He was born and raised in St. Louis, Mo., obtained his B.S. from Harvard College in 1940 and his M.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1943. He trained in internal medicine in St. Louis, focusing his research on streptococcal infections and rheumatic fever. Appointed to the faculty of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, he rose from instructor to associate dean.
In 1956, he became dean at the University of Colorado medical school, where he orchestrated the completion of a new medical center complex. In 1963, he moved to Boston to lead Affiliated Hospitals Center Inc., an ambitious, $50 million merger of six Harvard-affiliated hospitals.
In 1965, he became dean of the Stanford Medical School, where he played a central role in the development of the Stanford Hospital and the Stanford University Medical Center. At the time, the hospital on the Stanford campus was co-owned by the City of Palo Alto. After extended negotiations, he helped engineer the $1 million purchase of the city's stake in the hospital, improving access for community physicians and changing the hospital environment and teaching programs.
At Stanford medical school, he also oversaw major changes in the curriculum to give students greater flexibility, and laid the foundation for the growth of its basic sciences programs. In 1968, he was tapped to serve as acting president of Stanford University following the retirement of J.E. Wallace Sterling.
In 1970, he left Stanford to become vice president of the Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based philanthropic organization devoted to improving health care. He went on to serve as president and chief executive officer of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation from 1972 through 1983. In 1985, he became director for medical science at the Lucille P. Markey Charitable Trust, where until 1997 he oversaw distribution of more than $500 million in support of medical science research. He established the Markey Trust Scholar Program to support numerous post-doctoral scholars around the country.
As part of his involvement with the Palo Alto medical community, he became involved with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, initially through its research institute. In 1981, he became a founding member of its Board of Trustees and continued to serve as an emeritus trustee through 2008. For several decades, he also was editor of Alpha Omega Alpha national medical honor society's scholarly journal "The Pharos."
He was involved nationally in medical education through the Association of American Medical Colleges and served on the National Advisory Committee on Higher Education. He was a founding member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.
He served on the boards of many organizations, including Washington University, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Packard Humanities Institute, the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, the Kaiser Hospitals and Health Plan, the Hewlett-Packard Company and the Alza Corporation. He received many professional awards and honors, including the Dean's Medal from Stanford University School of Medicine, the Dean's Medal from the Harvard Medical School and the Harvard Medal for Distinguished Service.
He was married for 50 years to Helen H. Glaser, M.D., a psychiatrist in private practice in Palo Alto and on the clinical faculty at Stanford until her death in 1999. He is survived by three children, Sally Glaser of Palo Alto, Joseph Glaser II of Nashville, Tenn., and Robert Glaser, Jr., of Colleyville, Texas; and four grandchildren, Audrey Bower, Natalie Bower, Robert Glaser III and Caroline Glaser.
In lieu of flowers, the family prefers donations to the American Philosophical Society, 104 South Fifth St., Philadelphia, PA 19106; or the Cancer Prevention Institute of California, 2201 Walnut Ave., Suite 300, Fremont, CA 94538.
Plans for a memorial service are pending.