The Johns Hopkins Gazette: May 18, 1998
May 18, 1998
VOL. 27, NO. 35


A. McGehee Harvey, Hopkins Medical Luminary, Dies At 86

Michael Purdy
JHMI Office of
Communications and Public Affairs
Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

A. McGehee Harvey, former chairman of the Department of Medicine at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and physician-in-chief of The Johns Hopkins Hospital, mentor to generations of medical students, physician to world leaders and a prolific medical historian and archivist, died at The Johns Hopkins Hospital May 8 following a stroke. His wife and four children were with him.

Harvey, 86, known to friends and colleagues as "Mac," served as chairman of the Department of Medicine for 27 years and was a recipient of the Association of American Physicians' highest award, the George M. Kober Medal. He also was Hopkins' first Distinguished Service Professor.

A. McGehee Harvey, known to friends and colleagues as "Mac," was former chairman of the Department of Medicine at the School of Medicine and physician-in-chief of Hopkins Hospital.

"Harvey's life and career both marked and contributed profoundly to a golden era in American medicine," said Edward D. Miller, dean and chief executive officer of Johns Hopkins Medicine. "His insights into genetics, biomedical engineering and the training of young physicians not only brought honor to Hopkins and his generation of physician-scientists but assured that subsequent generations would carry on the high standards he set. The Hopkins family mourns not only the loss of a dear colleague but also passage of the era he helped make great."

"Mac" Harvey was born in Little Rock, Ark., on July 30, 1911. He graduated from Washington and Lee University in 1930 and received his M.D. from Hopkins in 1934. His original plan to return to Arkansas as a general practitioner was overtaken by his interest in studying the basic biochemical mechanisms that allow nerve cells to transmit commands to muscles.

He spent three years as a Hopkins house officer before doing a fellowship at the National Institute for Medical Research in London. He returned to Hopkins for a year as the chief medical resident but left in 1941 to become an assistant professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical School. He then served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps with the Hopkins 18th General Hospital in the Pacific Theater from 1942 to 1945. In 1946 he returned--and permanently--to Hopkins, where, at the age of 34, he became its youngest physician-in-chief.

"He is in the firmament of stars in American medicine," said Victor A. McKusick, University Professor of Medical Genetics, who trained under Harvey and succeeded him as chairman of the Department of Medicine in 1973. "He was a sage of medicine, whose wisdom and insight were profound."

"The Johns Hopkins Medicine family has lost a true icon who remained actively interested in the Hopkins medical community well beyond his years as chairman of the Department of Medicine," said Ronald R. Peterson, president of the hospital. "A true gentleman who always took the time to ask me how I was doing, and how the institution was doing, Dr. Harvey will be missed by all of us who had the pleasure to know him and work with him over decades of time. On behalf of his Johns Hopkins Hospital extended family, I convey our deepest condolences to Dr. Harvey's immediate family."

Harvey contributed to pioneering research into the effects of drugs like curare, quinine and procaine and was able to reveal the nature of the problem in myasthenia gravis, a disorder that causes muscle weakness and fatigue.

"One of his many contributions to scientific medicine was his application of knowledge derived from his own personal research in the basic sciences to studies of human disease," said Richard Johns, a colleague of Harvey's and Distinguished Service Professor of Biomedical Engineering.

According to another colleague, Richard S. Ross, former chief of cardiology and dean of the School of Medicine who also trained under Harvey, his mentor's "greatest contribution was in selecting excellent people and training the leaders of academic medicine around the world in clinical medicine, of which he was a master, and clinical research. He had great reverence for getting the facts and not doing anything that wasn't soundly based. A true medical scholar, he also was a magnificent writer. You learned a lot about the use of words by having him go over your manuscripts."

As a young researcher, clinician and chairman, Harvey developed a personal attitude of relentless and methodical inquiry that would become legendary. He once said the "continual questioning of nature" of his first research mentor, Hopkins physiologist E.K. Marshall Jr., "exemplified the fact that the more intelligent the question you put to nature, the more intelligible will be the reply."

He brought the same attitude to patient diagnosis, advising residents always to get every bit of data they could on a patient's illness to make sure their diagnosis was correct.

"He was a superb teacher at the bedside and drilled into his students the importance of a careful history, a thorough physical examination and exhaustive analysis of the data to arrive at an accurate diagnosis," McKusick said.

Harvey's application of scientific methods to clinical problem solving soon won him so much respect that he was called in to consult on puzzling cases throughout the institution and beyond. In 1969, deposed Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev brought Harvey to the Soviet Union to see his daughter, who had systemic lupus erythematosus.

Harvey also won praise for giving researchers the room and the resources they needed to develop their own special interests. Under his leadership, Hopkins went from an institution comprised of three research departments to a diverse collection of 18.

"He gave people the freedom to develop," McKusick said. "He encouraged me when I said I wanted to develop a division of medical genetics. There wasn't any such thing anywhere else in the world, and Dr. Harvey gave me the freedom to start that."

In 1973, when Harvey stepped down as chairman, he took on a new role as director of the Department of the History of Medicine. As the Hopkins School of Medicine's chief historian and archivist, he chaired the Centennial of Hopkins Medicine in 1989 and wrote nine books on the history of medical and scientific discovery. Among them was the two-volume history of The Johns Hopkins Hospital, published in 1989. He also resurrected and co-edited several editions of the 1892 textbook Principles and Practices of Medicine, authored by Sir William Osler, one of the founding physicians of Johns Hopkins Hospital and the first head of the Department of Medicine.

Harvey was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. He is an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine and a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. He served as archivist of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions from 1982 to 1987.

Harvey is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Treide Harvey, a physician, and four children: Jenette Harvey Wheeler of Philadelphia and Joan Harvey Lotzes of Pittsburgh, both physicians; and Elizabeth Baker Harvey of Philadelphia and George Treide Harvey of Princeton, N.J., both Ph.D.'s.

Contributions can be sent to the A. McGehee Harvey Memorial Fund, c/o Fund for Johns Hopkins Medicine, Reed Hall, 1620 McElderry St., Baltimore, MD 21205.