Former Medical School Dean John Harrington Dies

A leading kidney specialist, Harrington led the Tufts School of Medicine from 1995 to 2002

John T. Harrington at Tufts in 1996

John T. Harrington, dean emeritus of the School of Medicine and a leading kidney specialist, died on October 31 at the age of 80. Harrington held the top post at the school from 1995 to 2002.

A gifted nephrologist, Harrington was appointed professor of medicine in 1979 and would go on to inspire countless students, young doctors, and colleagues and win teaching awards ten times.

“John was a deeply admired teacher and mentor,” Dean Harris A. Berman said in an email to the Tufts community. “His work as an acid-base physiologist, author, physician, and teacher touched many lives, from the patients he treated and colleagues he worked alongside, to the many physicians he taught during his career at Tufts. John’s enthusiasm, dedication, and love for teaching were evident with every student he encountered.”

Born and raised in Fall River, Massachusetts, Harrington graduated from Holy Cross College in 1958 and Yale University School of Medicine in 1962. After a residency at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, he pursued further training at Tufts-New England Medical Center (precursor of Tufts Medical Center) in the nephrology division from 1965 to 1968. Following a short tenure at Boston University School of Medicine, he returned to Tufts-NEMC to join its Division of Nephrology.

During the next 20 years, he was a cornerstone of the division’s clinical training and research programs. He developed the medical center’s hemodialysis, peritoneal dialysis, and renal transplant programs, and he served as director of the hemodialysis unit and administrative director of the intensive care unit.

Harrington served as chief of general medicine at Tufts-NEMC from 1981 to 1986, followed by eight years as chief of medicine at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, a Tufts teaching affiliate. In 1994, he was appointed academic dean at the School of Medicine and became interim dean the following year, and dean in 1996.

He was a member of the editorial board of the New England Journal of Medicine and editor of “Nephrology Forum” in Kidney International; the forum served as an invaluable resource of information and perspective for nephrologists around the world for more than 25 years.

In his eight years as dean, Harrington made a major mark on the medical school, strengthening its financial resources and expanding its research base—an enterprise that included the construction of the Jaharis Family Center for Biomedical and Nutrition Sciences, the first new research center built at the medical school.

University Professor and former provost Sol Gittleman said Harrington significantly advanced the medical school with his signature energy and optimism. “He tirelessly pursued the building of a world-class research facility,” said Gittleman. “He was the right dean of the medical school at the right time, when the school needed a steady hand. He was also a terrific clinical doctor.  He was a doctor’s doctor—doctors went to him!”  

Gittleman noted that Harrington also created important and stronger relationships with each of Tufts’ affiliated hospitals. “That the New England Medical Center chose to place ‘Tufts’ before its name is a fitting tribute to John’s professionalism, interpersonal skills, and disarming Irish charm,” he said, adding he recalled how much Harrington loved Ireland. “He used to keep two books in multiple copies in his office to give as gifts, both by Thomas Cahill: How the Irish Saved Civilization and The Gift of the Jews—and I got both.”

In honor of Harrington’s 70th birthday, Tufts Medical Center in 2006 created the Dr. John T. Harrington Endowed Fund, in recognition of his vital role in Tufts Medical Center’s Division of Nephrology. The fund supports the continuing medical education of physicians, both young and more senior, caring for patients suffering from kidney disease.

Remembrances may be made to Holy Name Parish, 1689 Centre St., West Roxbury, MA 02132 or to the Tufts University School of Medicine Development Office, 136 Harrison Ave., Boston, MA 02111. Gifts may also be made to the John T. Harrington, M.D. Scholarship at the School of Medicine.

Laura Ferguson can be reached at

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