Paul C. Brucker, 85, of Ambler, president emeritus of Thomas Jefferson University, died Thursday, March 23, of end-stage renal failure at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.
Dr. Brucker, a respected family practitioner, spent 14 years at the helm of the healthcare institution, from 1990 to 2004, during which time he forged a merger with Main Line Health to create the Jefferson Health System. He was credited with the vision and energy to make the project work.
Born in Cheltenham, the son of Julia Schweikle and Walter Brucker Sr., he graduated from Cheltenham High School and with honors from Muhlenberg College. He earned his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
In an era when general, or family, practice was not a popular choice among budding physicians, Dr. Brucker designed his own graduate training program, including a residency at Hunterdon, N.J., Medical Center and an internship at what is now Lankenau Medical Center.
He joined a group practice in Ambler, where he was quickly identified as one of the outstanding physicians in the community, according to a family biography. During 13 years in private practice, Dr. Brucker served as preceptor and role model for numerous students from various medical schools.
In 1973, Jefferson Medical College had vowed to make a strong commitment to family medicine. It hired Dr. Brucker as a professor and founding chairman of the Department of Family Medicine.
Under his tenure, that department gained national renown as one of the most successful student and residency training programs in family medicine in the country. Dr. Brucker helped to establish fellowship programs in faculty development and geriatrics, and served as chairman of the medical school’s curriculum committee and the committee on student promotion.
In 1990, he became president of Thomas Jefferson University, the only family physician in the country to hold such a position, according to a biography compiled by the university in 2015.
In that role, he provided the institutional leadership that led to the formation of the Jefferson Health System, a merger of Thomas Jefferson University, its hospital and medical college with the Main Line Health System. He then served as the new entity’s board chair.
Dr. Brucker acknowledged in April 1994 that creating a regional health system did not happen overnight and was not without its challenges.
"We're putting together a system, planning for the year 2000," Dr. Brucker told the Inquirer’s Gilbert M. Gaul in an April 8 article. "There are some things that are relatively easy to do and other things that are harder."
Jefferson University and its hospital grew during Dr. Brucker's tenure, even as hospitals in the area and across the nation were buffeted by changing economic situations -- from the rise to dominance of managed care through the current crisis in medical-malpractice insurance, the Inquirer wrote.
The university’s revenue increased during his presidency from $166 million in 1990, to $500 million in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2003, the Inquirer reported. During the same period, money for research grants grew from $36 million to $175 million.
Dr. Brucker also had a major influence on the training of physicians across the country, especially in emphasizing the importance of primary-care doctors.
In July 2003, Dr. Brucker, then 71, announced his intention to retire the following year, giving the institution 11 months to find his replacement. "If we could clone him, we would do that because we want another Paul Brucker," said Douglas J. MacMaster Jr., chairman of the university's board, in a July 29, 2003 Inquirer article. "It is with great reluctance that we see him retire."
Dr. Brucker received many accolades and awards. In 1993, faculty and students banded together to create the Paul C. Brucker M.D. Annual Lecture in his honor.
He was a member of the board of directors of the American Board of Family Practice, serving as president from 1987 to 1988. In 1994, Dr. Brucker was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. In 1991, he received an honorary degree from Muhlenberg College, where he was a life trustee. Gwynedd-Mercy College also gave Dr. Brucker an honorary degree.
In 1971, Dr. Brucker was inducted into the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The prestigious body acknowledged his passing on its website: “His dedicated service to the College [of Physicians] and its mission to advance the cause of health while upholding the ideals and heritage of medicine, will not be forgotten. Dr. Brucker will be profoundly missed.”
Dr. Brucker was married to Joan Waite Brucker for 59 years. The couple made their home in Ambler.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by children Sheryl Kelly, Linda Vozzo, and Paul C. Jr.; seven grandchildren; and a brother.
A visitation will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, April 3, at Upper Dublin Lutheran Church, 411 Susquehanna Rd., Ambler, followed by a 7 p.m. memorial service Tuesday, April 4, also at the church. The family will greet friends after the service. Burial is private.
Memorial donations may be made to Thomas Jefferson University, Department of Family & Community Medicine, Office of Institutional Advancement, 130 S. 9th St., Suite 1700, Philadelphia, Pa. 19107. Checks should be payable to Jefferson. Donations also may be made to Muhlenberg College Scholarship Fund in memory of Dr. Paul C. Brucker, payable to Muhlenberg College, 2400 W. Chew St., Allentown, Pa. 18104.