Remembering Robert D. Gibson

A beloved educator and alumnus of the UCSF School of Pharmacy, Robert D. Gibson, PharmD ’58, died on July 19 at the age of 93. Gibson had an illustrious career over five decades at UCSF and was a strong national leader for diversity in the pharmacy profession.

“No other UCSF School of Pharmacy leader so inspired others by his words and deeds,” said B. Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD, dean of the School of Pharmacy. “He fought for inclusion, regardless of background or birth. He was passionate about equality—in education, in the profession of pharmacy, and in every aspect of life.”

Gibson held many positions at UC San Francisco. At the campus level he served as associate vice chancellor for student and academic affairs; at the School level, he was associate dean of student affairs, associate dean of professional affairs, and director of the Pharmaceutical Technology Laboratory.

Nationally, he served as president of both the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) and the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP). His many awards included a Fulbright Scholarship and the prestigious Remington Honor Medal from APhA.

Early life

Gibson was born in Tacoma, Washington, with ancestry that included both slave and slaveholder.

He was a student at the University of Oregon when he was drafted into the segregated U.S. Army during World War II. Serving in an all-black unit in Texas, he experienced racism in the South first hand when he was once jailed—while wearing his U.S. Army uniform—for being on the wrong side of town. When his army service ended, he returned to the University of Oregon, earning a BS in chemistry in 1949.

A distinguished UCSF career

Gibson working in lab

Robert D. Gibson, PharmD ’58, at work in the lab in 1972

Gibson continued his education at the UCSF School of Pharmacy, where he became the first African American to earn a doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree from the School, in 1958. Initially a staff pharmacist at UCSF, Gibson joined the UCSF faculty in the 1960s, where he would serve in many roles over the next 50 years.

A mentor and a pioneer

Gibson's accomplishments as a pharmacist were many, but his dedication to cracking open the profession to minorities was unmatched. Thanks largely to his efforts, minority student recruitment, matriculation, and graduation all increased over the course of his career, both at UCSF and nationwide.


Robert D. Gibson, PharmD ’58, at a meeting of the UCSF Pharmacy Alumni Association in 1960

As a mentor and an associate dean, Gibson personally shepherded a new generation of black and other minority students into the profession, including UCSF School of Pharmacy Vice Dean Sharon L. Youmans, PharmD ’85, MPH. Their mentoring relationship was profiled by UCSF Magazine in 2014.

“I had a grant to increase minority representation in pharmacy, so I took Sharon to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy meetings,” Gibson remembered. “She was so bright; she didn’t need any introductions—she just jumped right in.”

Youmans, who called Gibson “Doc,” told the magazine, “Our relationship has lasted over several decades now. When I was inducted as a fellow into the American Pharmacists Association, he was there—he led that trail. He taught me that you don’t have to let skin color stop you. Doc made his mark on me, the field, and UCSF. He embodies this place.”

Kathleen B. Kennedy, PharmD ’78, dean of the College of Pharmacy, Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, was another student touched by Gibson. “Gibson was my mentor,” Kennedy said. “Gibson got me involved with the Student National Pharmaceutical Association, and we put together a publication on ethnic-related diseases. That is probably why I’m interested in the disparities that exist in different populations.”

Awards and activism

In the late 1980s, when Arizona refused to adopt Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a state holiday, Gibson convinced AACP to move its conference from Phoenix in response.

“That’s how effective Gib was,” said friend and colleague Robert L. Day, PharmD ’58. “When Gib got up and talked, it wasn’t because he was such an overwhelming personality, it’s not because he was so dominant—it’s because he was, in many ways, an overwhelming human, a very genuinely good, kind-hearted, caring individual.”

Gibson would later become the president of AACP, as well as president of APhA. He also served as president of the UCSF Alumni Association Board. He was honored as Pharmacist of the Year by the Association of Black Hospital Pharmacists, and with honorary doctoral degrees from Xavier University of Louisiana and the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Sciences. In 1983, he was the UCSF Pharmacy Alumni Association Distinguished Alumnus of the Year.

In 2006, Gibson was awarded the Remington Honor Medal, the highest award bestowed by the APhA. Gibson used the occasion to thank his friends and colleagues, but also to talk about the importance of bringing diversity to the profession:

And so I end this note of thanks to you, and to the profession, for enabling me to fulfill my dreams. I thank the profession for recognizing and working to remedy the lack of diversity in its professional ranks, beginning with the early 1960s. I thank it also for this medal—that I may never take off. Thank you, my friends and dear ones, for your love, friendship, and guidance over the years. I thank all of you for honoring me tonight and allowing me to share with you how exquisitely brilliant this moment is for me.

He is survived by his wife of 24 years, Linda; his sister, Jacqueline Branch; his children: Dana, Debra, Barton, Todd, Kim, and Cassandra; his grandchildren: Darren, Greyson, Brandon, and Mitra; nephew Ron Branch; four great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild.

Selected tributes from former students and colleagues

Kristine Kotoff-Quart, PharmD ’82

Bob Gibson WAS the practice of clinical pharmacy. He lived and breathed the ideal of medical teams working together to care for patients. He made us all feel as if we could conquer the world.

Robert R. Beltran MD, PharmD ’76

He was not only a mentor, educator, administrator, and social activist for me, he was truly a friend. My individual discussions with him made me understand clearly that we (any young person) had to take advantage of each and any opportunity and never take a backseat to anyone.

Kenneth H. Schell, PharmD ’84

I was one of those who was inspired and mentored by Bob. He instilled in me the desire to always achieve just a bit more. I have a letter he wrote to me as a second-year student that still sends chills down my spine. He told me I could be all I wished to be, and he saw potential in me. I couldn't have been lifted any higher. I have been blessed with many mentors in my career, but at the head of that distinguished group is Bob Gibson.

Carlos Lopes, PharmD ’79

I am among those he mentored and guided. He was my one-on-one interviewer when I applied to the School, and I will never forget the impression he made on me. Later, he would never fail to say hello and call me by my name when I saw him in the halls, and he was among the first to congratulate me on gaining acceptance to my residency. He shook my hand, smiled, and told me to “knock ’em dead.” For me, he personified the high standards that the School represents. I have tried to emulate his example in dealing with my students and residents over the years, and can only hope I did him proud.

Norris Turner, PharmD, PhD

There were very few African American (male or female) doctor of pharmacy role models that blazed the professional trail for individuals like myself, who came through in the 80s and 90s. Dr. Gibson was one of those two highly influential individuals for me (Dr. Eddie Boyd of the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy was the other). I first met Dr. Gibson when he visited with individuals at the UM College of Pharmacy on a trip to the College. It was a blessing for me that Dean Ara Paul offered me the opportunity to meet one-to-one with Dr. Gibson (around 1988 or 1989) and learn about his background and the road he had traveled to get to the prominent professional place he was at that point in time. He conveyed a quiet confidence and relatedness to the sharing of his story that was inspiring to me.

Interestingly, as I decided upon the completion of my PharmD at Michigan that I would pursue my PhD in pharmaceutical chemistry at UCSF, it offered me the good fortune and blessing to continue my relationship with Dr. Gibson over the six-year period (1990-1996) that I was there. I would periodically visit with him at his office in Student Affairs and he would always have words of encouragement and wisdom that he would share with me. His presence, accomplished professional history, and periodic words to me were an underlying force in helping me get through tough times I encountered—and I surely didn’t want to disappoint him. Sadly, I lost touch with Dr. Gibson following my time at UCSF, but would like to say to his family that I owe him a great debt of GRATITUDE and THANKS for where I am professionally today, and where I will continue to strive to achieve.

Suzanne Adair, PharmD ’76 and Dennis Adair, PharmD ’64

… I can’t imagine another person with the broad and sustained impact on pharmacy, UCSF, and society in general… Bob was a giant among us and very, very gentle and persistent crusader.

Daniel A. Hussar, PhD, Dean Emeritus and Remington Professor Emeritus, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, University of the Sciences

Bob Gibson was a gentleman. His wisdom and leadership were provided in a manner that inspired his colleagues toward high personal goals and being committed ambassadors for the profession of pharmacy. His friendship and our discussions are of lasting value in professional responsibilities and service to others.

To make a gift to the School of Pharmacy in memory of Robert D. Gibson, PharmD ’58:

  1. Make a gift

  2. Select “Direct your gift to a specific area”

  3. Select “Pharmacy’s Greatest Need” (suggested)

  4. Under “Other,” type: in memory of Robert Gibson

Or contact:

Brandon O’Hare, Director of Development
UCSF School of Pharmacy and Graduate Division
brandon.o'[email protected]

Celebration of the life of Robert D. Gibson, PharmD ’ 58

Friday, October 12, 2018, 3:00 – 5:00 pm
Millberry Union Conference Center
500 Parnassus Avenue, San Francisco, California

RSVP is now closed due to room capacity. Please see About Parnassus Heights for driving directions and parking.


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.