W. Richard “Rick” Webb, M.D., a pioneer in the use of CT in the diagnosis of lung disease and past president of the Society of Thoracic Radiology and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Thoracic Imaging, died on Friday September 30th, 2022 at the age of 76. In his final weeks following a prolonged illness, Rick was surrounded by his family and passed peacefully at his home in Novato, California.
A native northern Californian, Rick was a graduate of Stanford University and completed medical school, radiology residency and a cardiothoracic imaging fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center. Following a two-year stint as a Major in the U.S. Air Force stationed at Travis Air Force Base, he joined the faculty in the Department of Radiology at UCSF in 1978 where for nearly 20 years he, along with Dr. Gordon Gamsu, formed one of the preeminent thoracic radiology sections in the world. Dr. Webb served as the chief of the Thoracic Radiology section at UCSF from 1995-2006 and in 2006 was named the Hideyo Minagi Professor of Radiology at the San Francisco General Hospital where he worked until his retirement in 2009.
Dr. Webb was a prolific author, writer and editor with over 200 articles and 100 book chapters and other publications to his credit. He published seminal work on the CT/histopathologic correlation of the chest which forms the basis of current practice of high-resolution chest CT in the evaluation of diffuse lung disease. He is likely best known to the present generation of radiologists for several of his textbooks, all of which remain current. Fundamentals of Computed Tomography, co-authored with his long-time friend and colleague Dr. William Brant and Dr. Nancy Major, provides key introductory material for radiology residents beginning their training. Webb and Higgins’ Thoracic Imaging: Pulmonary and Cardiovascular Radiology, Third Edition, offers a thorough review of cardiothoracic radiology containing his superb-quality medical illustrations. Most notable of his books is Webb, Muller and Naidich’s High Resolution CT of the Lung, currently in its sixth edition, which remains the definitive work on the subject.
In addition to his substantial contributions to the literature, Rick was widely regarded as one of the finest lecturers in radiology. During his career Rick traveled and lectured extensively, presenting on a broad spectrum of topics and invited to speak in 35 different countries throughout his career. His refresher courses on high-resolution CT of the lung presented at the Radiological Society of North America annual meeting were legendary with routinely packed audiences. He was a regular faculty member at UCSF Department of Radiology continuing medical education courses which remain extremely popular with practicing radiologists seeking to gain pearls in a more casual learning setting from master practitioners such as Rick. At UCSF Dr. Webb was legendary for his challenging but endearing approach to teaching the basics of thoracic radiology to UCSF residents and fellows.
Rick’s contributions to thoracic radiology were widely recognized throughout his career as he received numerous awards and held several leadership positions in national and international organizations. Two of these honors include delivering the Fleischner Society annual lecture in 2004 while receiving the Fleischner Medal and being awarded the Society of Thoracic Radiology’s Gold Medal in 2013 for his service to the society and contributions to thoracic radiology.
While Dr. Webb’s passing leaves a large void in our field, his legacy lives on through those that had the opportunity to train with him at UCSF. His clinical acumen was legendary, as he handled the analysis of the most complex cases with enviable ease. The image of Rick at the alternator, reclining in his chair with feet up on the counter as he peered through the hand pinhole he created to study a film while blowing the occasional raspberry at an incorrect response to one of his probing questions is one that few of us that had the privilege of reading studies with him in the chest reading room at Moffitt Hospital will ever forget. Many of the present-day leaders in our subspecialty can trace their success to Rick’s teaching and mentorship. While many of us who worked with him wanted to “be like Rick”, his ease and facility with clinical responsibilities while prolifically pursuing his myriad academic interests were unique skills that we could only aspire to attain.
Those of us who had the opportunity to get to know Rick personally appreciated him as more than just an immensely successful and accomplished academic radiologist; he was a brilliant and multitalented individual whose breadth of knowledge and skills extended well beyond medicine and radiology. He tackled challenges such as gardening, cooking and woodworking with the same focus and honed expertise that he displayed in his professional life. While those who interacted with Rick at work might have misconstrued his demeanor to be somewhat detached, those of us that knew him well saw him as a loyal friend who cared deeply about those who were committed to the same excellence that he expected of himself and from others. Perhaps most admirably Rick was a dedicated family man who was much more comfortable at a family-style Italian restaurant with his wife and kids than he was at a formal radiology affair. He is survived by his wife of 52 years Teresa, his daughter Emma who is a Professor of Radiology at UCSF, sons Sonny and Andy, his sister Judith, and grandchildren Cole, Jack, Teddy and Cordelia.
Jeffrey S. Klein
James F. Gruden