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John C. Bugher

“Dr. Bugher certainly has been one of the most versatile and brilliant officers of The Rockefeller Foundation. Thoroughly grounded in the medical sciences, he is also an accomplished virologist, a mathematician, and a physicist, and has utilized all these disciplines effectively in search for ways by which atomic energy can be used in the solution of contemporary problems."

~ Rockefeller Foundation President J. George Harrar, quoted in the RF Staff Newsletter, January 1967

In his twenty-five years with the Rockefeller Foundation (RF), John C. Bugher demonstrated his expertise in a wide range of fields, from yellow fever to atomic energy. He worked his way up through the Foundation’s ranks, from an International Health Division (IHD) field staff member to Director for Medical Education and Public Health.

Bugher was born in Upland, Indiana on September 26, 1901. He earned his B.A. from Taylor University in 1921, his M.D. from the University of Michigan in 1929, and his M.S. from Michigan in 1931. Before arriving at the Rockefeller Foundation (RF), Bugher taught Bacteriology and Pathology at the University of Michigan; he was an Assistant Professor of Pathology on the University’s medical faculty from 1933 to 1937.

Hired as a field staff member in the RF’s International Health Division in 1937, Bugher’s first assignment was in Colombia, South America, where he contributed to yellow fever laboratory research and fieldwork. From 1940-1943, he served as the director of the Sección de Estudios Especiales in Bogotá. In 1943, he was transferred to Lagos, Nigeria, where he established and served as the first Director of the Yellow Fever Institute. 

Bugher returned to the United States in 1948 to work in the IHD’s laboratories conducting biophysicial studies of viruses. He took a leave of absence from 1951 to 1955 to serve first as Deputy Director, and then Director of the Division of Biology and Medicine of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, focusing on the peaceful uses of atomic energy in medicine. Bugher rejoined the Foundation in 1955, serving as Director for Medical Education and Public Health until 1959. From 1960 until his retirement from the RF in 1966, he was on special assignment at the University of Puerto Rico, as Director of the Puerto Rico Nuclear Center.

Bugher received several honors for his work for the Foundation and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. In May 1967, he received the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission Citation for his contributions to the United States’ peaceful nuclear energy programs.  In a letter to RF President J. George Harrar, he said that “The citation is as much to The Rockefeller Foundation as it is to me, and is a recognition of the quiet work the Foundation has done over the years in trying to guide the forces that are changing society so profoundly.”

Bugher died on September 19, 1970, in Delray Beach, Florida. His papers and officer’s diaries can be accessed at the Rockefeller Archive Center.