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Obituary
November 2006

In Memoriam: Walter Charles Lobitz, Jr, MD (1911-2006): A Life Well Lived

Arch Dermatol. 2006;142(11):1495-1496. doi:10.1001/archderm.142.11.1495

On April 17, 2006, we lost a true giant of dermatology. On that day Walter C. Lobitz, Jr, MD, Chairman Emeritus of the Department of Dermatology, Oregon Health & Science University, died in Portland, Ore, at age 94 years. During his lifetime, he saw dermatology evolve into a scientifically based specialty, and he was a major contributor to the evolution.

Walter Charles Lobitz, Jr, MD

Walter Charles Lobitz, Jr, MD

Dr Lobitz was passionate about life. His enthusiasm was apparent and contagious in all he did, whether he was mentoring young dermatologists, teaching medical students, caring for patients, or fishing, skiing, or mountaineering. He was a connoisseur of fine wines, a gourmet cook, a musician and composer, even a world-class watercolor artist. His watercolors adorn the walls of homes of dermatologist friends all over the world and the hallways at Mary's Woods, his residence in Oregon for the last several years of his life. In spite of his many talents, he was a humble man and insisted on being called “Wally.” Those of us who trained with him could never quite accept such informality in addressing a person we so profoundly admired.

Walter C. Lobitz, Jr, was born and educated in Cincinnati, Ohio. During a residency year in internal medicine there, he met, fell in love with, and married a young intern, Caroline Elizabeth Rockwell. She died in 2001. They had been married for 59 years. “Betty and Wally” Lobitz wrote poetry and music for each other and lived according to the creed, “If I had but one loaf of bread, I would sell half to buy white hyacinths to feed my soul.” Their 3 children, W. Charles Lobitz, PhD, John Lobitz, MD, and Suzy Carroll, BA, carry on the tradition of their parents and share their philosophy of life.

Shortly after starting medical school, Dr Lobitz developed generalized morphea, an event that profoundly influenced his life decisions. Leon Goldman, MD, at the University of Cincinnati made the diagnosis, managed his disease, and became his friend and mentor. Dr Lobitz's experience with morphea and his relationship with Dr Goldman were the major reasons he chose a career in dermatology. Years later, he would still roll up his sleeves to show medical students the atrophic scars left on his arms by his encounter with this rare skin disease.

Dr Lobitz accepted a fellowship in dermatology at the Mayo Clinic in 1942. He remembered his chief of dermatology at Mayo, Paul O’Leary, MD, as a great man whose mentorship inspired him and started him on the path to a career in investigative and academic dermatology. After his fellowship, Dr Lobitz moved to Hanover, NH, to start his own dermatology program at the Hitchcock Clinic and Dartmouth Medical School. In Hanover, he continued his investigations of eccrine sweat gland biology and forged fast friendships with Walter B. Shelley, MD, William Montagna, PhD, and Richard Dobson, MD. His work with Bill Montagna, a biologist and basic scientist, heralded a new era of scientific inquiry in skin diseases: true investigative dermatology. Montagna and Lobitz organized the Brown Conference at Providence, RI, which each year brought together basic scientists and clinical dermatologists for in-depth discussions of different aspects of skin biology. It became the “Green Conference” when it moved to Oregon in the early 1960s. It endures today as the Montagna Symposium on the Biology of Skin and takes place each fall on the Oregon coast. Dr Lobitz attended and was honored at the 2005 Montagna Symposium and was looking forward to contributing to the 2006 Symposium on skin appendages.

In 1959, Dr Lobitz succeeded Thomas B. Fitzpatrick, MD, as Chairman of the Department of Dermatology at the University of Oregon Medical School, now Oregon Health & Science University. Under his leadership, the Oregon dermatology department rose to national prominence. He remained chairman until his retirement in 1977. Early on, Dr Lobitz recruited one of his first residents at Dartmouth, Richard Dobson, MD, to Oregon. There they continued their investigations into sweat gland biology and cutaneous carcinogenesis. Later, Dr Lobitz's landmark discoveries on cellular immunity in atopic dermatitis inspired such current investigators as Jon Hanifin, MD, and Kevin Cooper, MD.

As Dr Lobitz's international stature grew, he traveled throughout the world as lecturer and visiting professor. During 2 sabbaticals in Denmark, he collaborated and developed a lasting friendship with Professor Gustav Asboe-Hansen, MD. Another lifelong friend, Yusho Miura, MD, Professor Emeritus of Dermatology and Dean Emeritus of Hokkaido University School of Medicine, was the first of many Japanese dermatologists who came to Oregon as research fellows and later become chairmen of dermatology departments in Japan. In 1993, the Emperor of Japan awarded Dr Lobitz the Order of Sacred Treasure, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon for his contributions to Japanese dermatology.

During his career, Walter C. Lobitz was the president of every major national dermatology organization: the Society for Investigative Dermatology (1957-1958), the American Board of Dermatology (1963), the American Academy of Dermatology (1969), and the American Dermatological Association (1972). He was a founding member of the Association of University Professors of Dermatology and its president in 1965-1966. He was chief editor of the Archives of Dermatology from 1963 to 1969. He was a trustee of the Board of the Dermatology Foundation and received the Foundation's Lifetime Career Educator award in 2003.

In the late 1960s, Dr Lobitz helped shape the future of dermatology by his contribution to the publication of the “National Program for Dermatology,” a document that outlined the direction dermatology should take with regard to education and patient care. That document provided the foundation for the modern structure of the American Academy of Dermatology. Dr Lobitz was named a Master in Dermatology of the Academy in 1988 and was awarded the Academy's highest honor, the Gold Medal, in 1985 by Richard Dobson, MD, then president of the Academy.

Dr Lobitz's most enduring legacy may be in those he taught and mentored. He was a skilled mentor of young dermatologists and was very proud of his “dermatology children.” He personally made sure that doors were opened and the way made smooth. He was directly responsible for training a remarkable number of dermatologists who went on to become national and international leaders. His trainees include 3 presidents of the American Board of Dermatology, 2 secretary treasurers, 3 vice presidents, 1 president, and 1 president-elect of the American Academy of Dermatology, 1 recipient of the American Academy of Dermatology Gold Medal, 1 recipient of the Dermatology Foundation Clark B. Finnerud Award, and 2 masters in dermatology.

Dr Lobitz often quoted Ernest Martin Hopkins, 11th president of Dartmouth College, who said, “The final measure of a man's accomplishment . . . is not whether he has been acclaimed a hero, or has been adjudged a worthy candidate for martyrdom. It is rather his success in acting as a coordinating, harmonizing, energizing, stimulating force. . . . ” Walter C. Lobitz, Jr was a master at coordinating, harmonizing, energizing, and stimulating those he taught, worked with, and loved. His spirit lives on in the Oregon dermatology program he nurtured and in the many lives he touched.

Correspondence: Dr Baker, 1706 NW Glisan St, Suite 2, Portland, OR 97209 (dbakerderm@aol.com).

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Article Information

Additional Information: This obituary is being published jointly with the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Acknowledgment: Much of the information contained herein was gleaned from Masters in Dermatology, Volume 5, Number 2 (published by CPC Communications, Greenwich, Conn, in cooperation with the Committee on History of the American Academy of Dermatology in November 1988, and underwritten by a grant from Janssen Pharmaceutica Inc), and from a eulogy delivered by Frances J. Storrs, MD, at a memorial service for Dr Lobitz on April 29, 2006, at the Provincial House Chapel, Mary's Woods, Lake Oswego, Ore. I am also indebted to Dr Storrs, Richard L. Dobson, MD, Frederick A. J. Kingery, MD, Paul S. Russell, MD, Andrew Blauvelt, MD, and Suzy Carroll for their reviews and edits.

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