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Gerald Medoff, former director of infectious diseases division, 82

Gerald Medoff, MD, an emeritus professor of medicine and former director of the Division of Infectious Diseases and vice chair of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, died peacefully Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, in hospice care at Evelyn’s House in Creve Coeur, Mo., following a long bout with Parkinson’s disease. He was 82.

Dr. Medoff was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where, starting at the age of 9, he worked to help his family and pay for his education. He delivered dry cleaning; worked for Western Union, delivering telegrams by bicycle in Manhattan; loaded sugar on and off ships during college; laid track for the Lehigh Valley Railroad; and served as a crewman with the Merchant Marine, working in the engine room while out at sea during the summers.

He graduated from Columbia College in New York and then earned his medical degree from Washington University School of Medicine in 1962. He completed his internship and residency at New England Medical Center and Boston City Hospital in Boston, followed by research and clinical fellowships in infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston. He joined the medicine and pediatrics faculty at Harvard Medical School and served as an attending physician at MGH and Boston Children’s Hospital before he was recruited back to Washington University in 1970 as an assistant professor of medicine and molecular microbiology. He became director of the Division of Infectious Diseases in 1972 and served in that role for 20 years.

In 1989, he made what was regarded as an astonishing career decision: He gave up his bench research, which was fully funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to focus his efforts on enhancing the division’s clinical programs. Dr. Medoff recognized the burgeoning importance of infectious disease as a clinical specialty as he saw patients with increasingly complex infections that required full-time attention to improve their outcomes. He also saw the need to spend more time fostering the careers of clinical investigators and providing clinical research training on the Medical Campus.

He stepped down as division director in 1992 to become vice chair of clinical affairs for the Department of Medicine. With Mark Thoelke, MD, a professor of medicine, Dr. Medoff founded the Division of Hospital Medicine in 2000. Dr. Medoff had a long association with clinical leadership at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. He chaired the infection control committee at Barnes Hospital for more than 25 years, chaired the quality assurance committee and was associate chief medical officer and chief of the Kipnis-Daughaday Firm. Dr. Medoff left the university in 2004 to serve as clinical director of the National Institute on Aging of the NIH but returned to the School of Medicine in 2005 to teach and care for patients.

Dr. Medoff was among the first infectious disease physicians in the Department of Medicine. He cared for patients with acute and complex infectious diseases at Barnes Hospital, Jewish Hospital and St. Louis Children’s Hospital for many years. His research focused on the pathogenesis of endemic mycosis and development of new methods to determine antimicrobial susceptibility and novel treatments for serious fungal infections, including Candida and Histoplasmosis. The NIH funded Dr. Medoff’s research for over 20 years, and he was a key leader of the NIH-funded Mycosis Study Group. His research on fungi and antifungal therapies formed the basis for modern basic, clinical and translational investigation in the field. He undertook some of the landmark studies investigating how antifungal agents kill their targets and how fungi resist antimicrobial drugs.

In the early 1980s, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, Dr. Medoff founded the first AIDS Clinical Trials Unit at Washington University, creating resources and infrastructure to provide care and identify new methods to diagnose and treat patients with HIV. He was a beloved mentor for generations of medical and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty.

As a clinician, Dr. Medoff practiced medicine with care, insight and conscientiousness — listening to his patients and employing a sharp diagnostic acumen to recognize patterns. He was often called to see the most complex patients with difficult to diagnose conditions. He frequently found key parts of the history or physical examination that others had missed, and secured an accurate diagnosis and the correct treatment. He was known for providing exceptionally compassionate care for patients from all walks of life. At the start of the AIDS epidemic, when many providers refused to care for these patients, Dr. Medoff established an AIDS clinic and fostered specific programs to ensure the best possible medical care for AIDS patients and their loved ones. He formed close relationships with his patients and taught generations of medical students, residents and fellows how to listen, examine and care for patients with the utmost compassion and respect.

“Dr. Medoff made significant contributions to the infectious diseases division, Department of Medicine and School of Medicine,” said Victoria J. Fraser, MD, the Adolphus Busch Professor of Medicine and head of the Department of Medicine. “He essentially built the infectious diseases division from scratch. He saw patients during the day, ran his research lab at night and recruited outstanding faculty in basic, clinical and translational research. He was an excellent role model and mentor. He cared deeply about his fellows and faculty and nurtured the division like a family. He also had an incredible sense of humor and was an engaging storyteller. At national meetings and division events, people gathered around him to listen to his stories.”

Along with his distinction as a researcher and clinician, Dr. Medoff inspired trainees over more than three decades with his commitment to clinical medicine and his love for its scientific underpinnings. Dedicated to fostering the careers of others, Dr. Medoff guided his students, residents and fellows to think critically and push the boundaries of current knowledge.

“Jerry laid the foundation to create one of the best infectious disease divisions in the country,” said William G. Powderly, MD, the Larry J. Shapiro Director of the Institute for Public Health at Washington University, the J. William Campbell Professor of Medicine and co-director of the Division of Infectious Diseases. “He trained several generations of ID leaders, all of whom were proud to call him a mentor and a friend.”

The Division of Infectious Diseases was very small when Dr. Medoff took over as director, and it thrived under his leadership. He built it into a nationally renowned group through savvy recruiting, the creation of a leading fellowship program and the acquisition of NIH grants for research and training. The division established the Annual Gerald Medoff, MD, Visiting Professorship in 2014 in honor of his leadership, outstanding vision, dedication and commitment to excellence during his tenure as director.

Dr. Medoff was a member of several professional societies, including the American Society for Clinical Investigation and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Among his many honors and awards are the Distinguished Educator Award and the Second Century Award from the School of Medicine, the Walter E. Stamm Mentor Award from the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the Neville Grant Award from Barnes-Jewish Hospital, and the Fellows Award from the Academy of Science—St. Louis.

Dr. Medoff is survived by his loving wife of 58 years, Dr. Judith Medoff, of Clayton; sons Dr. Benjamin (Alisia) Medoff, of Dover, Mass., and Nathaniel (Sherri) Medoff, of Atlanta; and four grandchildren, Julia and Alex Medoff, of Dover; and Jonah Medoff and Jacob Frank, of Atlanta.

Funeral services will be held Wednesday, Jan. 16, at 3 p.m. at Berger Memorial Chapel, 9430 Olive Blvd., Olivette, Mo. Visitation will be at 2:30 p.m. Interment will follow at Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol Cemetery, 9125 Ladue Road, Ladue, Mo.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Dr. Gerald Medoff Lectureship or the Dr. Gerald Medoff Scholarship Fund, both at Washington University in St. Louis, care of Rachel Hartmann; Campus Box 1247, 7425 Forsyth Blvd.; St Louis, Mo. 63105. Memorial contributions also may be made to the APDA Greater St. Louis Chapter, at www.apdaparkinson.org/greaterstlouis; 1415 Elbridge Payne, Suite 150; Chesterfield, Mo. 63017; or Evelyn’s House, care of BJC Foundation for Hospice; P.O. Box 790369; St. Louis, Mo. 63179; or Race for Another Day, care of Team Gateway for a Cure, teamgatewaytoacure.org.

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