Dr. Raymond J. Donovan Jr., 68, surgeon, ethics chief at St. Agnes

January 05, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Dr. Raymond J. Donovan Jr., a former surgeon at St. Agnes Hospital, longtime chairman of the hospital's ethics committee and founder of its hospice and home care program, died Tuesday of lung cancer at his Catonsville home. He was 68.

From 1965 to 1991, Dr. Donovan maintained a private practice and was senior attending surgeon at St. Agnes, where he specialized in pediatric surgery.

After leaving active surgical practice in 1991, he served as medical director of the Westinghouse Electric Corp. in Linthicum and was a medical consultant to Monumental and Monumental General insurance companies in Baltimore.

Since 1997, he had been medical consultant to the Social Security Administration's Federal Disability Determination Service, and he was a member of the institutional review board of the Chesapeake Research Review in Columbia.

During his tenure at St. Agnes, he was president of the medical staff at the Southwest Baltimore hospital, headed numerous committees and was medical director of the hospice and home care program since its inception in 1979.

In 1980, he instituted the annual Sister Margaret James Lecture, which honored the work of a former St. Agnes administrator and dealt with medical ethics.

"He was a very bright guy, a unilateral thinker who, when he thought he was right, maintained his position. He made many contributions to the St. Agnes community, and I admired him," said Dr. Stanley Minken, former chief of surgery at the hospital and now professor of surgery at the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda.

"He was a wonderful man, physician and a good surgeon," said Dr. Raymond B. Bahr, medical director of the coronary care system at St. Agnes and friend since the two were residents at the hospital in the early 1960s.

"Most importantly, he got involved with issues such as hospice care, which allowed patients to die at home, and this was a new entity at the time. He put together a system of care that was user-friendly to the family and patient, and at the same time preserved the dignity of the human being who was ill," he said.

Dr. Bahr described him as a "quiet, cordial and contemplative man -- a visionary who, when he raised his hand, had something to say."

"He was a pioneer in the early days of the hospice movement, and I don't think he ever got credit for it. He was very articulate, knew the subject well and opened doors for others," said Mother Catherine Grace, a member of the All Saints Sisters of the Poor and one of the founders of Joseph Richey Hospice Inc.

"We needed a doctor, and he joined me -- he was my door opener -- in talking up the hospice concept. He served on our board in the early days and played an important role in our founding," she said.

"He had a strong belief in the good quality of life, and he approached his surgical practice that way. You do as much as you can to help heal disease as well as letting patients lead their own lives. He approached ethics that way, too," said Betsy Chandler, a nurse at St. Agnes and co-chairwoman of the hospital's ethics committee.

"He would ask patients' families three questions: `How did they live life? How did they enjoy life? How would they want to be living now?'" she said.

Dr. Donovan earned a reputation for a willingness to work with patients such as Jehovah's Witnesses. If they needed surgery, he would use surgical techniques that minimized bleeding and the need for transfusions, which their faith does not support.

"He was a very open-minded person who respected other people's belief systems. He fit care to the person's beliefs rather than the other way around," said Miss Chandler.

Dr. Donovan was born and raised in Cliffside Park, N.J., and was a graduate of St. Peter's Preparatory School in Jersey City. He earned his bachelor's degree in biology and chemistry from St. Peter's College in 1954 and his medical degree from the University of Maryland Medical School in 1958.

He completed his internship at the University of Maryland in 1959 and a surgical residency at St. Agnes after serving in the Navy Medical Corps from 1959 to 1961, when he was discharged with the rank of lieutenant.

In 1982, Dr. Donovan returned to college, and he earned a master's degree in liberal arts from the Johns Hopkins University in 1986.

He was a member of Trinity Roman Catholic Church in Ilchester and enjoyed reading and spending time with his family.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. today at St. Mark's Roman Catholic Church, 27 Melvin Ave., Catonsville.

Dr. Donovan is survived by his wife of 43 years, the former Sue Coulehan; three sons, Raymond J. Donovan III of Athens, Ga., Timothy J. Donovan of Columbia and Daniel J. Donovan of Catonsville; four daughters, Susan D. Valderas, Kate D. Srour and Jane Donovan, all of Catonsville, and Meghann D. Harjer of Virginia Beach, Va.; and 12 grandchildren. Another son, Matthew J. Donovan, died in 1986.

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