

Post a Comment » Written on May 15th, 2009     
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WASILLA, AK (May 15, 2009) – A memorial service will be conducted May 23 for Dr. Robert Fortuine, 75, longtime Alaska physician and well-known in Evangelical Covenant Church circles who died Monday, May 11, in Wasilla.

The service will begin at 2 p.m. at First Evangelical Covenant Church, 1145 C Street in Anchorage.

He was born March 10, 1934, in Cambridge, New York, and grew up in Ogunquit, Maine. Through a generous scholarship, he graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and later attended Cornell University where, in 1956, he received an A.B. in German literature classics. In 1960, he was awarded his medical degree from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

He married Sheila Anne Calder in Outremont, Quebec, on January 16, 1960. Following an internship at Montreal General Hospital, he received a commission in the U.S. Public Health Service. While on active duty, he earned a Master of Public Health degree from Harvard University and completed residency in general preventative medicine at the University of Oklahoma’s Health Center.

Field assignments in the Indian Health Service included successive postings as medical officer and medical officer in charge at the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Reservation at Belcourt, North Dakota (1961-63), then as service unit director at Kanakanak in Alaska (1963-64), Bethel, (1964-67), on the Navajo Reservation at Fort Defiance, Arizona (1970-71) and finally as director of the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage (1971-77). From 1977-1980, he was detailed to the U.S. State Department as international health attache, the liaison officer between the U.S. Government and the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.

Until his retirement from the Public Health Service in 1987, he worked as a family physician and emergency room physician at the Alaska Native Medical Center, then spent another 12 years as a volunteer operating a weekly skin clinic at the hospital. Since 1989, Fortuine taught first-year medical students at the University of Alaska Anchorage as part of the WWAMI Program of the University of Washington. He was also adjunct (later affiliate) professor of health sciences there and clinical professor of family medicine at the University Of Washington School of Medicine.

He was also a Fellow of the Arctic Institute of North America, a founding member of the American Society for Circumpolar Health, and a co-founder of the Amundsen Educational Center in Soldotna, a Christian vocational school for Alaska Natives.

In his later years, he was known mainly as a medical historian of Alaska and the arctic regions. He wrote six books, edited and co-edited two proceedings of international conferences, and collaborated on three major published bibliographies on the health of the indigenous peoples of North America. In addition, he published many papers, notably in the areas of the impact of disease on Alaskan history, Alaska Native traditional medicine, and medical aspects of arctic exploration.

Over the years he was presented with many awards, including several Public Health Service medals, the John Phillips Award “for service to the public good,” the Trudeau Award, the Jack Hildes Medal, and an honorary Doctor of Science from the University of Alaska. He was named Alaska Historian of the Year in 1990 for his book Chills and Fever: Health and Disease in the Early History of Alaska and again in 2005 for his book Must We All Die? Alaska’s Enduring Struggle with Tuberculosis.

Fortuine also served as a member of the former Board of Publications for the Evangelical Covenant Church. To learn more about his work, read a story previously published in The Covenant Companion.

He was preceded in death by his father, Dr. Stanley Theodore Fortuine of Overisel, Michigan; his mother, Susan McGraw Fortuine of Surry, Maine; his brother, Edward Taylor Fortuine of Ogunquit, Maine; and his sister, Barbara Anne Bickford of South Deerfield, Massachusetts.

He is survived by his wife of 49 years, Sheila; his daughter and son-in-law, Willa and Kevin Ryan of Shaver Lake, California; his son and daughter-in-law, Alex and Rebecca Fortuine of Milwaukie, Oregon; his son and daughter-in-law, Rev. Andrew and Heather Fortuine of Balfour, British Columbia; and his sisters, Patricia Freeman of Marshfield, Massachusetts, and Nancy Westervelt of Winslow, Maine.

Memorials may be directed to the Amundsen Educational Center, P.O. Box 4006, Soldotna, AK, 99669.

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