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Lola Romanucci-Ross

Lola Romanucci-Ross, PhD—a cultural anthropologist whose interests took her around the world and garnered appointments in both the UC San Diego Department of Anthropology and in the School of Medicine’s Department of Family and Preventive Medicine—died April 29, 2017 at the age of 93.

Romanucci-Ross studied medical, social and cultural anthropology, conducting fieldwork in Mexico, Papua New Guinea  and Italy. In 1958 she joined a research project in rural Mexico, with then-husband Theodore Schwartz, PhD, (now professor emeritus in anthropology at UC San Diego) under the guidance of noted German philosopher Erich Fromm.  In 1963, she and Schwartz embarked on a three-year research project on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.  The project\ launched a long friendship and collaboration with famed anthropologist Margaret Mead.

Romanucci-Ross joined the UC San Diego faculty in 1969, shortly after the opening of the School of Medicine, and was at the forefront of what was then a relatively new idea: incorporating social sciences in the training of medical students. She helped develop and lead a new core course in the medical school curriculum called Social and Behavioral Sciences, which broadly covered the anthropology of medicine—the title also of her classic 1983 text co-edited with Daniel Moerman and Laurence Tancredi.

“Pedagogic encounters with Lola Ross were always memorable,” said Igor Grant, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry, who worked closely with Romanucci-Ross in developing the medical school curriculum. “She challenged both students and colleagues to question, to peel away our assumptions, to consider the role of culture in illness presentation and treatment. The encounters were not always comfortable, but for those who were open, they could be transformative. Importantly, even in confronting, her love of teaching, generosity of spirit and her compassion always shone through.”

Romanucci-Ross was born in Hershey, Pennsylvania to first-generation Italian immigrants. (She would later conduct fieldwork in her parents’ home town.) She earned her Bachelor of Art degree at Ohio University;
her Master’s at the University of Minnesota and her doctorate at Indiana University, with post-graduate studies at the École Pratique des Hautes Études and the  Collège de France. She was fluent in French, Spanish, Italian and neo-Melanesian. 

Romanucci-Ross was a member or fellow of numerous distinguished organizations: the American Anthropological Association, the Society for Health and Human Values, the Society for Medical Anthropology, the Southwestern Anthropological Association, the Society for Psychological Anthropology, the Society for Cultural Anthropology and the Society for Anthropology of Europe

In 1972, Romanucci-Ross married John Ross, Jr., MD, a San Diego cardiologist. They met while both serving on a medical student’s independent study project committee. Ross, now an emeritus professor of medicine at UC San Diego, is perhaps best known for developing the technique of transseptal left heart catheterization used in a variety of cardiac assessments and treatments.

Romanucci-Ross is survived by her husband, John; daughter Deborah Nightingale, son Adan Schwartz, and grandchildren Norah Nightingale, Luca Schwartz and Siena Schwartz.

Each year, UC San Diego School of Medicine presents the Lola Romanucci-Ross and John Ross Jr. Award in Medical Anthropology to a student who has demonstrated substantive interest and study in the cultural factors that impact health care delivery or the practice of medicine, either in the U.S. or abroad. A second award, the John and Lola Ross Award in the Sciences and Culture of Medicine, is given to a student with dedication both to the medical sciences as well as cultural influences on medical practice and research.

In lieu of sending flowers, the family requests donations be made in memory of Lola Romanucci-Ross to support these awards. Please make checks payable to the UC San Diego Foundation, noting that the gift is in memory of Lola Romanucci-Ross for fund F-3866. Please mail checks to UC San Diego Gift Processing, 9500 Gilman Drive, #0940, La Jolla, CA 92093-0940. Donations can also be made online at Give to UC San Diego, after entering “F-3866” in the search box.