Bud Rowland, My Role Model
By Steven P. Ringel
April 6, 2017
Bud Rowland was larger than life. Internationally known for his neuromuscular research, chair of neurology at prestigious Columbia University, and editor-in-chief of the AAN flagship journal Neurology, I can vividly remember how nervous I was when I first met him. I was a young neuromuscular researcher beginning my career in Colorado. I had come to a meeting to present the results of a new study, and there he was directing a series of pointed questions to me. Months earlier, he had sent back my submission to Neurology red-lined throughout.
Still young and easily intimidated by a person of his stature, all of my apprehension disappeared several years later on a bus in southwest Colorado en route to my first Muscular Dystrophy Association meeting. His warmth and genuine caring were palpable to me in our conversations and later, with others. I watched as he gently assisted a fragile Houston Merritt, the former Columbia neurology chair, into a wheelchair, and off they went, happily engaged in conversation.
A decade later when Bud served as president of the AAN Board, my wife Joan and I began a long, lively, warm friendship with Bud and Esther. My admiration for him continued to grow as I observed his strengths in formal and informal settings. His clarity of thought and his unrelenting support for those around him explain the encomiums so many have offered in response to his death. When asked to explain his aggressive questioning of meeting presenters, he offered that he liked people who ruffle other people's feathers. And why did he put so much time into line-editing manuscripts? He was merely helping people say what they meant.
It was an easy choice in 2001 to ask Bud to be the inaugural editor of Neurology Today. His stature, leadership, and breadth of knowledge guaranteed success. For the next nine years, Fay Ellis and I worked on an almost daily basis with Bud. Our time together was both educational and fun. He had his quirks — he hated putting an apostrophe on eponymous diseases such as Alzheimer's — and he never stopped red-lining. More importantly I developed a deeper respect for Bud and Esther's moral core — demonstrated not just in kind words but in a lifetime of good deeds.
In 1954, Bud joined the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as a researcher at a time when Senator Joe McCarthy's Communist witch-hunting campaign was in high gear. The FBI interrogated Bud — a scene he described as Kafkaesque. He was fired by the NIH because as a medical student at Yale, he had served as president of the Association of Interns and Medical Students (AIMS), an organization labeled by the American Medical Association as a “red front.” Two admirable goals of AIMS — radical indeed — were the elimination of racism in health care and the establishment of national health insurance. Esther's description of how they were forced to leave their Bethesda home the day of the firing make the moment even more harrowing.
Bud never abandoned his ideals. He remained an active member of Physicians for a National Health Program. The career and personal choices of the Rowland children are a living testament to the values of their parents. Bud constantly encouraged Fay and me to feature these issues in Neurology Today. It is his humanity that I cherish the most and that I strive to emulate. A few lines from Whitman's poem on Lincoln's death are my salute to my friend and Esther's lifelong companion, Buddy.
O Captain! My Captain! Your fearful trip is done
Your ship has weather'd every rack, the prize you sought is won
Rise up and hear the bells
Rise up — for you the flag is flung — for you the bugle trills.