Robert E. Tranquada ’51
Public Health Advocate and Trustee
Bob Tranquada ’51, former chair of the Pomona College Board of Trustees and former dean of the medical school at USC, died on December 4, 2022, in Pomona. He was 92.
A diabetes researcher turned public health advocate, Tranquada was instrumental in increasing access to health care for underserved communities across Los Angeles County. He was a founding board member and chair of L.A. Care, today the country’s largest publicly operated health plan.
The son of two Pomona alumni and father and grandfather of others, Tranquada was a constant friend of the College. As a Commencement speaker and recipient of an honorary doctorate in 2007, he said, “I have been couched in the arms of Pomona College for a long time. It would be impossible to return more than a fraction of that I have received.” Awarded an Alumni Scholarship as a student, he returned much, both in service and financial support. The student health facility that serves The Claremont Colleges bears his name as the Robert E. Tranquada Student Services Center.
Tranquada’s path to medicine began early. Hospitalized with a broken leg at age 5, he was so impressed with the doctors who treated him he decided to become a physician. After graduating from Pomona College, summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, he attended the Stanford University School of Medicine and joined the faculty of the USC medical school in 1959.
Tranquada’s career took a dramatic turn in 1965, when the California Army National Guard medical battalion he commanded was activated during the Watts Uprising to treat casualties of the violent confrontations between L.A. police and residents. Afterward, he was asked by then-USC Medical School Dean Roger Egeberg to head the new Department of Community and Preventative Medicine and to organize a public health clinic in Watts. Tranquada was one of the founders and the first director of the South Central Multipurpose Health Services Center in 1965 (now Watts Healthcare Corp.), one of the country’s first community health centers.
His experience in working to launch the health clinic, which opened its doors in 1967, led to a 40-year career in public health. Two years later, as associate dean of the medical school, Tranquada was appointed medical director of Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. After five years as medical director, he became director of the Central Health Services Region of the L.A. County Department of Health Services.
Following other leadership positions, in 1986 Tranquada was recruited to become dean of what is now the Keck School of Medicine at USC with a mandate to develop a new private teaching hospital, today’s Keck Hospital of USC. It was while serving as dean that he was appointed to the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department, better known as the Christopher Commission, formed in the wake of the 1991 Rodney King beating. He also headed the Los Angeles County Task Force on Access to Health Care following the 1992 civil unrest, which led to the creation of Community Health Councils, a nonprofit that works to promote health and wellness in under-resourced communities.
After stepping down as USC medical school dean in 1991, Tranquada held an endowed chair in health policy before becoming professor emeritus upon his retirement in 1997. During his long and distinguished career, he was elected a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
In addition to his service on the Pomona College Board of Trustees beginning in 1969, Tranquada was chair of the Claremont University Consortium board from 2000 to 2006. He served on numerous boards and was a particularly effective advocate for increasing the number of women and people of color in medicine, serving as a longtime board member of New York-based National Medical Fellowships, a member of the founding board of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science and a board member of Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital.
Born in Los Angeles, Tranquada was the son of Ernest Tranquada ’27 and Katharine Jacobus Tranquada ’29. He married Janet Martin Tranquada ’51 after meeting at Pomona. In addition to his wife of 71 years, he is survived by children John ’77 (Lisa Sackett Tranquada ’77), Jim (Kristin) and Kate Tranquada; grandchildren Matt ’08, Jessica and Alex Tranquada; and his sister, Carolyn Prestwich ’54.