University of California official obituary.
“Joseph Gilbert Hamilton, Medicine; Medical Physics: San Francisco and Berkeley 1907-1957
Professor of Experimental Medicine, General Medicine, and Experimental Radiology Professor of Medical Physics, Director, Crocker Laboratory
Dr. Hamilton learned that he was suffering from leukemia in 1955. In spite of weakness and poor health, he kept up his interest and activities in Crocker Laboratory. While he had cautioned others against excessive irradiation, his own life was filled with episodes resulting in exposure that undoubtedly contributed to his illness. He died on February 18, 1957. He is survived by his wife, Leah Rinne Hamilton, whom he had helped through illness and who quietly but courageously helped him in his last illness.
Dr. Hamilton participated in the first applications of radioactive isotopes to problems of our age. His pioneer contributions will remain significant, for they anticipated discoveries now being made in this full-bodied field of science. More important to those who knew him was his helpful enthusiasm, his willingness to share his time and facilities with those in need of help, his loyalty to his co-workers, and his devotion to science.
A. C. Helmholz C. W. Asling H. B. Jones end quote.
Hamilton died at age 49 of radiation induced leukemia.
Joe Hamilton’s Cavalier Approach to Radiation
HEFNER: Describe a little bit why you say that. What behaviors made you think that?
GOFMAN: If you need a target made or a target handled, he’d bring it back. He shouldn’t have been carrying the thing. Just a general handling of things. This guy didn’t seem to respect radiation.
HEFNER: Do you know why, do you have any sense why?
GOFMAN: I have a letter from a lady. Did Greg Herken18 ever show you that letter?
GOFMAN: Do you see him much?
GOURLEY: I see him now and then.
GOFMAN: There’s the Cal Monthly; you know the magazine. Well, Russell Schoch had called me up and said, “I’ve done a question-and-answer interview with all the heretics on the Berkeley campus. But I’ve never done you.” So he did, and this lady read the Cal Monthly interview and she said, “I was a classmate of Joe Hamilton. This guy was just wild; he would do the craziest things all the time, and we’d just wonder when he was going to blow up the place.” I can locate that letter for you sometime, if you would like to have it.
HEFNER: Okay, thank you very much.
GOFMAN: I’ve forgotten her name, but I have it in an envelope with all my papers concerning that “60 Minutes Australia.” She described Joe as an undergraduate who had crazy ideas. Who would do things like inhale some gases that would change his voice?19She thought he was strange.
HEFNER: What strikes me is how parallel your academic credentials are to Dr. Hamilton-an M.D. and the love of chemistry.
GOFMAN: I always got along fine with Joe. I think he’s gotten a very, very bad rap in this whole human experimentation [uproar]. All my relations with Joe Hamilton were always cordial. I didn’t know what he was doing with the radiology group. And even though he was in Crocker Lab and I’d come to the Donner Lab [at Berkeley], we’d see each other occasionally. I’d known him before in the war years. Always cordial. I think people made him out to be a monster ever since some of this recent [public attention].
HEFNER: So he’s not the mad scientist he’s portrayed to be?
GOFMAN: Oh, no, no. Joe is just a very simple person. He may have been isolated, but Dorothy Axelrod, who used to date Bob Duffield (who was one of my close friends in chemistry), worked with Joe and she loved to work with him. She didn’t just think he was a fun guy.
GOURLEY: [Is] Joe Hamilton the one [who] you hear stories [about] tak[ing] the nuclear drink in front of a class?
GOFMAN: Oh yeah, I think he did drink radioiodine. I’ve heard those stories. He was teaching a course of applications of radioactivity in biology and medicine in our division. When Joe died of leukemia, I inherited that course and taught it after that.
GOURLEY: Did you do the same thing?
GOFMAN: NoNo, I didn’t drink anything. I did work in John Lawrence’s clinic, as I told you, and treated people with radioactive phosphorus. That was not human experimentation: John had tried this.
Every person that came to John’s clinic was referred by a doctor for radiation treatment, and patients knew what they were getting into. To clarify things for you, I had already [known about these radiation treatments] from having read all of the stuff they’d done.
The treatment of polycythemia [veras]20was very successful with radioactive phosphorus. The treatment of leukemia was successful only in one form of leukemia, called chronic myelogenous21 leukemia. It was the other leukemias that did poorly with radiophosphorus. By the time I got there in 1947, they were no longer treating other leukemias, but the chronic myelogenous leukemia did quite well sometimes.
GOURLEY: Which type of radiation?
GOFMAN: Radioactive phosphorus, 32P. end quote.
P32 = Beta.