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Dr. I. Jerome Flance: Pulmonary disease specialist, neighborhood revitalization leader

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 5, 2010 - Dr. Israel Jerome "Jerry" Flance, who followed up a lengthy and legendary medical career by helping to revitalize a city neighborhood, died Friday at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. He was 98.

Visitation will be at 11 a.m., followed by services at noon, Tuesday at Congregation Shaare Emeth, 11645 Ladue Road, St. Louis, Mo. 63141.

Dr. Flance was a revered pulmonary specialist at Washington University Medical Center and didn't retire from the active practice of medicine until his late 80s. For an encore, he played a key role in redeveloping the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood, a deteriorating area just south of the medical center.

A Model Physician

"Jerry was an outstanding physician who was loved by his patients and everyone who knew him," said William Peck, M.D., the former dean of the Washington University School of Medicine and currently the Wolff distinguished professor and head of the center for health policy at Washington University. "He was a great teacher who was appreciated by generations of students."

One of those students was former Washington University Chancellor William H. Danforth, who called Dr. Flance "an absolutely wonderful man and a great physician."

"He was a model physician in every way," Danforth said. "He was very interested in medicine, but he was also interested in other aspects of medicine, the social aspects. He had this conviction for social justice."

Dr. Flance, the youngest child of Saul and Esther Flance, was born Oct. 28, 1911, in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Dr. Flance credited his older sister, Lily, with setting his medical career in motion. "When we played house and she assigned different roles to all the children," Dr. Flance told the St. Louis Jewish Light Simcha magazine in 2004, "I was always the doctor. From then on, that was my role."

He attended City College in New York before coming to St. Louis in 1929 to attend Washington University, where he earned his bachelor's degree in 1931 and his medical degree in 1935. He began his pathology residency at the old Robert Koch Hospital in south St. Louis County and completed it at Harlem Hospital in New York. He returned to St. Louis and his alma mater, Washington University, as a clinical faculty member.

During his pathology training, Dr. Flance contracted tuberculosis; it became the impetus for his choice to become a lung specialist. He eventually became the director of Washington University's Pulmonary Service and an attending physician at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

In 1953, he initiated a hospital-based, home-care program at Jewish Hospital, serving as its director for 11 years. During that time, he started the first formal home-care program for tuberculosis in the United States. That same year, he left his 11-years solo practice to establish the Maryland Medical Group in the Central West End with Dr. Michael M. Karl, M.D. They were shortly joined by Dr. Morton Binder and Dr. Robert Packman. Dr. Flance remained with the group for 43 years.

A Second Career -- at 87

In 1998, when Dr. Flance was 87, Peck offered him the opportunity to be a part of the revitalization of the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood. Dr. Flance jumped at the chance. Peck named him special associate for community redevelopment to represent Washington University Medical Center Redevelopment Corporation in the 10-year effort.

"I have always wanted to work with people who are at some disadvantage, whether that be by illness, economic or political circumstances," he said in a 2001 Washington University profile.

Dr. Flance had had a previous brush with community building when he worked to help revitalize the Jeff-Vander-Lou area in North St. Louis; it was an effort with which he was not entirely satisfied.

"I made up my mind if I ever got the chance to do this again, I'd know what not to do," he said.

What he did was ensure that the Forest Park Southeast master plan was comprehensive: It included a school, community center and senior citizen assisted-living center, jobs, security, crime reduction, early childhood programs, beautification, housing, new businesses and parks.

To accomplish the goal, he immediately enlisted a management team. He called on Richard Baron, chairman and chief executive officer of McCormack Baron Salazar, a firm he called "probably the best urban revitalization company in the whole United States."

"Jerry was far beyond his time in terms of the work he did in the city," Baron said. "He was a very, very strong proponent of public health, trying to find a way to serve families in need. His belief in human dignity was unparalleled; he was always advocating for those who were less fortunate. He was the conscience of the university medical community."

"From cradle to grave, he believed in making things better for the least among us," added Sandra Moore, president of McCormick Baron's Urban Strategies Unit. "He was a man who spent his life thinking about improving life for low-income families and children. He felt that life is only worth living when you can help others."

Recognizing Excellence

In addition to being a member of the American Medical Association, Dr. Flance was medical director of the St. Louis Lung Association, president of the medical staff of Jewish Hospital and a member of the St. Louis Lung Physicians to Combat Air Pollution.

Dr. Flance was a much honored physician, most recently receiving the Ralph O. Claypoole Sr. Memorial Award from the American College of Physicians in 2009. He is one of only two St. Louis physicians to receive the award; the other was his late partner, Dr. Michael Karl. Since 1976, the Washington University School of Medicine has invited a distinguished pulmonary physician as its I. Jerome Flance Visiting Lecturer. This year's lecture will be Thursday evening.

Several of Dr. Flance's additional honors also came from Washington University, including the Department of Medicine Teacher of the Year Award; the Rosemary and I. Jerome Flance Professorship of Pulmonary Medicine, the Distinguished Alumni Scholarship, the Second Century Award, and a 2002 honorary doctor of humanities degree. Dr. Flance also received the Big Brothers Big Sisters highest community service award in 2003 and the American Surgical Association's Flance-Karl Award, presented to a surgeon in the United States who has made a significant contribution in basic laboratory research that has application to clinical surgery. The library at Adams School in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood is named for Dr. Flance, and perhaps his most visible tribute is the portrait that hangs prominently in Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

A Family Man

His professional life kept him busy, but Dr. Flance was also known as a caring husband and father, a man who gave special care to his wife, Rosemary, who is disabled.

"His first love was his wife, his second love was medicine," said his daughter, Patty Croughan. "His whole adult life was a legacy. He set a very high standard for caring for people and caring for his community."

Croughan said he also collected fine wines, presided with panache at Seder for decades and sang with total abandon.

"He knew the words to every song ever written," Croughan laughed.

Dr. Flance was preceded in death by his parents, Saul and Esther Flance, and his brothers and sisters: Morris Flance, Lily Gerberg and Miriam Lavin.

In addition to his daughter Patricia (Dr. Jack) Croughan and his wife of 72 years, Rosemary Flance, all of St. Louis, he is survived by his son, Stephen (Kristen) Flance of Santa Fe, N.M., eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

The family would appreciate memorials in lieu of flowers to the I. Jerome Flance Philanthropic Fund, c/o Jewish Federation of St. Louis, 12 Millstone Campus Drive, St. Louis, Mo. 63146.

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.