Sunday, March 02, 2014

In memoriam: Robert C. Moellering, Jr.

This announcement arrived from Harvard Medical School:

Dr. Robert C. Moellering, the HMS Shields Warren-Mallinckrodt Professor of Medical Research and a renowned infectious disease researcher, was physician-in-chief and chair of the Department of Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center from 1981 to 2005. He died on Feb. 24, 2014, at the age of 77.

Dr. Moellering made major advances in the investigation, treatment and prevention of infectious diseases, in particular studying the mechanisms of antibiotic action and bacterial resistance to antimicrobial agents. His work led to the development of laboratory tests that are now used worldwide. He was also the first to show the clinical effectiveness of penicillin-gentamicin combination therapy for enterococcal endocarditis, now the standard of care for this infection.

A dedicated teacher, researcher and clinician who trained generations of clinicians and academic physicians, Dr. Moellering’s career spanned more than four decades at HMS.

All true, but I'd like to add some more.

When I arrived as CEO of BIDMC in 2002, there was a lot of turmoil, but at the center of things stood a person of great integrity, calmness, and kindness.  He was not only Chief of Medicine, but he was also head of the faculty practice plan.  He had been Chief at New England Deaconess and was one of a very view "Deac" people to be asked to serve in a senior capacity in the newly merged hospital.  The reason for this was clear: Few people were as highly respected on "both sides of the aisle" as Bob.

I enjoyed working with him.  He was honest and clear, and his commitment to clinical care, research, and teaching were unmistakable.  Although he was in a leadership position, that position was not important to his self-image.  In an academic environment known for ego, he was remarkably unegotistical.  Perhaps that is why is was such a good teacher.  I remember attending a grand rounds session he taught about MRSA one day: In 45 minutes I learned more about the subject than I imagined possible. The talk was lucid, well organized, approachable regardless of your level of knowledge, and full of good humor and modesty about what was understood and what was still unknown.  That is was a substantive tour de force was no surprise given Bob's expertise. That it was a pedagogical tour de force was something else still.  I talked about it for days afterward.

As told on another blog:

I wanted to share two quotes from Dr. Moellering and a final one from Dr. Jerome Groopman delivered on the occasion of Dr. Moellering stepping down as Chair of Medicine.

“I served for the better part of 24 years as chairman of the department and also ran the faculty practice plan here. But I view administration as nothing more than a means to an end--a means to create more effective clinical and teaching programs in the department, and a way to ensure that I could have an impact on the training of physicians and the internal medicine house staff.”

“Teaching is the most important thing we do. Imparting knowledge to the next generation of physicians is incredibly important. It’s a privilege we are given in the academic setting. Not only does it give you a tremendous sense of satisfaction in that you’ve done something worthwhile, but it gives you some immediate gratification because you can watch students who go on to successful careers.”

Dr. Jerome Groopman: "How many of us has he supported on his shoulders? How many of us has he helped to move forward when we felt we didn't have the energy or endurance to continue? Those shoulders have carried enormous burdens, carried with a quiet confidence, through all the difficult times, the growth of the department, the merger…. Bob is loved because beyond his intellect, beyond his knowledge, beyond his hard work, he is filled with a unique form of kindness. Bob has true generosity of spirit. He sees your success as his success. This is his legacy."

At that same stepping-down party in June of 2005, Bob quoted a poem, and I asked if he would mind sending it to me.  He did, and I have saved the letter all these years:

Dear Paul:

The poem I quoted last Thursday evening was entitled "Ithaca," and was written by Constantine Cavafy.

"Hope the way is long.
May there be many summer mornings when,
With what pleasure, with what joy,

You shall enter first-seen harbors...

Keep Ithaca always in your mind.

Arriving there is what has been ordained for you.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts many years;
And you dock an old man on the island,
Rich with all you’ve gained on the way,
Not expecting Ithaca to give you wealth.

Ithaca gave you the beautiful journey.

Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing more to give you."

Bob entered many first-seen harbors, and some of us were lucky to travel with him for a portion of the voyage.


Daniel Sullivan said...

From Facebook:

Bob was the smartest guy I have ever known. And one of the kindest.

Douglas Wayne Hanto said...

From Facebook:

All well said Paul. He was a giant who didn't see himself as one. He could get along with anyone and was beloved by everyone. He was one of the major reasons that the Transplant institute at BIDMC was so successful. He had a way of supporting new and important endeavors that brought everyone together. Working with him was one of the great joys of being at BIDMC.

Jeff Flier said...

From Twitter:

All true, a scholar and a gentleman.

Anonymous said...

Nicely put. He was a wonderful mentor to me and a real shining light at BIDMC.

Kim Kelley Sulmonte said...

From Facebook:

A true friend and support to his colleagues in Nursing - he will be greatly missed. I'll remember him as a kind man who shared his wisdom freely with all.