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Obituary of Dr. Philip R. Dodge: 'Father' of modern pediatric neurology, revered teache

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon Sept. 2, 2009 - Dr. Philip Rogers Dodge, one of the modern founders of the specialty of pediatric neurology, helped secure St. Louis Children's Hospital and the Washington University pediatrics department's status as two of the pre-eminent institutions in the nation. He died at Barnes-Jewish Extended Care on Sunday, Aug. 30, following a long illness. He was 86.

Colleagues and friends remember Dr. Dodge, professor emeritus in the Departments of Pediatrics and Neurology at Washington University School of Medicine, as a visionary, a mentor and a compassionate healer.

"Phil was a physician's physician," said Dr. W. Edwin Dodson associate vice chancellor and associate dean of Medical School Admissions and Continuing Medical Education, and professor of pediatrics and neurology at Washington University School of Medicine. "He was very positive, encouraging and supportive, and he brought out the best in people. People would work their hardest for him. His love for what he was doing, including patients and students, inspired all of them to so do their best."

In an interview with the American Neurological Association in 2000, Dr. Dodge said he found great joy in simply "being a physician. I like neurology and I'm still doing it. I don't do it for anything but my own pleasure. And the patients, or their parents, say they like my doing it."

Dr. Dodge also said he'd gotten "enormous pleasure out of working with young people and helping them along. Guiding them or listening to their aims, their problems."

Training and Inspiring Leaders

He counted among his proteges a veritable "who's who" in pediatric neurology, including Dr. Ralph Feigin, who became president of Baylor Medical College and president of Texas Children's Hospital; Dr. Darryl Devivo, head of Pediatric Neurology at Columbia Medical School; Dr. Guy McCann, the former head of neurology at Johns Hopkins; Dr. Peter Huttenlocher, of the University of Chicago; Dr. Hugo Moser, former head of the Kennedy Krieger Institute at Johns Hopkins, and the past two heads at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School: Dr. Scott Pomeroy and Dr. Joseph Volpe.

In the 2008 medical tome, "Neurology of the Newborn," which Volpe authored, he acknowledged Dr. Dodge's influence.

"I owe enormous gratitude to Dr. Philip Dodge, who stimulated me to study pediatric neurology and, after my training, guided me to the neurology of the newborn," Volpe wrote. "To this day he has been a continual source of support and inspiration."

A Man of Compassion

Dodson said Dr. Dodge "was incredible and was just at his best when he would close the door and talk to a family and a child," Dodson said. "He did that without parallel; no one did it better. His ability to get information and think through confusing facts was incredible."

But some things even Dr. Dodge could not answer.

"Why does a neurologist's son have epilepsy? And a grandson have epilepsy?" Dr. Dodge had mused about his personal irony. "But you don't need that, I think, to have compassion. I think I had that long before I had the personal experience."

"Some people might say, well, it's not your job to be a social worker," he'd said. "Well, that's right, but somehow or another, it seems to fit into the sort of thing that I like to do in terms of patient care."

A Circuitous Path

Dr. Dodge was born March 16, 1923, in Beverly, Mass., just northeast of Boston, with few resources but determined nonetheless to forge a career in medicine. He said he was sure it would not be "a straight shot" and it was not.

He graduated from the University of New Hampshire and Yale University, and received his medical degree from the University of Rochester (NY) Medical School in 1948. He completed an internship at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, N.Y., and continued his clinical education in internal medicine in neurology and neuropathology at Boston City Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

His college career was interrupted once by a kiss from a date that left him fighting scarlet fever (that serendipitously opened a door to medical research) and twice by service in the U.S. Army. That too, was providential: The Army paid for a year of medical training in exchange for a year of service. He was stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky., and served during the Korean War. During six years of military service, he became a major and chief of neurology services in Kentucky, Tokyo and Hawaii before completing his postgraduate medical training.

In 1956, Dr. Dodge created the pediatric neurology department at Massachusetts General Hospital and successfully grew the department until 1967, all the while serving on the faculty at Harvard Medical School.

In 1967, when the price of a semi-private hospital room was $33 a day, Dr. Dodge brought his skills to St. Louis. He developed the Edward R. Mallinckrodt Department of Pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine, serving as chair of the department of pediatrics, and was named medical director at St. Louis Children's Hospital. He held the dual positions for 21 years, increasing the Washington University department faculty from about a dozen to more than 100.

"He grew the department from relative obscurity to world renowned," Dodson said. "Other divisions flourished, but none to the extent that child neurology did due to Phil's efforts and reputation."

Dr. Dodge's interest in children had led to his focus on child neurology. In addition to treating child neurological disorders, he wrote extensively on the subject, including co-authoring "Nutrition and the Developing Nervous System" with Dr. Arthur L. Prensky, and Feigin, in 1975. In all, he contributed about 150 publications to medical literature.

Community Service

He was a member of numerous organizations, including the American Neurological Association, American Academy of Neurology, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Epilepsy Society, Child Neurology Society, International Child Neurology Association, Society for Pediatric Research and American Pediatric Society.

Dr. Dodge served on a variety of national scientific advisory committees, including the National Advisory Child Health and Human Development Council, and was chairman of the Mental Health Commission of the State of Missouri.

Among his many honors was the 1978 Hower Award from the Child Neurology Society, which went on to name The Philip R. Dodge Young Investigator Award, a $25,000 grant given annually to a promising young investigator. He also received the Distinguished Service Award from the Washington University Medical Center Alumni Association in 2000 and the School of Medicine's Second Century Award in 2005.

"He really enjoyed fishing and traveling, and he loved watching baseball on TV, especially the Cardinals," said his daughter, Judy Speck. "Faithfully, from his hospital bed, he watched every game these last two months. I posted the schedule in his room."

But, Speck added, "Medicine was his life."

Until last year, after suffering a fall, Dr. Dodge continued to do the work he loved, going into his office at St. Louis Children's Hospital almost every day and providing consultation to Shriners Hospitals for Children St. Louis.

Dr. Dodge was divorced from Martha Hoyt Dodge. He was preceded in death by his parents, Israel Rogers Dodge and Anna Holmes Dodge; his brother Richard Dodge, and his only son, William Dodge, who died during an epileptic seizure at age 23.

In addition to his daughter Judy and son-in-law Randy Speck of St. Louis, he is survived by his daughter Susan Daiss and her husband Jack of Rochester, N.Y. He is also survived by four grandchildren: Philip Peters, Elizabeth Peters, Daniel Speck and Joseph Speck.

In memory of Dr. Dodge, donations may be made to St. Louis Children's Hospital, P.O. Box 955423 St. Louis, Mo. 63195-5423, 

A memorial service is being planned for a later date.

Gloria Ross is the head of Okara Communications and the storywriter for AfterWords, an obituary-writing and production service. 

Gloria S. Ross is the head of Okara Communications and AfterWords, an obituary-writing and design service.