Dr. John N. Classen, 88, surgeon

December 09, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Dr. John Newell Classen, a Baltimore surgeon who was wounded in the World War II battle for Iwo Jima, died Friday of congestive heart failure at his Woodbrook home. He was 88.

Dr. Classen was born and raised in Roland Park and educated at Calvert School and Gilman School, where he set a record in lettering in five varsity sports during his senior year.

"He was one of the fiercest competitors I've ever known in athletics and in business," said Gilman graduate Haswell Franklin, a financial planner in Homeland who knew Dr. Classen for more than 40 years. "Rumor has it he was the greatest athlete at Gilman. ... He was a blue-chip athlete and a blue-chip human being. They don't come along like that very often."

Dr. Classen earned a bachelor's degree in biology from Princeton University in 1938. There, he also excelled at sports and was named to the All-America lacrosse team in 1937. He earned a medical degree from the Johns Hopkins University in 1942, interned for a year at Union Memorial Hospital and then entered in the Navy.

His eldest son, H. Ward Classen of Ruxton, said his father starred in propaganda films shot in Norfolk, Va., but wanted to help on the front lines. Then a lieutenant, Dr. Classen volunteered to serve with the Marine Corps in the Pacific.

Ward Classen said his father was the sole survivor of an attack on his aid station on Iwo Jima. Left for dead, his father was picked up by rescuers and spent the rest of the war recuperating from his wounds. He was awarded two Purple Hearts and two Bronze Stars.

After the war, he completed his surgical residency at Union Memorial and a fellowship at the Lahey Clinic in Boston.

He practiced general and vascular surgery in Baltimore as a partner in Finney, Trimble and Associates. He also was a medical instructor and consultant to area hospitals and businesses, and for 30 years medical director for the old A.S. Abell Co.

From 1950 to 1982, he taught anatomy and surgery at the Hopkins School of Medicine and was chief of surgery at Union Memorial from 1964 to 1972.

After his 1986 retirement, Dr. Classen was a consultant for the Social Security Administration and expert witness in workers' compensation and malpractice cases.

Dr. Classen married Margaret Taylor Speer in 1958, and they had lived in Woodbrook since 1964.

Dr. Classen was a lifelong member of Brown Memorial Woodbrook Presbyterian Church, 6200 N. Charles St., where a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday.

In addition to his wife and son, he is survived by two other sons, John Barthelow Classen of Woodbrook and Taylor Speer Classen of Ruxton; and four grandchildren.

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