October 19, 2011

Harvard Medical Alumni Bulletin - November/December 1975

When Dr. Dontsova of Solzhenitsyn's The Cancer Ward complained to Dr. Oreschchenkov, "It seems unfair that I, an oncologist, should be stricken by an oncologist ailment, when I know every one of them, when I imagine all the attendant effects, the consequences, and the complications," the old man replied, "'There's no injustice here....This is the surest test of a doctor: to suffer an illness in his own specialty.' (...He reasoned thus because he had not been ill himself)."

On July 1, 1975, Jeff Gottlieb, oncologist par excellence, died after a seven year struggle against cancer. Jeff Gottlieb, HMS '66: captain of his high school football team, Eagle Scout, Order of the Arrow, Amherst College Phi Beta Kappa magna cum laude, singer and actor of exceptional gifts. Energetic, dynamic, vital, his indefatigable productivity is only faintly reflected by the six scholarly papers submitted for publication during the last thirty days of his life. Nothing was more dramatic than his long battle with malignancy. After his Barnes medical internship and Children's Hospital Medical Center pediatric residency, Jeff went as a senior clinical associate to the National Cancer Institute in 1968.

We knew him to be a superb actor, but never dreamed how good he had to be. For by 1968 he already had cancer. It was the year Elizabeth was born. The next seven years were the miracle of a man who knew how to get the most out of life. He continued to sing - with the Chorales of the Baltimore and Houston Symphonies, and to act - lead roles in O'Neil's Mourning Becomes Electra and Chekhov's The Three Sisters. Keith was born. Jeff and Midge brought a house in Houston. Teaching, research, administration, his own clinical ward of twenty-five patients. A widely respected authority on drug action mechanisms in tumor cell cultures, he pioneered the introduction of adriamycin and bleomycin into clinical practice and successfully designed combination chemotherapy programs for victims of sarcomas, melanomas, and cancers of the thyroid, breast, and head and neck. A major accomplishment was his definition of the precise dosage limits to avoid the cardiotoxic effects of adriamycin (a drug he himself was taking).

Member of fourteen national and international societies and of seven national committees for the study of cancer. Who's Who in Texas. Who's Who in the Southwest. Chief of the solid tumor service of the M.D. Anderson Hospital, Associate professor of medicine at the University of Texas Medical School, Jeff was described by Anderson President Dr. R. Lee Clark as "a young giant in the field of cancer therapy." His professor and chairman, Walter Kirkendall, had written of him: "Many nationally known oncologists...feel that Dr. Gottlieb is the best person in the field of solid tumor therapy in this country." He delivered thirty-seven papers at scientific meetings, the last, in May 1975, typically innovative ("Initial clinical evaluation of piperazindione, a new crystalline antibiotic," in San Diego). Of his ninety-two publications, eighty-nine came after the discovery of his primary malignancy. "His death," said his chief, Dr. Emil Freireich, "is a grave blow to cancer patients around the world."

It is impossible to believe his powerful, clear baritone voice is now still. With these bright memories, the void seems all the more unreal. Jeff's brave and beloved wife Margery, who alone shared the burden of knowledge with him for almost the entire illness, continues to live with their two children at 5231 Lymbar, Houston. Contributions may be sent to the Jeffrey A. Gottlieb Memorial Fund, c/o University of Texas System Cancer Center, M.D. Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute, 6723 Bertner, Houston, Texas 77025.

For this man who loved to play Shakespearian summor stock, the Bard left a fitting tribute:
When he shall die
Take him and cut him out in little stars
And he will make the face of heaven
so fine
That all the world will be in love
with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.

Ned Cassem '66

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