Friday, July 13, 2007


How do we know docs have a sense of humor? Because sometimes we get the before and after pictures, like these of Dr. Donald Kassebaum, M.D. You can see what he has to say for himself in his oral history interview.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Joseph Leggett Miller, Jr., M.D., 1910-2007

I was recently alerted to the death of Dr. Joseph L. Miller, Jr., by, of all things, an editorial in the Oregonian, which will be available free online for another few days. "The doctor who battled for Bull Run" it was titled, and the first physician to pop into my head was Dr. Harold Osterud, also recently deceased, who was a champion of clean water both in Bull Run and other local waterways.

As it turns out, Miller was an equally ardent advocate for Bull Run, a man who--according to the editorial--"single-handedly forced the U.S. Forest Service to halt logging and prevent recreational development in the Bull Run watershed system" in 1973. Unfortunately, politics being what it is, the watershed was reopened for logging, and Miller had the opportunity both to be arrested for his beliefs (at the age of 81, when he blocked logging trucks with his body) and to see the realization of his dream of a protected area with the passage of the Oregon Resource Conservation Act.

I hadn't known anything about this side of Miller, having transplanted myself to this area a long time after he was active in his pursuits. I had started to feel like I knew him a little from our "relationship" here in Historical Collections & Archives: he had donated over fifty titles to the History of Medicine Collection, and probably many others that are currently housed in the circulating collections. I must confess that I find it a little unnerving that the Oregonian referred to him as "Joe"; the formal donation bookplates always name him fully, as Joseph Leggett Miller, Jr. I was reluctant to even think of him as JLM, let alone Joe. I know bibliophiles can also be friendly, outgoing, casual folk--though I must admit that most serious book collectors I've met have been a bit on the stodgy side.

From his obituary, published about a week after the news editorial, I also learned that Miller was a Quaker, and a product of some very fine medical schools (University of Chicago, MD; Johns Hopkins, internship; Peter Bent Brigham, residency). His scholarship was evident from his collecting habits, but I never would have guessed the Quaker part.

I guess you can't judge a man by his bookplate.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


If I had a dime for every time I was here at work and ran across something unexpected, something that made me smile, I do believe I'd be a rich woman.

Case in point: the faculty file for one Charles Nixon Holman, M.D. (no, that's not the smile part, although learning his middle name did make me chuckle). Holman was dean of the Medical School here from 1968-75, shepherding the school through its break with the University of Oregon and its consolidation with the schools of nursing and dentistry into the University of Oregon Health Sciences Center. Dour looking man, to me, in the photos we have (that's him on the left in this one). But in the faculty file from News & Pubs, there was a typewritten letter from Holman to his wife, Dorothy, dated March 1, 1974. Get ready to smile:

Dear Dorothy,

For the past several dozen years, as you well know, I've been goofing off up here on the Hill. I feel the time has come that you become more aware of how this was possible.

It was very simple, I instructed my secretary to inform all callers and visitors that I was in an important meeting. What I was actually doing was counting the number of blades of grass per square foot outside my window. This provided me with an excellent opportunity to do an important research project that I've long wanted to complete. For your information there is, and I believe I'm correct, 9,321,451 blades per square foot. As you know this will be very helpful to us in reseeding our lawn when I retire. I would appreciate it if you would begin soon to count how many grass seeds are in each pound so that we can plan our reseeding along a scientific basis.

Back to the subject at hand. Our PR director, that nut Ken Niehans, has come up with the idea that we ought to invite all the wives of the members of our Advancement Fund Board to lunch and show them around. He's always been a trouble causer but since he has tenure there isn't much I can do. He has the wild idea that such an activity will lead to the wives discussing the needs of the Medical School in their homes. As I mentioned earlier, he's a real nut.

In any case I'd rather not hurt his feelings so I want to ask you to go along with him and ask that you, Dottie Zimmerman and Dwyn Anne Adams to serve as unofficial hostesses for the event.

Well, back to your becoming more aware of my activities on the Hill, I want to invite you and a guest of your choice (make it someone who thinks I've really been working) to join us on campus Wednesday March 20 for an informal luncheon and a short tour of some of our facilities.

If you could arrive at the Administration Building by 11:30 we would like to present a brief overview of our programs here at the School before having lunch. Following the luncheon we plan a visit to our perinatal division and our newborn intensive care unit. The faculty members in charge of these areas will be on hand to tell you about them and answer any questions you may have. The planned activities should be over about 2:30 p.m.

Enclosed is a card and a return envelope which you may use to signify your attendance. At a later date we will send additional information relative to parking and where we will meet.

We do hope that you and your guest (now be sure you choose the right one) will be able to join other wives of our Advancement Fund Board members and their guests for this campus visit.

Charles N. Holman, M.D.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Interesting characters

Today, two reference questions from afar--one much farther than the other, to be sure--about people who were active in the medical community of the Pacific Northwest: one male, one female; one a doctor, the other a nurse; one born in the 19th century and the other in the 20th; both leaders of very interesting lives.

A gentleman from Ontario, Canada, saw on the web that we have a Biographical File on his great-grandfather, A.E.R. Strath-Gordon. Not at all a familiar name to me, I verified that this was correct and went up to pull the file. One piece of paper only, but what a great piece of paper!: the longish obituary published by the Oregonian on January 8, 1952. In it, we learn that Alexander Edward Ronald was born in Aberdeen-Huntly, Scotland, in 1873, and that he received his medical degree "with highest honors" from the Edinburgh Medical School. That's when it gets interesting:
He entered the British army and was stationed with the Cree Indian tribe in northwest Canada where he remained seven years. During the Boer war he served as a medical officer in Africa with the rank of major, and at the close of the war was one of several British professional men sent on confidential missions to various areas of the world.
In 1904 he opened his medical office in Seattle.... During World War I he was a medical officer with the British army in France with the rank of colonel....
He then became head of the British passport control service in New York where he stayed until his retirement in 1934.... In 1942 he came to Portland as an instructor at Hill Military academy.
Dr. Strath-Gordon was the founder of the Atlantean Research society and was a 33d degree Mason from the mother lodge in Scotland. He had a working knowledge of 32 languages and was a proficient scholar of Sanskrit.
Now THAT would have been a great collection of personal papers!

The other query came from across the gorge in Walla Walla, WA, where a woman is looking for more information about her aunt, who was a nurse, army lieutenant, and accomplished painter. Doris Burnette Harris Merritt served with the UOMS volunteer unit, the 46th General Hospital, and was supervisor of the medical-surgical unit at the Multnomah County Hospital here on Marquam Hill. During her career and after her retirement, she produced oil portraits of the physicians and others whom she encountered (including the then famous Tigner Quads), which hung for a period of time on the walls of local hospitals. Information about her time in Europe during the war has been deposited in an archive in our nation's capitol.

I just love "meeting" the interesting old characters who once graced these shores, and I'm always grateful for the patrons who bring them to my attention!

Monday, July 09, 2007

East meets West

Fresh from cataloging to its permanent home in the PNW Archives collection is an unusual little volume entitled Onshi Guria Sensei o shinonde or, in translated form, The memories of Dr. Greer. A compilation of reminiscences by former research fellows, the book celebrates the career of Monte A. Greer, M.D. (1922-2002), longtime former chair of the Division of Endocrinology at OHSU. The fellows worked with Greer over a period of many years, from 1957 to 1992, and most went on to become professors of medicine or hospital administrators in Japan.

Dr. Greer lectured extensively in Japan and elsewhere, and he was fluent in Japanese (as well as Slovak). He was known for pioneering work in medical treatment of goiters and overactive thyroids at a time when most patients were forced to undergo surgery. He was the first to demonstrate a relationship between the hypothalamus region of the brain, the pituitary gland and the thyroid gland. He also was the first to isolate substances in foods that can contribute to the development of goiters. He later showed how thyroid hormone could be used to counteract goiter development. He authored several books and numerous research articles, the last of which was published in May of 2002 shortly before his death at the age of 79.

In his oral history interview, former Dean John W. Kendall, M.D., had this to say about Greer:

ASH: .... So you were here with Monte Greer. Can you tell me something about him?

KENDALL: Well, Monte's a very interesting scientist. He was a leader in the field at that time who did some of the first work on the brain effects on the endocrine system. He was the first to discover the zone of the brain that helps to control the thyroid gland, for example. And he also isolated a naturally occurring substance in cabbage and things like that that causes goiter, a large amount of thyroid.

So he was a good scientist, and a very good teacher in the sense that he was an excellent critic. And so he came here as the second head of Endocrinology. .... A very good teacher, that’s what I’d say about him. A very good critic....

Monte finally drove me into administration. He was such a terrible administrator that he drove me into becoming a better administrator [laughing], and that's why I ended up actually spending a lot of my career in administrative posts, because he was such a poor role model. I'm not decrying him; he was superb as a scientist and superb as a teacher, but he couldn’t administer his way out of a paper bag, and you can quote that.

ASH: Now, did you help him administer, or you just learned from him what not to do?

KENDALL: A little of both. I got an NIH grant early in my career, and I went out and hired a consultant to come and help us straighten out our lab. Well, administration—I spent a thousand bucks of the money. Next thing I found myself down in the Dean's Office at the time... and the administrator there saying I committed a horrible crime by spending the money on an administrative consultant instead of on the science. And I said, "Listen, that money will do more than any other money will to do make science move forward."

So anyway, we got the consultant, and he came in and told us that we should have one person answer the phones, and we should file everything alphabetically [laughs].

ASH: This is not brain surgery.

KENDALL: It was the fundamentals of administration. And I kid Monte about it, so I don’t care if he hears this because it’s, A, the truth, and B, we enjoy jabbing at one another.