Obituary: Gerald Medoff, former director of infectious diseases, 82
Remembered as inspiring leader, investigator, teacher, physician
Gerald Medoff, MD, an emeritus professor of medicine and beloved former director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, died peacefully Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, in hospice care at Evelyn’s House in Creve Coeur, Mo., following a long bout with Parkinson’s disease. He was 82.
Medoff became director of the Division of Infectious Diseases in 1972 and served in the position for two decades, during which time he led the division’s transformation into a nationally renowned clinical and research arm of the university. In 1992, he stepped down as director to become vice chair of clinical affairs in the Department of Medicine. And in 2000, he founded the Division of Hospital Medicine with Mark Thoelke, MD, a professor of medicine.
Medoff was perhaps best known and admired for his insistence on compassionate care for patients from all walks of life. At the start of the AIDS epidemic, when many providers refused to care for such patients, Medoff established an AIDS clinic and fostered specific programs to ensure the best possible medical care for them and their loved ones. He formed close relationships with his patients and taught generations of medical students, residents and fellows how to listen to, examine and care for patients with compassion and respect.
He went on, at the height of the epidemic, to found the first AIDS Clinical Trials Unit at Washington University, creating resources and infrastructure to provide care and identify new methods to diagnose and treat patients with HIV.
“Dr. Medoff made significant contributions to the infectious diseases division, Department of Medicine and the School of Medicine,” said Victoria J. Fraser, MD, the Adolphus Busch Professor of Medicine and head of the Department of Medicine. “He essentially built the division from scratch. He saw patients during the day, ran his research lab at night and recruited outstanding faculty in basic, clinical and translational research. He was an excellent role model and mentor. He cared deeply about his fellows and faculty and nurtured the division like a family.”
As a clinician, Medoff practiced medicine with great insight and conscientiousness. He was often called to see patients with difficult to diagnose conditions. He frequently zeroed in on elements of a patient’s history that others had missed, securing an accurate diagnosis and treatment.
Medoff inspired trainees for more than three decades with his commitment to clinical medicine and his love for its scientific underpinnings. Dedicated to fostering the careers of others, he guided his students, residents and fellows to think critically and push the boundaries of knowledge.
“Jerry laid the foundation to create one of the best infectious diseases divisions in the country,” said William G. Powderly, MD, the Larry J. Shapiro Director of the Institute for Public Health at Washington University, the J. William Campbell Professor of Medicine and co-director of the Division of Infectious Diseases. “He trained several generations of leaders in infectious diseases, all of whom were proud to call him a mentor and a friend.”
Medoff’s research focused on the pathogenesis of endemic mycosis and development of new methods to determine antimicrobial susceptibility and novel treatments for serious fungal infections, including Candida and Histoplasmosis. His research was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for more than 20 years, during which he was a key leader of the NIH-funded Mycosis Study Group. His research on fungi and antifungal therapies formed the basis for modern clinical, basic and translational investigation in the field. He undertook landmark studies investigating how antifungal agents kill their targets and how fungi resist antimicrobial drugs.
In 1989, he made what was considered an astonishing career decision, giving up his NIH-funded bench research to refocus on building up his division’s clinical programs. Medoff recognized the burgeoning importance of infectious disease as a clinical specialty as he saw patients with increasingly complex infections that required full-time attention to improve their outcomes. He also saw the need to spend more time fostering the careers of clinical investigators and providing clinical research training.
He was a member of several professional societies, including the American Society for Clinical Investigation and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Among his many honors and awards are the Distinguished Educator Award and the Second Century Award from the School of Medicine, the Walter E. Stamm Mentor Award from the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the Neville Grant Award from Barnes-Jewish Hospital, and the Fellows Award from the Academy of Science—St. Louis.
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., he earned his bachelor’s degree from Columbia College in New York and was a 1962 graduate of Washington University School of Medicine. He completed his internship and residency at New England Medical Center and Boston City Hospital in Boston, followed by research and clinical fellowships in infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston. He joined the medicine and pediatrics faculty at Harvard Medical School and served as an attending physician at MGH and Boston Children’s Hospital before returning to Washington University in 1970 as an assistant professor of medicine and of molecular microbiology.
He left the university in 2004, to serve as clinical director of the National Institute on Aging of the NIH, but he returned to the university the next year to teach and care for patients.
In 2014, the division established the annual Gerald Medoff, MD, Visiting Professorship, in honor of Medoff’s leadership, outstanding vision, dedication and commitment to excellence during his tenure as director.
He is survived by his wife, Judith Medoff, PhD; his sons Benjamin Medoff, MD, and Nathaniel Medoff; and four grandchildren.
Funeral services will be Wednesday, Jan. 16, at Berger Memorial Chapel, 9430 Olive Blvd., in Olivette, Mo. Visitation will begin at 2:30 p.m. and the service at 3 p.m. Internment will follow at Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol Cemetery, 9125 Ladue Road, Ladue, Mo.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Dr. Gerald Medoff Lectureship or the Dr. Gerald Medoff Scholarship Fund, both at Washington University, in care of Rachel Hartmann; Campus Box 1247, 7425 Forsyth Blvd.; St Louis, Mo. 63105. Memorial contributions also may be made to the APDA Greater St. Louis Chapter, at www.apdaparkinson.org/greaterstlouis; 1415 Elbridge Payne Road, Suite 150; Chesterfield, Mo. 63017; or Evelyn’s House, care of BJC Foundation for Hospice; P.O. Box 790369; St. Louis, Mo. 63179; or Race for Another Day, care of Team Gateway for a Cure, teamgatewaytoacure.org.