Man who saved so many from death is buried Dr. R Adams Cowley bid emotional farewell

November 05, 1991|By Suzanne Wooton

The firetrucks flanked Dulaney Valley Road, their aerial ladders forming a towering archway. Below, the funeral cortege streamed by en route to Arlington National Cemetery where Shock Trauma founder R Adams Cowley was buried yesterday.

It was a hero's farewell by paramedic and rescue workers for a doctor whose high-drama brand of medicine put accident victims' lives and dreams back together during a tiny window of opportunity he called "the golden hour."

The procession followed an hourlong funeral service where physicians, friends and politicians eulogized Dr. Cowley, the 74-year-old pioneer of shock trauma medicine, as a visionary who saw his dream materialize through sheer force of will, character and persuasion.

In early 1961, the cardiac surgeon opened a two-bed research unit at the University of Maryland Hospital, launching what would become the hub of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems, which is credited with savings thousands of lives.

Today, it encompasses a 50-hospital network with 10 trauma centers, 450 ambulances, a $15 million communications system and a $35 million fleet of high-tech medevac helicopters.

"He was a visionary decades ahead of his time," Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, told the more than 300 people gathered at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at Dulaney Valley Road and Seminary Avenue in Baltimore County.

Dr. Cowley's wife, Roberta Schwartz Cowley, sat in the front row, cradling the couple's infant son, R Adams 2nd -- born just a month ago yesterday.

"Bobbie, to you and the baby, he leaves such a legacy of people who would not be alive today," the congresswoman said to Mrs. Cowley, the doctor's second wife who is currently head of speech and communication disorders at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

For her son, Mrs. Cowley asked that yesterday's service be videotaped to preserve as a memory of his father.

Dr. Cowley died Oct. 27 at his Guilford home of heart disease after several years' illness. The funeral had been delayed until yesterday so that the former military surgeon could be buried at Arlington, where services are permitted only on Mondays.

Known as RA (the R was his name, not an initial), Dr. Cowley retired as head of Shock Trauma in May 1989, culminating nearly three decades of relentless commitment to the idea that emergency treatment was a discipline apart from others.

Shortly before his retirement, a 138-bed, eight-story, $44 million emergency services building opened at the University of Maryland Medical Center complex in downtown Baltimore. It was named the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center and was widely known as the most technically advanced lifesaving facility in the world.

The complex was not only a monument to Dr. Cowley's medical philosophy but to his tenacity and political savvy.

He cultivated politicians, tangling repeatedly with them over money for his beloved Shock Trauma. But over the years, they responded by bestowing unheard of amounts of public money on his emergency medical system.

It was Gov. Marvin Mandel who gave the system its start, appointed Dr. Cowley its director and gave it a rare independence from the University of Maryland. Yesterday, he recalled Dr. Cowley's relentless lobbying for Shock Trauma.

"My memory goes back so many years to my days in the legislature and as governor," said Mr. Mandel. "And Dr. Cowley was always there.

"Sometimes he was there when we didn't even want him," the former governor said, prompting laughter among the many who knew Dr. Cowley's reputation for being single-minded.

Yesterday, legislators, doctors and fellow Mormons were among the dozens who sat in specially reserved section of the church and, along with numerous state troopers, formed columns outside as the coffin bearing Dr. Cowley's body was rolled toward the hearse. His daughter by his first marriage, Kay Cowley Pace of Santa Cruz, Calif., delivered the benediction.

Dr. Cowley's aggressive, rapid-fire treatment of critically injured victims drew criticism from the conservative medical establishment who sometimes viewed him as a megalomaniac. Their disdain faded as lives were saved. But Dr. Cowley kept his reputation as "arrogant, determined, stubborn, difficult to get along with," Mr. Mandel recalled.

"Those names only applied because the man was so determined to make this work for other people," the former governor added. "His greatest honor will live forever . . . the living monuments walking down the street who, but not for him, would not be there."

Perhaps surprisingly, none of the many people saved by Shock Trauma were among those who eulogized him. But Gov. William Donald Schaefer said:

"On the way out here I saw all the cars go by, and I said somewhere there will be an accident out there today. And there will be a life saved because of Doc Cowley."

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