Dr. Palmer H. Futcher, 93, Hopkins instructor and amateur historian

February 02, 2004|By Heather Dewar | Heather Dewar,SUN STAFF

Dr. Palmer H. Futcher, a former faculty member at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, a medical society administrator and an amateur medical historian, died Friday at Broadmead in Cockeysville of complications from pneumonia. He was 93.

Dr. Futcher was a man of wide-ranging interests, including world affairs, the Baltimore Social Register, trout fishing and celestial navigation, said his daughter, Jane Pillow Futcher of Novato, Calif. He was a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility, an anti-nuclear activist group.

"He was an odd combination of this world peace guy and an old Baltimore society man," his daughter said.

Dr. Futcher was born in Baltimore, the son of a Johns Hopkins medical school professor, and decided on a career in medicine at an early age. His parents were close friends of revered Hopkins professor Dr. William Osler, and the family's home near Mount Vernon Place was crammed with memorabilia of Dr. Osler and other medical school founders.

Dr. Futcher attended Gilman School and Kent School, a Connecticut boarding school. He graduated from Harvard University and earned his medical degree at Johns Hopkins in 1936. After his residency, he joined a medical research team at the Rockefeller Institute in New York.

He resigned from his research job after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and joined the Navy in 1942.

He was commissioned a lieutenant in the Navy's medical corps and assigned to the naval air station in Pensacola, Fla. There he conducted practical experiments, including one on survival at sea. To test his conclusions, he spent time adrift in a life raft with a supply of Charms candy.

"We always had this romantic image of him, out in a life raft eating Charms," his daughter said.

Soon after arriving in Pensacola, he met Mary Viola Rightor, a social worker and Arkansas native. The two were engaged within two weeks and were married 43 years. She died in 1985.

Dr. Futcher was discharged from the Navy in 1946 and taught medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., before joining Hopkins' department of medicine in 1948. During his 19 years there he taught internal medicine, directed the hospital outpatient service and the university's student health service, and served as assistant dean of the school.

"He handled patients with a great deal of skill and compassion," said Edward Lewison, a medical school classmate who worked with Dr. Futcher to organize their class reunions.

Dr. Futcher moved to Philadelphia in 1967, where he served as executive director of the American Board of Internal Medicine until 1975. He became a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania medical school. In retirement, he treated patients at Philadelphia's Veterans Administration hospital, specializing in the care of diabetics.

He moved to Broadmead in 1994.

Dr. Futcher's two greatest passions were medical history and the outdoors, his daughter said. He collected medical history books and Hopkins memorabilia. He was a trout fisherman, bird watcher, sailor and amateur astronomer.

"When he was interested in something he took a very studious approach," she said. "When my mother died, he invested in a racehorse called She's So Hot. He never went to the racecourse. He read the racing news and wrote down how each horse he was interested in did ... but he never placed a bet."

A funeral service will be held at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow at Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St. A memorial service is planned at 11 a.m. Friday at Broadmead, 13801 York Road.

In addition to his daughter, he is survived by another daughter, Marjorie Rightor Futcher of Alum Bridge, W.Va.; seven nieces; one nephew; and a friend, Louise Brown of Broadmead.

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