Dr. John B. Dehoff

Internist Served As Baltimore Health Commissioner And Was Health Policy Adviser To William Donald Schaefer

October 29, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Dr. John Burling DeHoff, a Baltimore internist who later served as the city's health commissioner for nearly a decade, died Monday of heart failure at the Broadmead retirement community in Cockeysville. He was 96.

Born in Baltimore into a medical family, Dr. DeHoff's father, grandfather and great uncle, were physicians. He was raised in Charles Village and attended the Marston's University School for Boys and was a 1931 graduate of Polytechnic Institute.

He earned a bachelor's degree from the Johns Hopkins University in 1935 and his medical degree, also from Hopkins, in 1939. In 1967, he received a master's in public health from Hopkins' School of Hygiene and Public Health.

Dr. DeHoff was completing an internship in general medicine at Sinai Hospital in New York City when World War II broke out in 1941.

During the war, he served as a laboratory officer with a medical unit in Trinidad and later with the 123rd Evacuation Hospital in the European Theater.

After the war, he remained an active reservist, attaining the rank of colonel and commanding officer of the 92nd Field Hospital, at the time of his retirement in 1965.

After the war, he studied psychiatry for a year at the Payne Whitney Clinic in New York.

"That," he told The Evening Sun in a 1975 interview, after being appointed to a six-year term as city health commissioner, "was enough to let me know that I didn't want to be a psychiatrist."

Dr. DeHoff returned to Baltimore in 1947 and established a private practice in internal medicine. From 1959 to 1965, he was also a Class 1 aviation medical examiner for the Federal Aviation Agency in addition to maintaining his private practice.

He was asked to join the city Health Department in 1965, and four years later he was named deputy commissioner, succeeding Dr. Matthew Tayback.

As deputy commissioner. Dr. DeHoff was active in state and city medical society affairs and in the development of more neighborhood medical services in the city.

He helped establish the Provident Comprehensive Neighborhood Health Center, and served as vice president of the Provident Neighborhood Council.

The Evening Sun described him as a "quiet, thoughtful man with a willingness to innovate."

In 1975 Dr. DeHoff was named health commissioner by then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer, succeeding Dr. Robert E. Farber, who retired after holding the position for more than a decade.

Dr. DeHoff also taught medicine and preventive medicine at the University of Maryland Medical School and lectured in public health administration at what is now the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

After stepping down as health commissioner, Dr. DeHoff was health adviser to Mayor Schaefer for several years, and was a consultant to the Social Security Administration and the Maryland Board of Physician Quality Assurance.

Dr. DeHoff, who described himself as a "worker bee," continued working until he was 83. He was also a medical historian.

He wrote an article in the Sun Magazine recalling the period from 1900 to 1920, when a penny allowed customers to buy ice cream from "quaint hokey pokey carts."

Dr. DeHoff reminded readers of the inherent dangers of not only the ice cream purchased from those carts but other commonly sold products of that era.

He then added that a penny bought many things that "we have since learned to do without."

Much of the ice cream of that time, he wrote, was produced from "impure milk and in unsanitary factories. Ten percent of the milk had live tuberculosis germs, epidemics of typhoid and scarlet fever stemmed from milk; impure city water, also typhoid contaminated, washed the machinery and cans until the second decade of this century."

He added that "oysters picked up fever at the sewer outflow where they grew so well. Custard in filled pastries carried diarrhea germs, and uninspected meats spread dangerous diseases."

Dr. DeHoff wrote that in 1906, "200 people died of diarrhea, 36 of these from typhoid fever, for every 100,000 of our population. Indeed a penny did buy many things it doesn't anymore."

Like his parents, Dr. DeHoff was a longtime active member of the Theosophical Society in America, and was a longtime vegetarian.

"He should be in the Guinness Book of World Records for eating the most grilled cheese sandwiches in one lifetime," said his daughter, Susan DeHoff Montgomery of Denver, with a laugh.

"He also believed in reincarnation and often quoted Voltaire as saying, 'It is not more surprising to be born twice than once,' " she said.

He was an active member for 71 years of Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church on Park Avenue, where he had been a Sunday school teacher and deacon.

After moving from his Roland Park home to Broadmead in 1993, Dr. DeHoff wrote a regular health column for the residents' newsletter and was active in various other affairs at the retirement community.

An accomplished bread baker, Dr. DeHoff's many loaves that he donated to the Broadmead Barn Sale always sold out within the first hour, his daughter said.

"His byword was 'listen, learn and look ahead.' He had a knack for listening to others, and an active intellectual curiosity that lasted throughout his life, and the ability to remain interested in life and to look ahead almost to the end," Ms. Montgomery said.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Nov. 13 at Broadmead, 13801 York Road, Cockeysville.

Also surviving are his wife of 71 years, the former M. Audrey Dunn; a son, Dr. John Howard DeHoff of Allentown, Pa.; two granddaughters; and two great-grandchildren.

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