Robert Gibson: alumnus, educator, advocate

Celebrating Black History Month

School of Pharmacy alumnus Robert Gibson, PharmD '58, has been a tireless advocate for equality in education and in the profession of pharmacy, and is still active as a board member of the California Pharmacists Association Education Foundation.

In 2006, he was the first African American to receive the Remington Honor Medal—the highest award bestowed by the American Pharmacists Association. In the 1950s, when Gibson began his PharmD studies at UCSF, it was almost unimaginable that an African-American man would be so honored.

Gibson grew up in the Northwest during the Depression, with a mixed heritage that included slave and slaveholder. He also traced his background to Louisiana Creole, Cherokee, and Jewish ancestors. However, it was still the Jim Crow era, and it seemed all that mattered was his African descent. He could enter movie theaters only from the alley, and had to sit in the balcony. He was once jailed, while wearing his U.S. Army uniform, for being on the wrong side of town.

I look forward to the day when the civil rights conflict really will be history.

During his career at the School of Pharmacy, where he began as a staff pharmacist and then joined the School of Pharmacy faculty in the 1960s, he made fostering diversity a major focus. Over the decades that he served as the School's associate dean of student affairs and professional affairs, and as an associate vice chancellor of UCSF, Gibson mentored hundreds of students, including Sharon L. Youmans, now the School’s vice dean.

In a 2014 interview, The Mentors - Gibson & Youmans, published in UCSF Magazine, Youmans recalled: “He was very proactive in recruiting minority students and was passionate about inclusion and social justice. … denying minorities’ access to college was an issue in the ’70s. Decades later, it still is.”

In his Remington Lecture, Gibson championed the continuing battle for equality:

I look forward to the day when the civil rights conflict really will be history. We will know the war has been won when a bright eight-year-old student has the same chances in life, whether she lives in Watts or Belvedere-Tiburon. … We will know that the battle is over when the son of a barber in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunter’s Point neighborhood looks to the future with the same optimism as the son of a doctor who lives in Pacific Heights. We know that the fight will be won when the affluent city of Atherton, adjacent to Silicon Valley, and the low-income city of Richmond just across San Francisco Bay, have the same college graduation rates. … and the same low prison incarceration rates as well.

Selected awards, honors, leadership

Robert Gibson, PharmD '58—School of Pharmacy alumnus, pharmacist, teacher, and administrator—is the recipient of numerous honors and awards. The following is a partial list. The School is grateful for the generous gift of his papers, which are now safeguarded in the UCSF Library Archives. An oral history is under way.

  • Current board member, California Pharmacists Association Education Foundation
  • Hall of Fame, California Pharmacists Association
  • UCSF Pharmacy Alumni Association Distinguished Alumnus of the Year Award
  • UCSF Martin Luther King Award for Diversity
  • Pharmacist of the Year, Association of Black Hospital Pharmacists
  • Past president, UCSF Alumni Association and UCSF Pharmacy Alumni Association
  • Past president, American Pharmaceutical Association
  • Past president, American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy
  • Past vice president, National Pharmaceutical Association
  • Board member, American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education
  • Chairman, Board of Directors, Foundation of Pharmacists and Corporate America for AIDS Education
  • Charter member, American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists
  • Doctor of Science degree (hon), Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Sciences
  • Doctor of Science degree (hon), Xavier University of New Orleans


School of Pharmacy, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, Department of Clinical Pharmacy, PharmD Degree Program

About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy aims to solve the most pressing health care problems and strives to ensure that each patient receives the safest, most effective treatments. Our discoveries seed the development of novel therapies, and our researchers consistently lead the nation in NIH funding. The School’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree program, with its unique emphasis on scientific thinking, prepares students to be critical thinkers and leaders in their field.