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May 2004

Richard W. Homan, MD, MA (1940-2003)

Arch Neurol. 2004;61(5):800. doi:10.1001/archneur.61.5.800

Who should write a eulogy? My contact with Richard figure spanned 3 decades as a pupil, colleague, chairman, and friend. What measure of a man deserves a eulogy? I would have to say ethics, as rare a quality in academic medicine as in any field.

Richard W. Homan, MD, MA

Richard W. Homan, MD, MA

True, he led an exemplary life as a son and brother, as a student and athlete, as a husband, father, and grandfather. He served his country in the Air Force and as chief of the Neurology Service at the Dallas Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Dallas, Tex. His academic accomplishments are listed in the usual lengthy CV. He was chairman at 2 institutions and an international scholar. But these things were not what he valued most dear, nor what his family and friends valued. It was his ethical behavior and sense of justice.

As a chairman, Richard believed, and acted on, that everyone had a second and third chance to succeed, even at risk to his own career. Fairness was a way of life and a creed. He also tried to put the care back in healthcare. He anguished over the health maintenance organizations' takeover of the doctor-patient relationship, particularly with respect to their dictating the amount of time allocated each patient visit. In response, Richard spent considerable personal time and money on mediation training in order to improve his listening and communication skills, thereby teaching himself how to maximize the meager time he was allowed with his patients.

In long philosophical discussions, he would paint a more perfect world of a just medical system. I assumed the role of cynic and argued the naïveté and futility of a fair system in the real world. He remained undaunted and more resolved to see a practical course to this end. When he was forced into medical retirement, he found the liberation to ply his ethics even more. He applied to University of Texas Medical Branch Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (Galveston) for a formal degree in health care ethics. But like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, he already had more qualifications than the school could offer and only had need of the diploma.

Yet, since such men are in such short supply, their actions are marginalized, or worse, satirized as a Don Quixote. This was never the case for anyone who knew Richard. His personal and professional behavior was a model most wished for, and he enriched the lives of his numerous family members, friends, and colleagues. His qualities are therefore enduring and the stuff of eulogy.