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Henry R. Cowell, MD, PhD

The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery: November 15, 2017 - Volume 99 - Issue 22 - p 1966
doi: 10.2106/JBJS.17.01198
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Henry R. Cowell, MD, PhD 1933-2017

Henry R. “Harry” Cowell, Editor-in-Chief and CEO of JBJS from 1985 to 1999, passed away on September 2, 2017, at the age of 84. All who worked with him at JBJS will remember him for his graciousness and tireless quest for perfection. He has a special place in JBJS history as the Editor who shepherded the journal into the digital age.

Born in Philadelphia on January 7, 1933, Harry Cowell attended Swarthmore College as a premed student and obtained his Doctor of Medicine Degree at the University of Pennsylvania, where he also did his residency. He served in the Navy at the U.S. Naval Hospital Great Lakes outside of Chicago during the Vietnam War, and years later would tell the story of how he happened to be out when called to deploy to Vietnam and “they just went on to the next person on the list.”

After the Navy, Dr. Cowell moved with his wife Ann and 2 daughters to Wilmington, Delaware, where he served as Chief of Orthopaedics at the Veterans Affairs Administration Center and worked as surgeon-in-chief and medical director at the Alfred I. duPont Institute. He pursued his research into children’s congenital birth defects and earned a PhD in genetics from the University of Delaware.

Dr. Cowell became Editor-in-Chief of JBJS in 1985, and his accomplishments and vision during his 14-year tenure brought JBJS into the modern age of electronic publishing. He replaced typewriters with computers, started the JBJS web site and put its content on CD-ROMs, introduced desktop publishing, and instituted a computerized database for article tracking. Dr. Cowell also increased the frequency of JBJS publication to 12 issues per year and moved the office from a cramped space rented from Harvard Medical School to our own modern building in Needham, Massachusetts, where we remain today.

Recognizing the need to broaden the perspective of JBJS and raise our international profile, Dr. Cowell traveled throughout the country and world as ambassador for JBJS. He also recruited a team of orthopaedic subspecialists from around the country (and Canada) to serve as Deputy Editors, ensuring a constant flow of new ideas and fresh approaches. Harry’s passion for excellence was reflected by his choice of Deputies, whom he influenced and mentored and in whom he had the utmost confidence.

Throughout this period of modernization and expansion, Dr. Cowell was able to focus equal energy on quality and detail. He initiated systematic oversight of peer reviewers, personally grading every critique of every article, and no galley proof was sent to an author until Dr. Cowell had gone over it word for word. The Editor Workshops he hosted in Boston and throughout the country were opportunities not only to openly discuss manuscripts but also for the Deputy and Associate Editors to learn how to critically review manuscripts. His commitment to the integrity of JBJS content was surpassed only by his devotion to JBJS staff, many of whom remember him as playing a key role in defining and advancing their careers. He was encouraging, exacting, and passionately serious about his own and others’ work ethic—although this did not prevent him from wearing a king costume (complete with crown, scepter, and stockings) in the office on Halloween or inviting the staff to his home for a cookout and demonstration of his elaborate model train set.

While at JBJS, Dr. Cowell also served on the staff of Boston Children’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was a lecturer on orthopaedic surgery. His faculty positions over the years included posts at the University of Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins Medical School, and Harvard Medical School. He was a founding member of the Eastern Orthopaedic Association and served as its President from 1993 to 1994.

Dr. Cowell was a prolific author, with >100 publications to his name, and he delivered >300 presentations worldwide. After his retirement, he pursued his love for painting and reading and cherished the opportunity to spend time with his wife, Ann, for whom he felt tremendous love and devotion. He will be greatly missed by his family, friends, and colleagues and always will be remembered for the pivotal role he played at JBJS.





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