Alumnus Pledges $1.5 Million to UB's Medical School to Establish Chair in Dermatology

By Mary Cochrane

Release Date: August 29, 2003 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A pioneer in cancer prevention who appreciated his "quality education," Ralph T. Behling, M.D. '43, has pledged $1.5 million to the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences to establish a chair in dermatology.

Behling is a retired dermatologist whose medical career spanned 40 years and coincided with medical breakthroughs such as penicillin and the Pap smear. The endowed chair will be known as the Rita M. and Ralph T. Behling, M.D., Chair in Dermatology, in honor of his first wife, Rita, who died in 1998.

"This is just my way of making sure future students enjoy the same kind of quality education I had at UB," said Behling, who lives in San Mateo, Calif., with his second wife, Eileen.

A longtime supporter of UB's School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and the School of Nursing, he announced plans for the chair this spring when he returned to UB to celebrate his 60th reunion.

"Dr. Behling's generous gift will help the University at Buffalo attract nationally known faculty to the Department of Dermatology," said Margaret W. Paroski, M.D. '80, UB interim vice president for health affairs and interim dean of the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. "He moved across the country years ago, but he has never forgotten his roots here at UB, and for that we are grateful."

Behling earned a bachelor's degree in pharmacy from UB in 1940 and completed medical school in three years as the result of a directive from the U.S. government, which was in a hurry to train doctors for the war effort. During his internship at The Buffalo General Hospital, Behling was introduced to penicillin, which he used to help combat an outbreak of syphilis in Erie County.

He did his residency at E.J. Meyer Memorial Hospital, the predecessor to the Erie County Medical Center, where he treated patients in the hospital's Varicose Vein Clinic, Syphilis Clinic and outpatient Dermatology Clinic. It was at E.J. Meyer that Behling met his future wife, Rita M. Clancy, a 1940 graduate of UB's School of Nursing, who was head nurse on the hospital's psychiatric ward.

Following the residency, Behling worked for the U.S. Public Health Service, during which he was allotted $1 million to help standardize cancer treatment nationwide. He went to California, where he started tumor clinics in major hospitals and introduced the Pap smear to the western United States. Since that time, the test has become a standard procedure worldwide for detecting and preventing cervical and uterine cancer.

In 1950, Behling resigned from the Public Health Service to begin a private practice in dermatology and to teach at the University of California/San Francisco School of Medicine. He remained in California and ran the San Mateo County venereal disease clinic for many years.

Behling retired from medicine in 1984 and became involved in the real estate business. His wife, Rita, died in 1998, and he married Eileen in 1999. Between them, they have 10 children, all over age 40.

Behling's civic activities include the Kiwanis Club, the Masons and the Chamber of Commerce. He is on the board of directors of the local Salvation Army, sings in a barbershop quartet and is a tenor in his church choir.

Behling's gift is part of "The Campaign for UB: Generation to Generation," which is in its final phase.