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Obituary: William Landau, professor emeritus, 93

Former head of neurology specialized in movement disorders

November 7, 2017

William M. Landau, MD, a professor emeritus of neurology, died in his sleep Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017, at his home in University City. He was 93.

Landau was a professor of neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis from 1954 to 2012 and served as head of the Department of Neurology from 1970 to 1991. He was the longest-serving faculty member at the School of Medicine.

“Dr. Landau was one of the great chairs of neurology of his era,” said David Holtzman, MD, the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones professor and head of the Department of Neurology. “He loved St. Louis and Washington University more than anyone I know.  He was a curmudgeon who pushed everyone to be their best. I will greatly miss his iconic personality and mentorship.”

Landau specialized in movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, but his interests ranged widely. With Frank Kleffner, PhD, of the Central Institute of the Deaf, he identified and described Landau-Kleffner syndrome, a rare disorder in which children lose the ability to speak and respond to language. He also studied how patients fared who were revived with CPR after their hearts had stopped beating, and concluded that the risk of severe, debilitating brain damage was underappreciated. He advocated for more limited use of the procedure.

Washington University recognized Landau with a Distinguished Faculty Award in 1989, and the Department of Neurology established the William & Pudge Landau Lectureship in Neuroscience and Society in honor of Landau and his wife, known as Pudge, whom he married in 1947.

Along with his scientific accomplishments, Landau was known for his commitment to social justice. He served as director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri for several years and also was actively involved with Physicians for a National Health Program, which advocates for single-payer national health insurance.

“Our father was best known for his strong sense of justice, compassion, tenacity, thirst for knowledge and his love of family,” said Julie Landau-Taylor. “In his unique curmudgeonly manner, he would always speak up when he perceived injustice, inequality, flawed reasoning, insensitivity, ineptitude, unprofessionalism or unfairness.”

Landau was born just a few blocks from Washington University in 1924. He started college at the University of Chicago in 1941, but the United States’ entry into World War II accelerated his college career, and after just two years, he returned to St. Louis to begin medical studies at Washington University School of Medicine. He was 18.

Landau completed medical school in 1947 and joined the neurology faculty in 1954. He was named professor emeritus 58 years later and continued conducting research into his 90s.

In addition to his daughter, he is survived by three sons, David Landau of St. Louis, John Landau of New Jersey and George Landau of Philadelphia; 11 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

A memorial service is being planned.

Memorial contributions may be made to Physicians for a National Health Program, 29 East Madison, Suite 1412, Chicago, Ill. 60602; or the Landau Lectureship of the Washington University School of Medicine Department of Neurology, 660 South Euclid Ave., St. Louis, Mo. 63110.