Former AAN president (1973-1975) and world-renowned senior neurologist and epileptologist Gilbert H. Glaser, MD, died Jan. 21 at the age of 91 in New Haven, CT. In his final years, he suffered from spinal stenosis and diabetic neuropathy.
Dr. Glaser was the founding chair of the Yale department of neurology, and he was instrumental in forging a distinct path for neurology — separate from internal medicine. His 34-year tenure at Yale, during which he first served as professor and director of the neurology section before it became a separate department, is perhaps one of his greatest legacies, several of his former students and residents (who refer to themselves as the “Glaserian ganglion”) told Neurology Today. In 1963, he was president of the American Epilepsy Society and received their prestigious W.G. Lennox award, which recognizes members with lifetime contributions and accomplishments related to epilepsy.
Dr. Glaser's research and clinical work expanded both surgical and nonsurgical treatment of epilepsy. Importantly, he acquired a unique insight into how anticonvulsant drugs worked and which drugs were most beneficial for varying types of seizures. His efforts in research and professorship helped mold the epilepsy program at Yale into one of the world's best, neurologists told Neurology Today.
He was the editor of the journal Epilepsia from 1958 to 1976, and served on editorial boards for other journals, including the Journal of Neurological Sciences, Archives of Neurology and the Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases. He published more than 200 scholarly articles on a broad range of topics — including epilepsy, myasthenia gravis, parkinsonism, and other disorders. Internationally, Dr. Glaser served on the WHO Committee on Epilepsy (1960-1970) and acted a delegate of the AAN and the American Neurological Association to the World Federation of Neurology and Congress of Neurology (1977-1981).
Gerald M. Fenichel, MD, professor emeritus of neurology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, in an e-mail to Neurology Today, described his former teacher as “soft-spoken, wise, kind and humane. He was a role model.”
Dr. Glaser was only 15 years old when he started his education at Columbia College in New York, graduating in 1943 with a major in zoology. Staying true to his New York roots, he completed his neurology residency at the Neurological Institute of New York where he worked with two luminaries in the field, H. Houston Merritt, MD, and Tracy J. Putnam, MD. In 1946, Dr. Glaser was drafted and served for two years as director of the EEG laboratory at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, TX. After a short stint back at the Neurological Institute, he was recruited to Yale to establish a new Division of Neurology.
Friend and colleague, Jonathan Pincus, MD, professor and chair emeritus of the department of neurology at Georgetown University, wrote in a 1987 editorial in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine to commemorate Dr. Glaser's term with the university: “if the quality of a teacher can be judged by the quality of his students, Gil has every reason to be proud.” Yale University honored him in 2009 by creating the Gilbert H. Glaser Professorship.
A mentor to many, Dr. Glaser stayed involved in his students' lives long after they left the classroom. Dr. Fenichel fondly remembers, “I did my doctoral thesis on neonatal EEG under his direction. During that time, we became friendly and when my wife dropped out of college to marry me, he hired her as his secretary….Dr. Glaser was instrumental in my training and career choices,” he told Neurology Today.
AAN President-elect Timothy Pedley, MD, said: “As a student working in his laboratory, Dr. Glaser was very interested in what I did. I was this young medical student, and he was this distinguished, eminent neurologist, and he took a great interest in me during that time. And he continued that interest in my career development as the years went on.” Dr. Pedley is the Henry and Lucy Moses Professor of Neurology and former chair of the department of neurology at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons. He continued to rely on Dr. Glaser over the years for important advice. When the Gilbert H. Glaser, MD, Lectureship in Neurology was established at Yale in 2006, Dr. Pedley felt honored to give the inaugural lecture.
Robert B. Daroff, MD, associate dean of development, professor and chair emeritus of the department of neurology at Case Western Reserve University, looks to the happy photograph he keeps in his office to remember his former teacher from Yale: “I recall going to a meeting with him in New York, where he was also to have his photo taken by the famed portraitist, Fabian Bachrach. Gil said he wanted to be relaxed and peaceful during the sitting, and he found the best way to achieve this state was by eating a hot pastrami sandwich. He went to the Stage Delicatessen, had his sandwich, and looked more contented than I had ever witnessed.”
A professed Anglophile, Dr. Glaser enjoyed spending time in his second home in Oxford, England with his loving family. He is survived by his wife, Morfydd, and his two children, Gareth and Sara. The family requests that donations in his honor be made to Doctors Without Borders or Amnesty International.