Time Capsule: Charles Read Jr., 1918-2016

Charles Read Jr. (center, in bow tie) in 1957-58, shortly after he joined the University of Iowa pediatrics faculty.

He treated sailors at war and children in Iowa

Charles Read Jr., MD, was barely a year out of medical school and serving as a flight surgeon on a Canadian aircraft carrier during World War II when a German torpedo struck the ship off the coast of Norway in 1944. The attack killed 21 crewmembers, wounded 40 others, damaged the ship beyond repair, and essentially ended Read’s career as a flight surgeon.

With the war winding down, Read was sent to Prince Edward Island to complete his service. Over the next two years he transitioned from flight surgeon to military physician and rural doctor, launching a peacetime career that would see him make significant contributions to the health and welfare of others—especially at the University of Iowa as the state’s first pediatric endocrinologist.

After serving a handful of small communities on Prince Edward Island accessible only by gravel or clay roads—which is chronicled in his 2012 memoir, This Navy Doctor Came Ashore—Read obtained a residency in pediatrics at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal. He developed an interest in endocrine disorders, and during a subsequent fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital at Harvard and then his first faculty appointment at the University of Manitoba, he started working on the “constant carbohydrate diet” for patients with diabetes. The plan focused on maintaining consistency in each meal’s carb content.

After joining the UI faculty in 1954, Read advocated tirelessly for the constant carbohydrate diet, enlisting colleagues to help spread knowledge of the diet’s success. Although not known officially as the constant carbohydrate diet, it remains a widely adopted model for patient care.

Read retired from the UI in 1987. In addition to a long career in clinical practice, he devised a treatment program for diabetes in southeast Asia for the World Health Organization, developed the first method for measuring human growth hormone, investigated the role of lipids in causing arteriosclerosis, and developed the insulin assay. He was also instrumental in setting up the Iowa City Free Medical Clinic and Dental Clinic with medical residents and nurses in 1971. This clinic was innovative in providing free medical care for all.

Read died Feb. 21, 2016. He was 97.