October 19, 2011

Amherst - Fall 1975

I was scarcely able to hear and couldn't at all understand the person at the other end of the line, and shouted into the telephone that she had better try to replace the call. When she did a minute later the connection was clear, and I learned from Jeff Gottlieb's sister that Jeff had died of cancer a short time before.

It was a numbing message. So often the bereaved relative must soothe others in their shock at hearing of the death of a friend, and so it was with Sybil, as I babbled mindlessly that this was terrible news.

Two days later I flew to Houston to attend a large memorial service held for Jeff by his colleagues at the M.D. Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute of the Texas Medical Center. By then I knew that Jeff had learned he had cancer seven years ago.

He and Midge moved to Baltimore that year, so that Jeff, who had completed his internship at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis and his residency in pediatrics at Children's Hospital in Boston, could become a Clinical Associate at the National Cancer Institute. In that fact appears his heroic courage and the ultimate tragedy. While he told no except Midge and his own physician of the sentence under which he was condemned to live, Jeff decided to give the rest of his life to fighting the disease by which he must finally be slain.

He proved a formidable contender. In seven years, Jeff acquired an international reputation in the field of cancer chemotherapy. He was responsible for introducing the drugs adriamycin and bleomycin into clinical practice, and also devised combination chemotherapy regimens for treatment of soft tissue sarcomas, incorporating those and conventional drugs. His studies leading to these and other developments in the fields of cancer management and drug research were published in scores of journal articles, chapters in medical treatises, abstracts, and papers. He was also a highly skilled and very popular physician.

Jeff's reputation at the M.D. Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute, where he was Head of the Section of Chemotherapy in the Department of Developmental Therapeutics and also Associate Professor of Medicine and Associate Internist, was based on more than his scientific discoveries, however. He was admired for his deep personal concern for his patients, and for the diplomatic ability, also stemming from his concern for other people, by which he was able to make of the brilliant but often headstrong professional staff at the Institute an effective, coherent group.

I knew very little of what I have just written before flying to Houston for Jeff's memorial service. Jeff was not given to self-laudation, and anyway he had so many other interests to talk about.

He was very interested in drama. Jeff was a member of the Masquers at Amherst, and seriously considered becoming a professional actor. Although he chose medicine instead, Jeff kept his love of drama alive by acting with amateur groups, and by collecting and reading plays. I remember that on almost every occasion that I visited Jeff and Midge - occasions that were unfortunately infrequent since I was living outside the country - Jeff excitedly brought out several new books of plays that he had recently acquired.

His colleagues say that his love of drama, and his dramatic skill, were evident in his reading of papers before scientific meetings. Very few others were able to hold an audience in a state of excitement at such readings.

He also loved music. Jeff sang with the Choir and the Glee Club at Amherst, and in Houston he sang with the Houston Symphony Chorale. He had a rich baritone voice, which may in part have accounted for his ability to hold the attention of his medical colleagues. The Houston Symphony Chorale sang, sadly but beautifully, at the memorial service.

While I saw him act and heard him sing, Jeff was not for me any more an actor and a singer than he was a brilliant scientist, physician, and administrator. For me, he was a friend, a good friend since we met as freshmen at Amherst thirteen years ago.

He and Midge joined my wife and me on the first (and final) day of our honeymoon in western Massachusetts. Coming straight from the Amherst reunion of that year, they both wore straw reunion hats with purple and white bands. Looking on the honeymooners, Jeff greeted us by solemnly invoking, "May this be the most unhappy day of the rest of your lives."

It is ironic that what was most attractive about Jeff was that he was always cheerful. I remember with real pleasure a camping trip in the Shenandoahs that my wife and I took with Jeff and Midge and baby Elizabeth. The rest of us enjoyed it as much as we did largely because Jeff was having such a great time. It was only after his death that I realized our camping trip took place only a short time after Jeff learned of his cancer. His limp had begun then, and I asked him about it, but he shrugged it off as being too insignificant for concern.

Jeff must have been very busy, far busier than I ever realized, since he had so much he wanted to do in the little time he had. Yet he was never too busy to be gracious and thoughtful of others, ourselves included.

When my wife and I adopted a Korean orphan, Jeff took a great interest in her. Once, when he and Midge were at an art show, they saw a watercolor illustration of lines from the poem Desiderata, by Max Ehrman. Jeff said that the lines were perfect for our baby, and he and Midge bought the painting and sent it to us. The lines, which I now think may have had greater significance for Jeff than he admitted, were printed on the program for his memorial service.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Thomas E. Woodhouse '62

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