William G. Speed III, 87, physician, headache expert


Dr. William G. Speed III, a Johns Hopkins physician and teacher who studied the common headache when there was little scientific interest in it and became one of its leading experts, died of congestive heart failure Tuesday at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. The former Roland Park resident was 87.

While an undergraduate at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., Dr. Speed became interested in headaches when he awoke one morning in severe pain, which he was told was caused by a migraine.

In an autobiographical sketch, Dr. Speed recalled being annoyed by the physician he consulted the next day who seemed to know little about headaches. "He treated the whole situation rather cavalierly - `Hey, you had a headache - so what!'"

That sparked his interest in what he called a "a common problem" - "yet so little was known about it and so few seemed to care."

Born in Baltimore and raised in Homeland, he knew from the time he was 8 that he wanted to become a doctor. He attended Calvert School and was a 1936 graduate of McDonogh School.

While Dr. Speed was earning his medical degree at the Hopkins School of Medicine, senior physicians there knew he had studied medical literature about headaches and sought his advice for their patients. When he went into practice in 1947, those physicians began to refer patients to him.

Because there were so many headache patients referred by colleagues and by word of mouth from patients, Dr. Speed began to devote his practice largely to headache cases. He became known as "the headache doctor."

He was the founder of Speed Headache Associates, the state's first private headache center and the sixth developed in the United States. For many years, it was located at 11 E. Chase St., and it attracted a national and international following. He treated members of Middle East royal families.

"Bill Speed pioneered the differential diagnosis of chronic headache, an extremely complicated field that few were willing to take on," said Dr. Richard Starr Ross, a cardiologist and former dean of the Hopkins School of Medicine. "He was a world-renowned leader, if not the originator, of this entire medical subspecialty. Patients came to him from all over the globe for his advice and treatment."

Dr. Speed was an associate professor of medicine at the Hopkins Medical School and for 54 years was on the staff of the Johns Hopkins Hospital. He retired in 2002.

He wrote many papers and contributed to many textbooks on the topic of headaches. Many of his articles were on the organic basis for the headache and other symptoms that come after a head injury.

"He was a superb diagnostician, very often a doctor's doctor," said Dr. David B. Hellmann, vice dean of the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. "He had a wonderful sense of humor well into his 80s and often went on the grand rounds. Asked about his own health, he'd say, `Above the neck, I'm just fine.'"

He worked with the drug Ergotamine, an inhaled medication for controlling migraines.

When he first became involved with studying headaches, it was commonly accepted that they were due to stress, tension, nerves, anxiety or just not dealing well with personal problems, Dr. Speed wrote in his sketch. This concept did not fit his patients; he encountered many with headaches who were quite stable emotionally.

Dr. Speed's belief that there was an organic explanation for headaches was later proven to be correct.

He was a founding member of what is now the American Headache Society and served as its president from 1986 to 1988. In 1989, the group presented him with its Distinguished Clinician Award.

He was active in local and national medical societies and served as chairman of the state medical society's governing council and president of the Maryland Society of Internal Medicine. He was vice chairman of the board of directors of Blue Shield of Maryland from 1973 to 1986.

Dr. Speed spoke French fluently and once said, "I like to go to France because it never lets you down." He made 27 trips there. He also liked to tinker with gadgets, family members said.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. tomorrow at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St., where he was a communicant.

He survived two wives. Margaret Turner Speed, his wife of five years, died in July. Jean LaVine Speed, to whom he was married for 51 years, died in 1998.

Survivors include two sons, William G. Speed IV of Rocky Hill, Conn., and David M. Speed of Barrington, R.I.; a daughter, Leslie B. Speed of Baltimore; a brother, C. MacNair Speed of Stevensville; three stepsons, Charles T. Turner Jr. of Medford, N.J., Harry B. Turner of Stevenson and William F. Turner of Stoneleigh; four stepdaughters, Catherine T. Carter of Virginia Beach, Va., Margaret T. Hardy of Lutherville, Frances P. Turner of Freeland and Anne T. Lawler of Riderwood; and four grandchildren.


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.