Dean emeritus of the Johns Hopkins Medical School has played a leading role in the history of his field THOMAS BOURNE TURNER -- A MEDICAL INSTITUTION

April 30, 1995|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Sun Staff Writer

At 93, Thomas Bourne Turner is almost as old as the 20th century, but he's certainly in a lot better shape.

Dr. Turner is dean emeritus of the Johns Hopkins Medical School, a position so exalted in American medicine that it inspires awe in distinguished physicians not unlike the respect West Point generals command in old soldiers.

Yet he is engagingly unaffected, unpretentious and egalitarian, qualities perhaps nurtured by his deep roots in Calvert County. He aspired only to be a country doctor when he left to study medicine.

He's been a doctor 70 years. He still drives to his office at the Johns Hopkins Medical School virtually every day and walks briskly through the halls of the vast East Baltimore complex, a familiar figure now to generations of Hopkins doctors, nurses and patients.

Known to his friends and almost everyone else as Tommy, he joins senior faculty members at their traditional twice-a-week luncheons and regrets the absence of newer professors who neglect to come. He prizes the civility of personal contact in this age of e-mail.

He regularly attends the Saturday "grand rounds," that great teaching device pioneered at the Hopkins medical school, wherein specialists or medical experts present and discuss interesting cases of the week to other physicians. Even as he laments his friends who are "dying off at a much too rapid rate," Dr. Turner remains deeply interested in medicine, vitally interested in life in general and extraordinarily youthful.

"I don't feel old," he says. "But sometimes when I walk up stairs I remember it."

He's a courtly man, easily erect in crisply tailored suits, a genial patrician in the style of the amiable Baltimoreans celebrated in an earlier generation by Francis Beirne, the urbane chronicler of an older, gentler city.

He's a cordial host at his classic Bolton Hill townhouse. In his inviting study on the second floor overlooking Park Avenue, he's lively, diverting and stimulating during long conversations. He doesn't quite bound up the winding stairs, but he climbs with the alacrity a 60-year-old could envy, maybe even some 30-year-olds.

"I'll tell you, I like young people," says Dr. Turner, who's been married twice and has two daughters, five grandsons and six great-grandchildren. "I spot coming youngsters. I never feel out of place with my grandsons."

Dr. Turner seems to get along pretty well with all the generations of his offspring, who range in age from his two daughters, Anne Pope, 57, and Patti Walker, 51, to his newest great-granddaughter, Emma Pope, who will be baptized today. A few weeks ago the Baltimore Messenger asked children at Roland Park Country School whom they admired the most. He was surprised when his 11-year-old great-granddaughter, Catherine Pope, named him.

And she says wants to be a doctor, the first member of his family to express any interest in following him into medicine. The possibility pleases Dr. Turner tremendously.

"He's always supported young people," says Dr. George B. Udvarhelyi, professor of neurosurgery at Hopkins during Dr. Turner's tenure. "He felt new people at the hospital often were a little bit lost. He included them in the parties he would give at his house. Few leaders have that aspect of humility."

Nor do they have Dr. Turner's quirky wit and wisdom. In his 1993 Christmas cards, he included a list of 10 aphorisms gleaned from the lessons of his 91 years. He called it "A Few Things Learned During a Long Life (not necessarily in the order of importance)."

His advice ranged from the funny ("When given a book, thank the giver within 48 hours; otherwise you'll have to read it") to the profound. ("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.")

Dr. Udvarhelyi, a Hungarian neurosurgeon trained in Budapest and Vienna, describes him as "one of the last gentlemen, in the traditional way of a Southern Maryland gentleman."

He's a gallant, gregarious man who remains attractive to women.

"He loves nice parties," says Dr. Udvarhelyi, who is a bit of a bon vivant himself. "He's still very charming with the ladies, and they love him. I don't know anybody who doesn't like Dr. Turner."

A couple of times a week Dr. Turner visits the hallowed precincts of the 14th West Hamilton Street Club, a refuge for intelligent conversation in downtown Baltimore. He's been a member more than 60 years, longer than any other member. He drops in regularly on Saturday for a drink and talk with old friends. He drinks American beer, white wine and Scotch whisky -- in moderation, two drinks a day. He once wrote a paper suggesting two drinks were good for the constitution.

Dr. Turner also remains a steadfast churchgoer. The Episcopal church was a center of social life during his Calvert County youth, and he went regularly and happily. He still does.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.