Leading lung expert John F. Murray dies of coronavirus-related complications at 92


John F. Murray, a leading figure in the field of pulmonary medicine and an expert on lung disease, has died of coronavirus-related complication at a hospital in Paris.

Murray, who led the Pulmonary and Critical Care Division at UC San Francisco for 23 years, died Tuesday after being diagnosed with the disease on March 18, said Douglas Murray, his son. He was 92.

As a researcher, professor and physician, Murray dedicated his career to pulmonary medicine and helped establish the study of the lung and lung diseases as a distinct field, separate from cardiology. He co-authored “Murray and Nadel’s Textbook of Respiratory Medicine,” now in its 6th edition, edited the American Review of Respiratory Disease, and helped develop the standards for training pulmonary doctors.

Murray and a team of researchers also developed a scoring system to expand the definition and help measure the severity of acute respiratory distress syndrome, the condition from which he ultimately died.


“In many ways he helped set the foundation for what has become pulmonary medicine,” said Courtney Broaddus, a professor emeritus at UCSF who led the pulmonary division from 1998 to 2018 and worked under him as a fellow. Both worked at what is now the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.

Murray led the pulmonary division from 1966 to 1989 and created the hospital’s first intensive care unit. He stayed on as a physician until his retirement in 1994, but continued to practice medicine and work as a consultant in San Francisco and in Paris for several years.

As a professor he stressed the importance of doctors working with nurses and social workers as a team to help treat patients at San Francisco General, many of whom are low-income. The hospital is staffed by UCSF doctors but run by the city and county of San Francisco.

The week before his death, nurses at San Francisco General wore clip-on bow ties in his honor.

“In all his dealings in the ICU, John treated every person with respect and held them to high standards, whether it was the intern just starting in the ICU or the fellow who was a much more senior trainee, or the nurses or the therapists,” Broaddus said. “Everybody had something to offer and was treated as a member of this team.”

Later in his career, Murray researched the pulmonary complications caused by HIV infection and the relationship between lung disease and tuberculosis, both in the U.S. and across Africa.


Since 2003, high-performing UCSF Department of Medicine faculty members have received the John Murray Award for Excellence in Internal Medicine. The award highlights “excellence in academic medicine and dedication to the humanitarian mission.” The department has also named a distinguished professorship after Murray.

Murray was born June 8, 1927, in Mineola, N.Y., and grew up in Los Angeles, where his father worked as a cartoonist and befriended Walt Disney, according to Douglas Murray.

Murray received both his undergraduate degree and his medical training at Stanford University and completed his postdoctoral training at San Francisco General and King County Hospital in Brooklyn. Before joining the UCSF staff, Murray spent nine years teaching medicine at UCLA.

Family and friends said Murray was a warm and gregarious person, who could be stern or impatient if he felt people weren’t pulling their weight.

His son Douglas described him as a hard worker, who would continue working in his home office after dinner every night and who sometimes took him to the office to see his research. The younger Murray said that as a child he understood that his father won awards, traveled to give lectures, wrote articles and edited journals, but “I sort of assumed that that’s what doctors do, but they don’t.”

Murray enjoyed hiking, fly fishing, and visiting the Sierra Nevada mountains with his family during the summers. He also liked to read novels, attend the opera, and listen to Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong. In recent years, he lived in Paris.

He is survived by his wife, novelist Diane Johnson; two children; four stepchildren and 14 grandchildren.