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Munroe-Meyer ‘visionary’ Dr. Bruce Buehler remembered as advocate for children with disabilities

September 22, 2018

Hailed as a visionary and a passionate advocate for children with disabilities, Dr. Bruce Buehler elevated the Munroe-Meyer Institute at the University of Nebraska Medical Center to one of the nation’s top programs for genetics.

Buehler directed the institute for 24 years. During the last 16, he also served as chairman of UNMC’s pediatrics department. He helped diagnose rare genetic conditions and treated babies exposed before birth to alcohol, drugs and medications. He was instrumental in developing a statewide network to diagnose, treat and offer services to patients and their families.

Buehler, 75, died Wednesday, inspiring tributes from colleagues and friends who praised his leadership and his humanity.

“Amazing leaders like Bruce emerge once in a generation,” Dr. Karoly Mirnics, Munroe-Meyer’s current director, wrote in a letter to institute colleagues and supporters. “We lost a giant, a visionary, a passionate advocate and an amazing friend. This loss hurts deeply, at a visceral level, yet we must also celebrate his extraordinary life and amazing contributions to our community.”

Buehler began his career working with people with disabilities at the University of Florida, where he earned his undergraduate and medical degrees. After completing his pediatric internship at the University of Chicago School of Medicine, he returned to Florida for a fellowship in pediatrics and genetics. He was a senior flight surgeon in the U.S. Air Force from 1971 to 1974 and served four years on the faculty of the University of Utah College of Medicine before coming to UNMC in 1981.

He became Munroe-Meyer’s director in 1983. At the time, it had 70 employees and a $3 million budget. When he stepped down as director in 2007, the institute had 250 employees and a $21 million budget. He was the institute’s second full-time director. Buehler stayed on the faculty and continued to teach, later working part time, until retiring in June.

“This is the house that Bruce has built,” Mirnics wrote. “We stand on his shoulders, his grand vision and achievements.”

Dr. Jeffrey Gold, UNMC’s chancellor, credited Buehler’s leadership for taking Munroe-Meyer to the next level and for bringing his expertise to patients and families across the state.

“The legacy of Bruce Buehler will never be forgotten,” he said in a statement.

Indeed, Buehler said in 2007 that bringing services to Nebraska so families no longer had to leave the state to get them was the institute’s achievement of which he was most proud.

Dr. Brad Schaefer, former associate director of the institute, said the institute was decades ahead of others in integrating medical genetics into the care of children with special health needs.

“His abilities to develop a vision and then share it with others was a skill few have,” Schaefer, now founding director of the division of genetics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said in a statement. “This allowed him to take a fledgling program and develop it into a flagship program that leads the way in genetics and disabilities.”

Steve McWhorter, president of the Hattie B. Munroe Foundation, which supports initiatives at the institute, credited Buehler with creating a number of programs that enhance the lives of children with disabilities and their families.

A Scottish Rite Mason, Buehler was a strong supporter of that organization’s mission to help children with speech and language disorders, said Micah Evans, development director of Scottish Rite of Nebraska.

Buehler educated members about Munroe-Meyer’s mission and worked to expand the organization’s capacity to provide speech and language therapy to children through the RiteCare Clinic at Munroe-Meyer, Evans said.

Buehler is survived by his wife, Jean; sons Bruce Buehler Jr., David Buehler and James Gosnell; daughter, Lisa Chipetine; and six grandchildren.

A memorial service will be Sunday at 11:30 a.m. at Temple Israel.

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