Subscribe to eTOC

Leader of Modern Neurology Raymond D. Adams, MD, Dies at 97

Raymond D. Adams, MD, Bullard Professor of Neuropathology Emeritus at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and former chief of neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), died of complications from congestive heart failure on Oct. 18. Those who worked closely with Dr. Adams described him as a leader of modern neurology. He was 97.

Born in Portland, OR, in 1911, he received his undergraduate degree from the University of Oregon and his medical degree in 1936 from Duke University School of Medicine. After a year at Yale University Medical Center for a fellowship, he moved to the neuropathology laboratories at Boston City Hospital. In 1951, he became chief of neurology at the MGH, where he established a separate pediatric neurology division. Dr. Adams also served as chairman of HMS neurology department from 1966 to 1970 and as a visiting professor at the American University in Beirut and at the University of Lucerne.

Dr. Adams retired as neurology chief at HMS at 1977, having established a prominent neuroscience research program and support for the study of patients living with neurologic disease. He advocated for the development and research of subspecialty areas in neurology, establishing children's neurology, mental retardation, learning disorders, and muscle diseases as a part of general neurology, said Allan Ropper, MD, executive vice chair of neurology at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Dr. Ropper was the last chief resident to serve with Dr. Adams at MGH.


Dr. Raymond Adams (center) pictured here in 1988 with Drs. C. Miller Fisher (left) and Edward P. Richardson.

“An important aspect of his teaching was his organized systematic approach to nervous system diseases and applying knowledge gained from pathology, anatomy, and physiology to unlock many aspects of neurological illnesses,” Louis R. Caplan, MD, professor of neurology at HMS and chief of the Stroke Service at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, told Neurology Today. “His knowledge and experience were widespread, ranging from pediatric conditions to muscle, peripheral nerve, spinal, and virtually all types of brain pathologies.”

Dr. Adams was a prolific writer and investigator, authoring more than 200 original papers and publications on the neurology of liver failure, striatonigral degeneration, autoimmune neuropathy, paraneoplastic neuropathy (with myeloma), oculomotor apraxia, pan-dysautonomia, and histiocytosis. He was the first to describe and use the terms for transient ischemic attacks, transient global amnesia, and normal pressure hydrocephalus. He was also renowned for his work on basilar artery stroke and hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy after cardiac arrest. Among his students and colleagues were C. Miller Fisher, MD; Joseph M. Foley, MD; Edward P. Richardson, MD: J.P. Mohr, MD; Edward Kolodny, MD; Arthur K. Asbury, MD; James Corbett, MD; Benjamin R. Brooks, MD; and Gregory Cascino, MD.

Dr. Adams also emphasized the necessity of quality time spent with the patient and learning to respond to a patient's needs. “He was extremely generous with his time and views to me and many others,” said Dr. Ropper. “He began every residency year by emphasizing (insisting) that the patients be treated well and indicated that anything less would not be tolerated in the training program. He was among the last of the old-time committed, fully engaged, scholars of neurology and a special breed that saw academic medicine as a calling.”

Martin A. Samuels, MD, HMS professor of neurology and chairman of the department of neurology at Brigham and Women's Hospital, trained with Dr. Adams between 1974 and 1978. “He was serious and quite shy, but there was a kind of authentic warmth and loyalty toward his trainees that I felt intensely,” Dr. Samuels said.

“Many years ago, I gave a grand rounds presentation back at the MGH after several years away. Afterwards, he embraced me and said ‘Martin, I'm really proud of you.’ In the professional sense it was a moment of true paternal warmth. Like many other of his trainees, I unconsciously adopted his methods of thinking and even his style of examining the patient. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have known him.”

Dr. Adams was instrumental in establishing several institutions supporting neurological research, including the renowned Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Laboratories at the MGH for children's neurology research — a new area of study at the time. And in 1969, Dr. Adams helped to found the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center for Mental Retardation at the Fernald State School in Waltham, MA, and served as its first director. The Shriver Center is a nonprofit institution devoted to improving the lives of people with mental retardation through scientific research, professional training, and clinical and educational services.

In 1977, Dr. Adams and his colleague Dr. Maurice Victor published the legendary textbook, Adams and Victor's Principles of Neurology (McGraw-Hill), now approaching its ninth edition. The book “summarized his vast clinical experience and extraordinary powers of observation,” said Dr. Ropper, who along with Dr. Samuels co-authored recent editions of the book.

Dr. Adams was a member of many medical organizations, including the AAN, the American Neurological Association (ANA), and the American Association of Neuropathologists, and was honored with many lectureships and prestigious awards. In 2000, the ANA established the Raymond D. Adams Lectureship in his honor, and in 2002, the AAN established the Raymond Adams Clinical Research Training Fellowship to support neurogenetics research.

“It was a great honor for me to succeed Raymond Adams at MGH,” said former HMS Dean Joseph B. Martin, MD, who took over as chief of the MGH neurology department in 1977. “During my association with him over the last 30 years he has been an amiable and wise colleague. While devoting his time to teaching and textbooks, he was always on top of things related to neurology. Dr. Adams contributed more to modern neurology than anyone in the 20th century.”

Dr. Adams is predeceased by his second wife, Dr. Maria Salam-Adams. He is survived by a son, three daughters, a stepdaughter, eleven grandchildren, and sixteen great-grandchildren.