Leonard Napolitano, PhD


Dean, UNM School of Medicine (1972-1994)


Dr. Napolitano was born in 1930 in Oakland, CA, one of three children and the only son of Italian immigrants. He attended Santa Clara University where, in 1950, he quarterbacked the Broncos to an upset Orange Bowl win over Bear Bryant's Kentucky Wildcats.

Dr. Napolitano earned a PhD in anatomy from St. Louis University and proceeded to teach at Cornell Medical School and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He moved to New Mexico in 1964 to become one of the seven founding faculty at the newly established School of Medicine at UNM. He became interim Dean of the medical school in 1972 and was named permanent Dean the following year, serving in that capacity until his retirement in 1994.

Dr. Napolitano presided over the dramatic expansion of the medical school and health sciences complex on the North campus of UNM, creating an environment known nationally and internationally for its innovative teaching curriculum. He was a highly effective advocate for the medical school at the legislature in Santa Fe. Due to these efforts, the medical school and the associated health sciences campus became one of New Mexico's chief assets. Among his many honors, Dr. Napolitano received the medical school's first Living Legend award in 2009.

Dr. Napolitano loved opera, Tony Bennett, good food, and good company. He was an avid reader and a passionate supporter of the arts. He loved his family and had deep and enduring friendships all over the world.

Unique for a dean of a medical school, Len was not a physician. Nonetheless, he was masterful in his interactions with the state legislature and a strong leader of the School of Medicine. I recall meetings where, with a cup of yogurt in one hand and a cigarette in the other, Len ended animated debates by looking over his glasses and firmly declaring, “da dean says…..” , which everyone understood to mean the discussion was over.
Jeffrey Griffith, PhD, Executive Vice Dean Emeritus, UNM School of Medicine