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December 2003

Robert D. Currier, MD (1925-2003)

Arch Neurol. 2003;60(12):1811. doi:10.1001/archneur.60.12.1811

It is with considerable sadness that we bid farewell to a beloved neurologist, a mentor, a bibliophile, and an ultimate gentleman in the person of Robert D. Currier, MD. Dr Currier passed away on Saturday, March 22, 2003, at his home in Jackson, Miss.

Robert D. Currier, MD, and his wife, Marilyn.

Robert D. Currier, MD, and his wife, Marilyn.

I first came to know Dr Currier when I asked him to write a letter of reference so that I could move from the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Jackson to Pittsburgh, Pa. Instead, he invited me to join the university full-time and took the trouble to negotiate a position for me with the dean. Realizing that I was unhappy not being able to do some of the type of work I wanted to do, he graciously invited me to work with him in his ataxia clinic; all of his patients and data were mine for the taking. As we saw patients together, he would make it appear as though I knew much and he knew little, a bit of kind deception that I did not sense for a long time.

I got to know Dr Currier well during field trips for research that were enormous fun but also hair raising. He would insist on driving his favorite Volkswagen van, and this, given his color blindness, always left the possibility that we might not make it back in one piece, although somehow we always did. Further adding to the tension was his habit of picking up his citizens-band radio and talking to many of the truck drivers on the road (his handle was "Red Dog"). As for eating on the road, he ignored the usual McDonald's and Burger King or anything fancier and was generally most happy in a truck stop or some sort of "Mama's Place" where I stood out like a sore thumb.

His probing questions at grand rounds always seemed to come from left field. His comments for the Year Book of Neurology reflected the same penchant for original thinking as well as his sense of humor. His erudition was vast, and he was never happier than when sitting with a book in his favorite chair with a light shining down and classical music on the radio in his living room lined with bookshelves. His interests were wide and his academic firsts amazing, coming especially as they did from his lone efforts in a small school. He was the first to locate an autosomal human neurogenetic disease to a chromosome, one of the first to try immunosuppression for multiple sclerosis and chelation for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and an early proponent of the role of genetic factors in apparently sporadic degenerative diseases. The advances of the past few decades in neuroscience and molecular genetics have paralleled his uncanny clinical acumen.

His debates with the formidable Anita Harding at scientific meetings were a treat to watch, two intellectual giants matching wits in a spirit of scientific achievement. Yet he was self-effacing, a truly modest person. His short article on being the chair of a small department of neurology, a tongue-in-cheek take on a previous article by someone from a much larger department, was classic Currier1: "Be honest when you make mistakes, even in patient care." About residents: "Take care of them; fight their fights with them; look after their needs." About faculty: "Recruit people who are smarter than you are . . . . Some will leave . . . . Cry a little, but carry on . . . ." And finally, a bit of truly administrative advice: "Do not threaten, complain, or cry in the dean's presence." One of my most pleasant surprises was to find this article framed and hung prominently in the department of neurology run by K. Srinivas in Chennai, India, during one of my visits.

Dr Currier was a remarkable man. He took it upon himself to leave a comfortable and prestigious academic niche in Ann Arbor, Mich, to come to an underserved area of the country and establish neurology as a viable specialty. He succeeded in establishing a wonderful clinical service, a residency program that has produced numerous neurologists who all remember him fondly, and the beginnings of a research program driven by curiosity rather than the compulsion to publish. In his spare moments, he taught a course on World War II at a local college, prepared a manuscript on combat stress, and communicated worldwide on his ham radio. He was kind, intensely honest, very bright, erudite, compassionate, persistent, humble, and yet utterly self-confident. He will be missed by his family, his colleagues, his ex-residents, ham operators, and numerous others.

Currier  RD Reminiscences: on running a small department.  Arch Neurol.1990;47:1355-1356.PubMedGoogle Scholar