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September 15, 2011

A Mesothelioma Pioneer: The scientific community loses a fearless researcher

Dr. Gerrit Schepers was a pioneer in asbestos-related disease research.  More importantly, however, he was a courageous hero, one of the first scientists willing to testify against the asbestos industry. He passed away on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011, following an extended illness.

Dr. Schepers first began to explore the connection between asbestos and lung diseases in South African immigrants who came into contact with the substance in the 1940s. Throughout the years, he steadfastly stood for the rights of workers and generously gave of his time in the 1970s and 1980s to travel throughout the United States and testify about his personal experiences and knowledge concerning asbestos-related diseases.

Born in South Africa in 1915, he studied industrial medicine under Dr. Anthony Lanza and, in 1952, became the Chairman of the Pulmonary Disability Committee of the Miner's Tuberculosis Bureau. In 1954, Dr. Schepers was awarded the Queen's Coronation Medal in recognition of his service in the field of pulmonary disease disability. He later became the Director of the Saranac Laboratory, renowned for its work in occupational diseases; a fellow in pathology at the University of Michigan; and the Director of Pathology for the DuPont Company. In 1970, he joined the Veterans Administration and held numerous positions, including Chief of Medical Services and Director of Environmental Health Diseases, until his retirement in July 1989.

Ron Motley says of Dr. Schepers, "A champion for wrongs made right, an extraordinary doctor, a gentleman to the core and a true friend, Dr. Gerrit Schepers was the gold standard for what human beings should be.  His contributions to the asbestos cause are legendary. He has impacted many of us, both professionally and personally. Our loss is profound."

One of the most remarkable qualities about Dr. Schepers is that he accomplished all of this with an infectious smile, jovial spirit and relentless quest to inspire laughter in all situations. Dr. Schepers' dedication and commitment to research involving the development of asbestos-related diseases has helped tens of thousands of victims and their families hold accountable the manufacturers of asbestos products. We join the legal, medical and scientific community in honoring his memory, celebrating his life's work and grieving the loss of such a remarkable man.