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Robert Joynt, PhD, Distinguished Neurologist and Educator, Dies at 86



Robert Joynt, MD, PhD, internationally renowned senior neurologist, died on Friday, April 13, on his way to neurology grand rounds at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC). He was 86 years old.

Past president of both the AAN (1977 to 1979) and the American Neurological Association — an honor few other neurologists have realized — Dr. Joynt also served as president of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Dr. Joynt, a member of the AAN since 1954, was the first recipient of the Academy's A.B. Baker Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990, celebrating his accomplishments as a neurology educator.

In both clinical and academic neurology, Dr. Joynt has contributed nearly half a century of achievement, and his influence is felt worldwide. The current head of the neurology department at URMC, Steven Goldman, MD, PhD, wrote in an e-mail to his colleagues: “…our world will never again be quite the same — diminished by his absence, yet so greatly enriched by his contributions and legacy. Bob was a role model to so many of us in the department; he was the consummate clinician and educator, and a dear and wise friend and guide.”

Dr. Joynt was raised in the small town of Le Mars, Iowa, and left home during World War II, to serve as a radio operator in India. He returned to Iowa for his undergraduate education at Westmar College. Surrounded by his family of doctors, Dr. Joynt did not have to look far for career advice; he followed in the footsteps of his father, a dentist, and graduated from the University of Iowa Medical School in 1952. He then interned at Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, Quebec, and studied as a Fulbright Scholar at Cambridge University in London, UK. Dr. Joynt received his doctorate in neuroanatomy at the University of Iowa in 1963, and joined the faculty at the University of Iowa Medical School.

In 1966, URMC asked Dr. Joynt to found their neurology department — where he would remain for the next 46 years. Serving as dean of the medical center until 1989, Dr. Joynt was then named vice provost for health affairs (1985-1994). He also held the title of vice president of health affairs (1989-1994) and director of the URMC Alzheimer's disease center.

“Bob's influence on our department, both on its past and present as the department's founding chair, and on its future as mentor to so many of our faculty and house staff, cannot be overstated,” Dr. Goldman wrote. Over his career, Dr. Joynt amassed numerous awards: in 1992, he received the George W. Jacoby Award, given to an ANA member who has done especially meritorious experimental work; in 1997, he was named a Distinguished University Professor at URMC, for excellence not only in his field but also in the entire University; and in 1999, he was awarded the University of Iowa College of Medicine Distinguished Alumni Award for Achievement.

Additionally, he was a member of the Institute of Medicine, served as editor of Archives of Neurology and founded Seminars in Neurology, and co-authored a major neurology textbook: Baker and Joynt's Clinical Neurology. He was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the Board of Regents of the National Library of Medicine. He served on the boards of Blue Cross-Blue Shield, the United Way of Rochester, the Eastman Dental Center, Ithaca College, and the Genesee Valley Trust Company.

Dr. Joynt also became well-versed in presidential health and the 25th amendment (presidential succession in the case of incapacitation), in his later years, and in 2001 he co-edited Presidential Disability, with neurologist James Toole, MD.

“Bob was my chairman, my mentor, and my caring friend as well as my patient. He was an extraordinarily gifted man with remarkable intellect, curiosity, and keen insight that allowed him to teach with a creativity and wit that few have,” Richard T. Moxley III, MD, professor of neurology and pediatrics at URMC, who worked with Dr. Joynt for more than 38 years, said.

Dr. Joynt was well known for his aphorisms — he used them at home, in after-dinner speeches, in social settings, and on rounds in teaching residents, Dr. Moxley told Neurology Today. These comments, affectionately termed “Joyntisms,” are remembered and cherished by faculty and residents, he said. “Even a blind hog in Iowa can find an acorn sometime” in reference to an unexpectedly correct diagnosis by one of the house staff or even about himself.

Robert C. Griggs, MD, past president of the AAN and a professor of professor of neurology, medicine, pathology, laboratory medicine and pediatrics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, said, just three weeks ago, “at a dinner party at our house, Dr. Joynt quipped: ‘If an Irishman says he remembers the party, he wasn't there.’”

Dr. Joynt was a family man who spent as much time as possible with his wife, children, and grandchildren, and who was “as friendly and entertaining with his faculty's families as with his faculty. When he came to the door of our house some 40 years ago, my older daughter announced him with: ‘I don't know his name but he's the one who can wiggle his ears,’” remembered Dr. Griggs.

His two sons — Bob, Jr. and Tom — remembered their father for his kindness above all: “You can't always be right, but you can always be kind,” was a saying he lived by, they recounted in their father's eulogy.

Though right most of the time, especially in the diagnosis and care of patients, he was always kind and thoughtful of everyone, Dr. Moxley said. We can't all aspire to achieve greatness or always be right, but we can all aspire to follow Dr. Joynt's example to be kind and caring, he added.

Recently, friends and colleagues established a URMC professorship in Dr. Joynt's honor, and Karl D. Kieburtz, MD, MPH, is now the first Robert J. Joynt Chair in Neurology.

Dr. Joynt loved sailing, skiing, and literature. He is survived by his wife, Margaret, and their six children: Robert, Patricia, Mary, Anne, Thomas, and Kathleen, their spouses, and nine grandchildren.