Former Attending Physician to Congress Dr. Robert Krasner ‘67 donates decades of memorabilia to Special Collections


Dr. Robert Krasner ’67 rubbed elbows with the nation’s most prominent political figures, including George H. W. Bush, during his tenure as Attending Physician to Congress. (Photo courtesy of the Robert CJ Krasner Papers, Special Collections and College Archives)

By Madeline Marriott, Assistant Arts and Culture Editor

From walking the halls of the Capitol Building to witnessing addresses by George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Dr. Robert Krasner ‘67, a two-star rear admiral in the United States Navy, was present at countless moments in U.S. history. Now, his personal correspondence, unpublished memoirs, personal diaries and photographs are a part of Lafayette’s Special Collections.

Krasner, who graduated with a double major in history and literature in three years at the age of twenty, credits his liberal arts education with giving him an edge over other aspiring medical professionals. While some medical schools were hesitant to admit a student without a degree in the sciences, he was lauded by the University of Maryland Medical School for his diverse academic background.

“Krasner really lives the Lafayette ideal of humanities and sciences,” Director of Special Collections and College Archives Thomas Lannon said. “Although he was a doctor, he also really liked to write. I don’t know many people who are successful doctors who also write creatively and extensively.”

An opponent of the war in Vietnam, Krasner requested an overseas position after deferring military service while completing medical training as part of the Berry Plan. He traveled to Ethiopia and Sardinia over the course of two years in two positions that immersed him fully in the respective communities.

Following these two positions, Krasner signed on to be a physician at the American Embassy in London, where he was tasked with caring for ambassadors and members of the intelligence agencies. One of his patients included Elliot Richardson, a former United States Secretary of Defense under President Nixon who, at the time, had recently been appointed the U.S. ambassador to Britain by President Ford.

Upon returning to the United States after a two-year tenure in London, Krasner headed to Bethesda Naval Hospital to finish his training and become board certified. A fellowship studying tropical diseases took him to Panama and Jakarta. Then, he returned to the United States with a new place of employment: the U.S. Capitol Building. 

Krasner served as the attending physician to Congress from 1990 to 1994, during which he was responsible for the medical care of some of the most important figures in American politics, including members of the House of Representatives and Senate and Supreme Court Justices. 

This job put Krasner in a unique position as an apolitical figure in a political setting. “My job was to take care of them and not to discuss politics,” he said. 

One of Krasner’s main rules of medicine has always been “if you can’t fix it, feature it.”

When Krasner discovered cancer in people such as Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Senator Bob Dole, they often wanted to keep the diagnoses quiet. Krasner encouraged them to go public, hoping it would influence people across the country to take action to keep themselves healthy. Luckily, his plan worked.

“[Bob Dole] talks about the dozens or hundreds of letters he got from men saying, ‘Because of what you did, I got tested, I had surgery, and I’m alive today,'” Krasner said.

Krasner recalled a camaraderie that transcended political disagreements. These political figures, whose families were often living back in their home district while they commuted to Washington, D.C. each week, even came together at the Krasners’ own kitchen table. 

“My wife, Leslie, would cook, and we would have a barbecue or something at my house,” he said. “We had Democrats, Republicans, senators and House members. They got along — they might have disagreed, but they got along.” 

This position taught Krasner to abandon prejudgments about the figures based on their political alignments. “Some people that were heroes to me politically were not necessarily the most pleasant or nice people when I met them, and the reverse happened,” he said. “I had a couple ideas about certain senators and congressmen that I would disagree with totally politically, with whom I became very good friends.”

Krasner forged close friendships with several of his patients, including Justice William Brennan, Justice Thurgood Marshall and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Justice Brennan and Justice Marshall tasked Krasner with determining when it was time for them to retire from the bench. Krasner was so intimately involved in these decisions that he even drafted Brennan’s letter to the president announcing his retirement.

With the addition of his memorabilia to Special Collections, Krasner hopes students can view documents they would not have a chance to encounter otherwise.

“I saved invitations to hundreds of different events around the world,” Krasner said. “These things have historical value.”

Lannon agreed, calling the memorabilia a “first draft of history.”

“You use archives to craft new narratives and to write new stories,” Lannon said. “You’re seeing material that doesn’t exist anywhere else, and in some cases, the student is the first person to make sense of them.”

Krasner’s items will be available to view in Special Collections by appointment.

Dr. Krasner meeting with Queen Elizabeth II of England (Photo courtesy of the Robert CJ Krasner Papers, Special Collections & Archives)