To paraphrase John Donne, the loss of any member of the American Diabetes Association (ADA) diminishes us all. But we feel a special sorrow with the recent passing of Dr. Bruce Zimmerman, ADA President, 1999–2000. Midway through his year as president, Dr. Zimmerman returned from a family holiday in Argentina to confirm what he suspected—that he had a serious brain tumor. With extraordinary courage, he completed his presidency and gave a stirring, insightful presidential address in June of 2000, despite having recently had brain surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
Bruce was born in New York and raised in St. Paul, Minnesota. He attended St. Thomas University, St. Paul, Minnesota, for 1 year before deciding on a career in medicine and transferring to the University of Minnesota.
Bruce’s medical training was also at the University of Minnesota, where he was elected to the Alpha Omega Alpha honor society, before taking a rotating internship at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas. The highlight of his year in Texas—it is uniformly agreed—was meeting, courting, and marrying his wonderful wife, Cristina Diligenti. With her, he returned to complete residency in medicine at the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota. Like that of so many of his generation, Bruce’s training was interrupted by the Vietnam War. He served for 3 years in Germany, rising to the rank of major in the U.S. Army.
Returning permanently to his beloved Minnesota, Bruce completed a fellowship in endocrinology at the Mayo and was invited to join the faculty. He rose through the ranks to the level of professor and vice-chairman of the division of endocrinology. In the course of his academic career, Bruce contributed with an extraordinary range of intramural, national, and international activities. He was rightly proud of several contributions in particular: his involvement as a DCCT (Diabetes Control and Complications Trial) investigator for the Mayo, his hard work as an associate editor of Diabetes Care during the 1980s, and his role in helping develop an electronic medical records system for diabetes care at the Mayo. The many thousands who heard Bruce speak were treated to a serious, orderly, and balanced review of the topic at hand. He was a premier diabetes educator, for patients, generalists, and endocrinologists alike.
To the ADA, Bruce gave literally decades of service. The list of his ADA involvements is enormous, with over 30 different committees and task forces. What is more, he did it with a willingness and enthusiasm that made the most routine committee meeting or remote evening talk seem as important as was his presidential address. He was committed to the ADA as a professional society, as well as a voluntary health agency, and was especially proud to have received the Outstanding Physician Clinician Award in 1997. At his memorial service, one speaker noted, “Reputation is what people think of you; character is what you are.” All would agree that Bruce Zimmerman had a generous, scholarly, thoroughly honorable character.
From those who knew him best, the same descriptions come up over and over again: quiet, intelligent, and determined; dedicated to his patients and his colleagues. To be sure, there are also wonderful stories of a zany sense of humor, coming out mainly on sailboats, canoes, and other family water follies. Perhaps with a nudge from his Argentinian wife, Cristina, he had a broad international perspective, and his den has a wall full of medals and appreciative gifts from all parts of the world.
It is shocking to lose a man at his age, at the height of his career. He is survived by Cristina; three accomplished and accomplishing children, Paul, Giselle, and Vanessa; a daughter-in-law, Yelena; a small grandchild, Xenia Ana; and a huge number of friends throughout the world. Bruce would be happy to know that his ADA family is working just a little bit harder, advancing the theory and practice of diabetes care a bit further, in his honor.