The Brigham community mourns the loss of Clair Beard, MD, vice chair of the Division of Genitourinary Radiation Oncology in the Department of Radiation Oncology and director of the Testicular Cancer Center at the Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center, who died unexpectedly on July 31 while on vacation with her family in Vermont. She was 62.
A member of Brigham community for 20 years, Dr. Beard established herself as a leading expert in treating not only testicular cancer but also prostate, bladder and penile cancer — caring for patients and families with extraordinary skill and compassion. Gifted with a sharp mind, meticulous eye for detail and near-encyclopedic knowledge of men’s genitourinary (GU) cancers, Dr. Beard was the person colleagues frequently consulted for clinical guidance. These traits also made her a natural teacher, her colleagues noted, as she freely shared her experience and wisdom with trainees and peers alike.
“In the clinic, she was always a fountain of wisdom on how to treat every rare and obscure GU scenario because she had done it all,” said Paul Nguyen, MD, vice chair of Clinical Research and leader of the Genitourinary Disease Center in Radiation Oncology.
Daphne Haas-Kogan, MD, chair of Radiation Oncology, agreed. “Dr. Beard gained a reputation for being adept at handling the most difficult cases for which there was no textbook answer,” she said.
Notably, Dr. Beard’s pioneering research and bold advocacy helped reshape the standard of care for early-stage seminoma, a form of testicular cancer that had historically been treated with radiation therapy. Dr. Beard was concerned that this approach put patients at unnecessary risk for developing a secondary cancer. Her research, leadership and influence contributed to national guidelines that established surveillance as the new standard of care.
Neil Martin, MD, MPH, clinical director of Radiation Oncology, underscored how much Dr. Beard’s passion for delivering the safest, highest-quality care transformed the care and management of patients with these cancers.
“She was a fierce advocate for doing the right thing, always,” Martin said. “Men at low risk of recurrence of cancer were routinely being treated with radiation that, over decades, could lead to significant medical problems. She helped bring some of these toxicities to light and showed us that we could treat successfully if the disease returned. She collaborated nationally and internationally to spare many men unnecessary radiation.”
Colleagues noted that Dr. Beard’s heart shone just as brightly as her mind. Known for her warmth, kindness, humor and caring friendship, Dr. Beard was well-known for the loving support she extended to others during all of life’s milestones.
She frequently helped celebrate joyful moments by planning office baby showers, helping with wedding planning and surprising co-workers with thoughtful gifts. She was also there in the difficult times, offering sage advice during a setback or accompanying a colleague to medical appointments when they were diagnosed with cancer.
“Dr. Beard’s investment in celebrating special moments in her colleagues’ lives and helping them with their personal challenges helped foster the strong sense of well-being and connectedness within the department,” Haas-Kogan said. “She inspired us all to be just a little kinder, more thoughtful, more gracious and more warmhearted.”
Colleagues fondly recalled how Dr. Beard inspired them personally and professionally with her vibrant spirit, clever wit and free-spirited nature.
“I always looked up to Clair. She was truly ahead of her time — whether it be in fashion, the latest trends or even her radiation prescriptions,” said Kelly Scholl, RT(T), chief radiation therapist for Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center at South Shore Hospital. “She always told the funniest stories, shared recipes and spoke about her family. Clair was the type of person that you looked up to. As a therapist and friend, I always wanted her to see the best of me.”
Dr. Beard is survived by her husband, James (Jamie) Read; their daughter, Anna Rose; her mother, Barbara Beard; her brother, Bruce Beard Jr.; and her sister, Sarah Beard Buckley, as well as many extended family members, friends and loved ones.