As a sideline, Dr. Rabson helped cancer patients who needed advice or a referral, at no charge.
Starting in the late 1950s, word got out that if you had cancer and needed help, all you had to do was call Al Rabson. He would take calls from anyone, whether they were members of Congress, celebrities or taxi drivers. He would answer their questions, counsel them and give referrals.
Even other cancer experts began referring patients to Dr. Rabson.
“People would call me and say: ‘Hey, I know you are a doctor at the National Institutes of Health. Do you know somebody who could help me?’ ” Dr. Collins recalled. “I would say, ‘I know exactly the right person.’ ”
In 2009 the cancer institute established a fellowship in Dr. Rabson’s name. In 2012 Dr. Collins established the Alan S. Rabson Award for Clinical Care to honor an employee at the National Institutes of Health who goes to great lengths to help members of the public.
In addition to his son, who is director of the Child Health Institute of New Jersey and professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey, Dr. Rabson is survived by a granddaughter and two great-grandsons.
He was born Alan Saul Rabinowitz in Brooklyn on July 1, 1926, and grew up in Jamaica, Queens. His parents, Abraham and Florence Rabinowitz, owned a candy store.
After high school, Dr. Rabson went to Rochester University, where he did biology research. He then applied to medical schools. All but one — the Long Island College of Medicine, now SUNY Downstate — rejected him because they had already filled their quotas of Jews, Dr. Arnold Rabson said. The Long Island College had just gotten started and still had some slots open.
There he made it his goal to become a pathologist. He also wound up marrying one, Dr. Ruth Kirschstein. The two, Dr. Lowy said, “were the original power couple.”