Melvin Greer, MD, a former president of the AAN (1985–1987) and the first chairman of neurology at the University of Florida (UF) College of Medicine in Gainesville (1974–2000) died May 21 due to congestive heart failure — one week after he received the Lifetime Achievement Award by the UF Faculty Council for his 49 years of service to the college and university.
In interviews with Neurology Today, colleagues described Dr. Greer as a master teacher, mentor, and clinician who was as devoted to his patients as he was to the medical students, residents, and faculty whose careers he helped foster over the years.
Tetsuo Asizawa, MD, the current UF neurology chair who holds the Melvin Greer professorship, told Neurology Today that even as Dr. Greer's health waned, he continued to see patients. “As soon as he was discharged from the hospital, he'd return to the ward. In his last days, he did so in a wheelchair.”
Board-certified in pediatric and adult neurology, Dr. Greer had a comprehensive knowledge of neurologic disease and an intuitive ability to diagnose children and adults with little more than a neurologic exam, said Kenneth Heilman, MD, the James E. Rooks Jr. Distinguished Professor of Neurology & Health Psychology at UF.
Dr. Heilman noted that Dr. Greer was the main reason he came to UF as a junior faculty member in 1970. “I had received other offers from Harvard, where I had trained, and Dartmouth. But I came to UF because of Mel. He showed a tremendous joy in seeing people in his department do well, and he worked hard to make sure people got the resources they needed to be successful,” he said.
“Neurology teachers can teach by invitation or intimidation,” he continued. “Mel invited excellence. He never said bad words to a trainee. He found a way to always reinforce the positive things.”
“Mel was a big athletic guy — he looked like Errol Flynn — but he could instantly put a patient at ease with just a kind look,” said Robert Watson, MD, who first met Dr. Greer 46 years ago as a medical student at UF and went on to become a professor of neurology at UF and then a dean at the school.
“He treated everyone in his department and his patients as a member of the family,” said Dr. Watson, who is currently an executive associate dean for administrative affairs at the Florida State University College of Medicine in Tallahassee.
“He had a twinkle in his eye. I remember watching him with children in the wards. He'd come in to meet a screaming child and just start singing a song — ‘I Had a Little Teapot’ — and that would instantly put the child at ease so he could complete his exam.”
“When I became a faculty member, I found it uncomfortable calling him Mel or even Dr. Greer,” Dr. Watson said. “I started calling him ‘chief’ and the name stuck; others started calling him that over the years. He was a father figure to us all in training. He took a relatively small department that excelled in research, teaching, and patient care and built it into one of the most cohesive departments in the medical school.”
Added Dr. Heilman: “Mel was a crusader against disease and disability. His greatest legacy is the role he played as a teacher, department chair, and clinician who took care of thousands of patients. He set a high standard.”
Dr. Greer earned his medical degree at New York University in 1954, served his internship and residency at Bellevue Hospital in New York, and was a fellow in neurology at the New York Neurological Institute of the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, before joining the faculty at UF College of Medicine in 1961.
He received several teaching awards from the UF, including the 1970 Hippocratic Award and the 1975 and 1979 Award for Clinical Teaching Excellence.
In addition, he held leadership positions on a variety of medical boards, and he was active on several AAN committees. He was a special consultant to the director of the NIH and to the American Medical Association's Residency Review Committee, and a consultant with the Florida Division of Corrections, the AMA committee on Veterans Administration, and the AAN National Vaccine Advisory Commission.
Donations can be made to the Melvin Greer Academic Endowment Fund, which was established to support educational activities in the UF Department of Neurology. For more information, call 352-273-5550.