Dr. Donald F. Proctor, 92, Hopkins physician, teacher


Dr. Donald Frederick Proctor, a noted Johns Hopkins School of Medicine otolaryngologist who also had careers in anesthesiology and environmental sciences, died of pneumonia Tuesday at Roland Park Place. He was 92.

Born in Red Bank, N.J., he moved to Towson, where he graduated from Towson High School in 1929.

Torn between a career as an opera singer or in medicine, Dr. Proctor earned a bachelor's degree in 1933 at the Johns Hopkins University, while simultaneously studying voice at the Peabody Conservatory of Music and the Juilliard School in New York.

Entering Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, he continued giving concerts at Peabody, while his professors doubted he would survive the first-year rigors of medical school.

But he surprised them, and went on to earn his medical degree in 1937, which he followed with a residency in otolaryngology at Johns Hopkins. He then entered private practice, where he remained until joining Johns Hopkins School of Medicine as associate professor of otolaryngology in 1946.

In the late 1940s, he began studying the physiology and pathology of the respiratory system as well as tuberculosis. Other areas of research included the practice and study of bronchoscopy with an emphasis on pediatric bronchoscopy.

He left Hopkins in 1950 to study respiratory physiology at the University of Rochester, and when he returned he entered the field of anesthetics.

In 1951, he was appointed the first professor of anesthesiology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine when the department of anesthesiology was established.

Dr. Proctor's book Anesthesiology and Otolaryngology, the first of eight, was published in 1957, and for several years after he was a regular guest on the television show The Johns Hopkins Science Review.

He returned to private practice in 1955 and seven years later rejoined Johns Hopkins Hospital as full-time chief of the bronchoscopy department.

In a 1964 article in The Sun, Dr. Proctor spoke of some of the objects - including a Gov. Albert C. Ritchie campaign button - that he and his staff had removed from the windpipes, lungs, esophagi, noses and ears of hundreds of small children, and a few hapless adults, through the years.

"Bones, safety pins, pennies, jewelry, false teeth, screws, religious medals and prune pits," were some of the routine standard items Dr. Proctor was faced with retrieving.

"The variety of trinkets carefully tagged and mounted in the office of the Hopkins ear, nose and throat specialist [Dr. Proctor] is almost endless. They range in size from spoons and thermometers to squash seeds," the newspaper reported.

"One of the most serious foreign body problems we have is aspiration of peanuts in the lungs. It's surprising how many people will give a two- or three-year-old child peanuts to eat," Dr. Proctor warned.

During the 1960s and 1970s, he joined the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health as professor of environmental medicine and continued doing research on the mechanics of breathing and air pollution.

He saw long-term exposure to air pollution as the cause of a number of infectious diseases and thought that "dirty air does injure your defense against airborne infections," he told The Sun in 1966.

"He was a scholarly surgeon and an innovator in the field of otolaryngology. And he was a scholar to the end, always reading, studying and writing," said Dr. Richard S. Ross, former dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

A prolific writer, Dr. Proctor authored more than 150 papers, chapters for various medical books and journals, and lectured widely on deafness, respiration and air pollution. He was the author of The Nose, Paranasal Sinuses and Ears in Childhood, A History of Breathing and Breathing, Speech and Song, in which he was able to combine his experiences as a singer and medical expert.

"He was primarily best known for his work in otolaryngology and had a remarkable career at Hopkins where he was also a wonderful teacher. He was as much a personality as anyone I've had contact with," said Dr. Solbert Permutt, a veteran asthma researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center's Asthma Center.

"He was a good physiologist and a great authority on the defense mechanisms of the airways and how they deflect infectious intruders, and the production of the human voice," he said.

Dr. Proctor retired in 1983.

"He was the man to see if singers had problems with voice replication. One time, he treated Carol Channing, who was appearing in Baltimore and was suffering from laryngitis," said his son, Douglas C. Proctor of Mount Washington.

Dr. Proctor lent his rich baritone to area choirs for many years until the 1970s, family members said.

"He also loved Gilbert and Sullivan and Broadway musicals," said his daughter, Nan Knighton Breglio, a writer and lyricist.

A former longtime resident of St. Georges Road in North Baltimore who moved to Roland Park Place in 1998, Dr. Proctor was an avid book collector and enjoyed woodcarving and sculpting.

He had enjoyed friendships with H.L. Mencken and Richard Q. "Moco" Yardley, former Sun editorial cartoonist, his son said.

He was a member of the 14 West Hamilton Street Club and Baltimore Bibliophiles and enjoyed vacationing on Martha's Vineyard.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. today at Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St.

Also surviving are his wife of 70 years, the former Janice Carson, an artist and retired head of the Bryn Mawr School art department; and three granddaughters.


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