eulogy was presented by Dr. Tetsuo Ashizawa,
current chair of the Department of Neurology, on November 4, 2004. It’s
a tribute to former Chair and Professor Dr. John R. Calverley, who passed
away on October 30, 2004, and had led the department for more than three
is a privilege to be one of the many touched by Dr. Calverley, and an
even greater privilege to share a few words in his honor.
I knew John only for a little over two years—although I had heard his
name mentioned numerous times as an outstanding clinician and educator
in Galveston. Many things happened during those two brief years and he
became one of my dearest friends. His death is a tremendous loss to all
of us who knew him—for UTMB, Galveston, and the State of Texas—and for
the neurological community of the entire nation. Although many already
know about his stellar career, please let me briefly describe it.
John graduated from Oregon Health Science University with an M.D. in
1955. After an internship at the State University of Iowa, and neurology
residency at Mayo Clinic, he joined the US Air Force for three years. It
was 1963 when he came to UTMB as a young assistant professor. He rapidly
climbed up the academic ladder and became a full professor within seven
years. In 1970, he founded the Division of Neurology and became the
first chairman of the division, which was upgraded to the Department of
Neurology in 1973. He was the longest reigning neurology chairman in the
United States when I took over his position in 2002. He chaired the
department for an astonishing 32 years!
John’s contributions to education in neurology are innumerable. He
received four Golden Apple Awards, which are given to the best teachers
in America. He was elected to head the Neurology Residency Review
Committee of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.
He loved the days he went around the nation for site visits to check for
compliance of residency programs at various institutions. At one very
prestigious East Coast, Ivy League university, they told John “Oh, you
cannot close us down. We are so and so.” John grinned and said “Yes, we
can,” and the program was closed until the problems were resolved.
He was also director of the American Board of Psychiatry and
Neurology, president of the Association of University Professors, and an
executive committee member of the American Academy of Neurology.
However, the residency program was the beloved part of his career. He
was most proud of his residency trainees. During his tenure, he trained
67 neurology residents, and his residency alumni include seven full
professors, three associate professors and six assistant professors, as
well as one dean of student affairs, in various medical schools. He also
taught hundreds and thousands of medical students and other health care
professionals. He established the John R. Calverley Award for Excellence
in Neurology, set up for medical students.
And then there was the doctor. John was adored by his patients, and
when his health started to decline, his assistant Donna had a very hard
time when they would say, “I only want to see Dr. Calverley.” He was
elected one of the Best Doctors in America, and one of the nation’s
Outstanding American Medical Specialists. And, he was this year's
recipient of the John P. McGovern, M.D. Award in Oslerian Medicine, for
being a proponent of the integration of scientific and humanistic
principles in the practice and teaching of medicine, principles that he
imparted to all his students and residents.
Those are just some of his accomplishments. However, the most
important accomplishment was his family. I remember that John and his
wife Alice had their 50th anniversary in the early part of this past
summer. This was the ultimate accomplishment for them both. I saw a few
tear drops at the anniversary reception. And David, John always bragged
about your adventure in the America’s Cup race representing our country.
And John was so proud of his grandchildren. He’d show off pictures of
his beautiful grandchildren to everyone who visited him.
I can go on and on but I want to give a few of my personal tributes.
When I took over the job, the first question John asked was, “Can I
stay in YOUR department?” It shocked me. As far as I was concerned, I
was inheriting HIS department, which he established and nurtured through
the years. It gave me a sense of tremendous responsibility to follow in
his footsteps. But, I said, “Yes, of course.” And he stayed. Since then,
we talked about my plans for the department every day. He was the most
supportive and ideal former chairman. The remarkable thing was that he
listened to me but did not give any unsolicited advice. When I asked his
advice, he only gave a strong endorsement for what I was doing…., well,
with one or two little caveats at the end, which turned out to be very
I could see how he had been such a wonderful husband to Alice. I wish
I could keep my mouth shut at home as well as he did when it came to
unsolicited advice. I also realized that he led the department for all
these years by being a remarkable example. He taught me well how to be a
good leader. ….I only hope I never fail him in his expectations.
John was a man of dignity and respect. He was a true gentleman in
every way, deep from his heart. He cared about his appearance as a show
of respect to his patients and colleagues. He was an impeccable dresser.
John would change into a newly starched white coat every day. His shoes
were always shiny, his shirts always white and crisply starched, with a
beautifully matched ensemble of tie and jacket. He obviously had very
sophisticated tastes. I often shop at discount stores and buy cheap but
decent looking ties. One morning, John commented on my tie, which I
bought in a train station in Japan for $8. He said, “How beautiful your
tie is today.” I could not help but smile.
Soon after I took over his office, I learned that he had cancer. He
told me that he had radiation therapy and was hoping he would be okay.
However, his tests indicated otherwise. He was in pain. He was often
very pale and needed blood transfusions. But he still came to his office
to work right until the end, as often as his energy permitted. We
discussed retirement but he was determined to continue working. Only
when I asked about it, he would acknowledge his pain...always with a
smile on his face. He avoided pain medicines because they clouded his
mind. The last day he came to our office was three days before his
death. He was still working on our residency program. John literally
worked until the very end, as he had planned. He was truly courageous
and dedicated to his profession.
Death is a sad event. But I have to say that John’s death left me
something special other than sadness. Alice called me when John’s
condition deteriorated, and we met at the Emergency Center of UTMB that
morning. John was very pale and very aware of the situation. In the
hospital room, he told Alice and his son, David, to avoid futile care,
which he had decided to forgo a long time ago. He was able to control
his own life and destiny with his family. It was a very sad moment, but
John beautifully orchestrated it. If there is such a thing as a
beautiful death, his was the one. It was peaceful with a strong sense of
dignity. I wish I am able to live to the end like John did.
John, please rest peacefully. I promise you that we will continue
your legacy and build on it, to make a difference in many people’s
lives, just like you did. We will miss you very much, John.
--Dr. Tetsuo Ashizawa, November 4, 2004