October 24, 2022

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In Memoriam: Dr. Howard “Howie” Roffwarg

Published on Monday, October 24, 2022

The Medical Center extends its sympathy to the family of a former faculty member in appreciation for the loved one’s contributions to the academic health sciences center.

Dr. Howard “Howie” Roffwarg

Portrait of Howard Roffwarg

Dr. Howard “Howie” Roffwarg of Jackson, professor emeritus of psychiatry and human behavior at UMMC, who was acclaimed for his research in tandem with the scientist known as the father of sleep medicine, died October 17. He was 90.

“Throughout his career, he was respected for his excellence in clinical care, education, and research, having made significant contributions in each area,” said Dr. Scott Rodgers, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and former chair of psychiatry and human behavior at UMMC. 

“Furthermore, Dr. Roffwarg was a passionate advocate for the members of the department. During my time as chair, he would come to me and tell me stories about the success of our faculty, trainees, and staff. He cared deeply about their well-being and their professional and personal success.

“[His] selflessness, combined with his excellence in the three mission areas of our institution, made him a rare and very special member of the UMMC faculty. We would all be wise to learn from and seek to emulate his example.”

A native of the Bronx in New York City, Roffwarg earned his medical degree from Columbia University, where he attended a lecture by sleep medicine pioneer, Dr. William Dement. The encounter eventually led to a research partnership between Roffwarg and Dement, known for helping create the fields of sleep research and sleep medicine.

“Dr. Roffwarg enjoyed an impressive research and clinical career that spanned nearly 70 years,” said Dr. Allen Richert, associate professor of psychiatry and division director of sleep medicine in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior. “He performed some of the earliest studies of REM sleep and earned international renown for his research into REM sleep’s role in normal brain development.”

Roffwarg was a founding member of the Sleep Research Society, which he served as president, and received the organization’s Jubilee Award on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the discovery of REM sleep. He also served as president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and was known for writing the groundbreaking paper, “Ontogenetic Development of the Human Sleep-Dream Cycle.”

For many years, he was a professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

In 1995, he joined the faculty of UMMC, where he was director of the Division of Sleep Medicine, Sleep Disorders Center, and Sleep Neurophysiology Laboratory. He secured hundreds of thousands of dollars in research grants for the Medical Center, serving the institution for more than two decades.

“During his time at UMMC, he supervised the growth of UMMC’s sleep disorders clinic and clinical sleep laboratory,” Richert said. “He also trained many psychiatry residents and several fellows in sleep medicine. Dr. Roffwarg was a celebrity in the international clinical-sleep and sleep-research communities. 

“I and others who worked alongside Dr. Roffwarg will also remember him as their mentor and friend, Howie. His family described him as passionate. I witnessed his passion for patient care, research, playing baseball and following his youngest son’s baseball career. I can also attest to his passion for editing other people’s writing.

“The time Howie shared with us at UMMC made us better.”