The Johns Hopkins Gazette: September 30, 2002
September 30, 2002
VOL. 32, NO. 5


Thomas B. Turner, 1902-2002

Former dean of School of Medicine spent nearly 75 years at Hopkins

Office of Communications and Public Affairs
Johns Hopkins Medicine

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

Thomas Bourne Turner, a centenarian whose tenure as dean of The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine for more than a decade led to its unprecedented expansion, died on Sept. 22 at the townhouse he had occupied for almost 60 years in Baltimore's Bolton Hill. He celebrated his 100th birthday on Jan. 28.

A familiar, energetic and accessible, if legendary, figure on the medical campus well into his 90s, Turner first came to Hopkins 75 years ago, in 1927, and spent nearly all his three-quarters of a century in medicine at the institution he loved, with the exception of only two brief periods. Entrenching himself in the school's history, as well as medicine, he served as fellow, professor, dean and archivist in a career that spanned the modern history of clinical and academic medicine.

Thomas B. Turner, shown here in an undated photo, served as fellow, professor, dean and archivist in a career that spanned the modern history of clinical and academic medicine.

During his lifetime in medicine, Turner worked on some of the most devastating diseases in history, including syphilis and polio. During World War II, he played a leading role in the Army's syphilis eradication program, attained the rank of colonel and was awarded the Legion of Merit. He also served as the first director of the Alcoholic Beverage Medical Research Foundation, which was based at Hopkins. Among his many major honors and appointments, he was president of the Association of American Medical Colleges; vice chairman of the National Foundation's Committee on Virus Research and Epidemiology; vice president of the American Social Health Association, which gave him its William Freeman Snow Award; consultant to the surgeon general of the U.S. Army; chairman of the Microbiology Study Section and member of the First Council on Health Research Facilities of the National Institutes of Health; a member of the Advisory Committee on Medical Research of the World Health Organization; and chairman of the board of St. John's College in Annapolis, Md., from which he graduated in 1921.

A native Marylander who once planned a country doctor's practice but instead helped redefine the research and teaching missions of the Hopkins School of Medicine, Turner began his 11 years in the Dean's Office in 1957. While he was dean, the school experienced unprecedented growth in its budget, a tripling of its full-time faculty, new facilities to support its burgeoning research enterprise and the development of such new specialties as biomedical engineering.

"Tommy Turner brought knowledge of science together with good skills with people," according to Dean Emeritus Richard S. Ross, one of the five men who have succeeded Turner as dean of the School of Medicine. "He led by commitment to excellence but also by charm and good humor. He had the ability to defuse conflict with his sense of humor and a good joke. He was a Maryland gentleman of the old school."

Even as he oversaw expansion of the medical school, Turner, an expert in infectious diseases, devoted a day a week to his own research and an afternoon a week to the clinical training of medical students. "I'm a champion of Hopkins' mission ... that we should provide kindly care and advance knowledge," he said in a 1997 interview.

On the occasion of his 100th birthday in January, more than 150 friends turned out to celebrate, including the 23 people who made up four generations of his family. His favorite toast, an article in The Baltimore Sun reported, was "Now, let's live it up!" He said he planned to return to work in his Hopkins office shortly after his centennial break, telling the newspaper, with customary wit and wisdom, "I think that what my legacy is will have to be decided by others. But when I was dean, I wanted to be sure that intelligence and brainpower were the most important criteria for admission--not who you were or what race or religion or sex you were."

His own brainpower and intelligence powered his dynamic career. Arriving at Hopkins just two years after earning his medical degree at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, he seemed born to the world he chose, according to colleagues and his own account. "My father suggested that I should think about medicine because I had family in medicine all the way back. I can't think of anything that could have been more satisfying and fulfilling for me than medicine," he told the newspaper.

Turner continued to keep an eye on the institution he loved, and every three to four months would send a handwritten note to the current dean of the School of Medicine, Edward D. Miller, commenting on something at Hopkins he had seen. His notes always included the encouraging message that he felt Hopkins was in good hands. "He truly will be missed," Miller said in an e-mail to colleagues, "for he continued to guide us with his great wisdom and his knowledge and love of Johns Hopkins."

Turner often said he had lived through a number of revolutions, including the development of antibiotics and the advent of the computer age. But he noted equally often that what continued to matter most in both his youth and old age were the ageless values of caring and community. In a famous 1993 list of "A Few Things Learned During a Long Life," he said: "Love, affection and compassion are allied but not the same. Reciprocated love is rare; cherish and guard it well. Affection supports life's infrastructure; compassion underpins the world."

Among the other Turnerisms on that list:

Almost all soups can be improved by a dash of sherry.

The quality of life and the effort to improve it are what it's all about.

When given a book, thank the giver within 48 hours; otherwise, you really will have to read it.

Hold on to the banisters going down stairs.

Thomas Turner was born in Prince Frederick, Md. He received his bachelor of science degree from St. John's College in 1921 and his medical degree from the University of Maryland in 1925, interned at the Hospital for Women of Maryland, was a resident in medicine at Mercy Hospital and came to Johns Hopkins in 1927 as a Jacques Loeb fellow before joining the faculty of the School of Medicine.

In 1932, Turner left Johns Hopkins to join the Rockefeller Foundation's international health division. He returned to Hopkins in 1936 and in 1939 was named professor and chairman of the Department of Bacteriology in the Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health. The department was renamed the Department of Microbiology in 1952 and was made a joint department with the School of Medicine in 1957.

After leaving the Dean's Office in 1968, Turner was named the first archivist of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. While serving as archivist, he implemented a full-scale archival program and wrote a history of the medical institutions, A Heritage of Excellence, one of his five books and 100 papers. In 1982, he stepped down as archivist to head the newly formed Alcoholic Beverage Medical Research Foundation.

The auditorium complex at JHMI is named in his honor, and both Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland have awarded him honorary degrees.

A great raconteur who regaled members of Baltimore's Hamilton Street Club with his stories, Turner also wrote several autobiographical memoirs.

He was first married to Anne Parran Somervell, the mother of his two daughters, who died in 1960. He then married Lorna Caithness Levy, a native of England, who died in 1982. He is survived by his two daughters, Anne Pope, of New York City, and Pattie Walker, of Ipswich, Mass., five grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. In addition to his house in Baltimore, he had maintained a summer home on nearby Gibson Island since 1950.

Turner's funeral was held Wednesday morning at Memorial Episcopal Church in Bolton Hill. Burial and graveside services took place that afternoon at Christ Church in Port Republic, Md.

His family has requested that contributions in his memory be sent to the Thomas B. Turner Memorial Fund at the Fund for Johns Hopkins Medicine, 100 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21202, or to a similar fund at St. John's College.