To Bud Rowland, My Favorite Pen-Wielding Editor
By Fay Jarosh Ellis
April 6, 2017
I last paid tribute to Lewis P. (Bud) Rowland, MD, FAAN, some eight years ago when I was standing on a stage before a room full of neurologists literally singing his praises. Steve Ringel and I had been asked to participate in a tribute dinner to him as he stepped down from his role as editor-in-chief of Neurology Today. And there we were, wobbly singing adapted lyrics to “My Funny Valentine.”
“Bud Rowland, editor, pen-wielding editor, he marks our copy with red ink,” we sang in affectionate ode to this legend of a neurologist. And that he was. He had edited the seminal textbook of the field, served as editor-in-chief of the “Green Journal,” presided over two major neurology organizations, trained hundreds in the field, and authored innumerable research articles.
So, I was feeling out of my league that night on the stage — I was just an editor without an MD credential to my name. But whatever unease I might have felt was assuaged by the memory of my first call with him nearly 10 years earlier. After summarily grilling me about my professional experience, he spent the next 90 minutes gently probing my personal history — where I had grown up, had gone to school, and about my family life. “Call me Bud,” he said, on that first call. We discovered that he had lived several blocks away from me when he had worked at the University of Pennsylvania. I might have crossed paths with his kids.
In my nearly daily interactions with him over the years, I came to know that side of him quite well. Despite his accolades and accomplishments, he lacked pretense or any veneer of protocol. He was insatiably curious and interested in the people he met — whether it was the waiter who was serving him coffee at the convention hotel lobby or the young investigator he made a point to meet after a poster session at the AAN annual meeting.
He would email Steve and me at all hours of the night about the latest research article we should cover. He had more than 60 years in the field, but he never lost his sense of wonder. He embraced all things new with enthusiastic vigor — the promise of genomics, the latest development in stem cell research, the rising new researcher.
He was tenacious. He sent article upon article about why we should be writing about and advocating for universal health insurance. He refused to let an apostrophe squeak into the name of an eponymous disease — I know, I tried.
And yes, he was merciless about marking our articles with red ink. He would strip the prose bare, tracking out an errant adjective or adverb and cautioning us to save words like “significant” for statistical references only. His sentences were short and to the point. He aimed for precision and clarity. He sought out the answers to the questions the latest new study had only begun to suggest. He was the consummate editor. He taught me so much — not only about neurology and editing — but also about staying focused on what was important, questioning what lie beneath the written word, and finding the humanity in every story and person we covered.
I threw my hat into the ring to become the first professional editor of Neurology Today nearly one year after my own father had died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The irony that Bud Rowland was a pre-eminent ALS research scientist and neurologist was never lost on me. I regret that I had not been introduced to Bud two years earlier. He was the same age and ilk as my own dad, and I know they would have gotten along famously.
You see, I knew Bud Rowland as a pen-wielding editor, but first and foremost I got to know him as an exemplary human being. I will miss him dearly.