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In Memoriam: Lewis P. Rowland, MD (1925-2017)

Lewis P. “Bud” Rowland, MD, chair of neurology at P&S and director of the Neurological Institute of New York for 25 years and a leader in American neurology for many more years, died late last week. At the time of his passing, he was chair emeritus and professor of neurology. A faculty member since 1973, Dr. Rowland also trained in neurology at Columbia-Presbyterian and joined the faculty before being recruited to chair neurology at the University of Pennsylvania.

His contributions to neurology touch many facets of the field, but he focused his research and patient care on ALS. He founded and co-directed the Eleanor and Lou Gehrig MDA/ALS Center until 1999. He also founded and co-directed the H. Houston Merritt Clinical Research Center for Muscular Dystrophy and Related Diseases at Columbia.

Dr. Rowland received both BS and MD degrees from Yale University, where he graduated cum laude and was elected to Alpha Omega Alpha. Before returning to Columbia, Dr. Rowland was professor and chairman of the Department of Neurology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine from 1967 to 1973.

He chaired the P&S Department of Neurology and directed NewYork-Presbyterian’s Neurology Service from 1973 to 1998. He was trained in biochemistry and is especially known for research in neuromuscular diseases and age-related neurodegenerative diseases, especially ALS. He wrote many papers and edited two books on ALS. He was editor-in-chief of the journal Neurology from 1977 to 1987 and had been a member of the editorial boards of other journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine, Medical Letter, and the Journal of Neurological Sciences. From 2000 to the end of 2009, he was the chief editor of the American Academy of Neurology’s newspaper, Neurology Today. He was the editor of Merritt’s “Textbook of Neurology,” “Current Neurologic Drugs,” and “Clinical Cases in Neurology.” He also authored “The Legacy of Tracy J. Putnam and H. Houston Merritt: Modern Neurology in the United States.” Dr. Rowland was president of the American Neurological Association (1980-81), president of the American Academy of Neurology (1989-91), and chairman of the AAN’s Education and Research Foundation. He also served as president of the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation and had been president emeritus since 2013. He was a member of the prestigious National Academy of Medicine, formerly called the Institute of Medicine.

Dr. Rowland’s diverse experience benefitted all of our patients, but he focused much of his career on ALS. In the 1970s, he began treating ALS patients and became alarmed at erroneous claims of benefits from new ALS “therapies.” He knew that clinical trials in ALS treatment were needed, and he became a pioneer in the organization of clinical trials. With Dr. Dale J. Lange, Dr. Rowland increased the number of patients treated in clinical trials and worked with colleagues at other universities to design clinical trials. In 1987, patient numbers and research growth allowed for the establishment of a center, named for Lou Gehrig with the approval of Mrs. Gehrig. The center became one of the first five MDA/ALS centers named by the Muscular Dystrophy Association in 1987. A support group that serves patients and their families has been an important adjunct to the center’s work.

By the time Dr. Rowland stepped down as co-director in 1999, the center was caring for more than 300 new patients annually. Investigators at the center conduct clinical trials and publish several papers a year on medical aspects of ALS.

In closing, we want to quote from a bio of Dr. Rowland prepared for a visiting professorship a few years ago at the Mayo Clinic. He particularly liked how the final paragraph described him.

“Complementing his extraordinary professional accomplishments, Dr. Rowland is an exceptionally compassionate and straightforward person. A victim of McCarthyism in the 1950s, when he was fired as a fellow at the NINDS, he has always remained true to his ideals. Ironically, he subsequently served on many government committees, eventually writing the history of the very institute that had relieved him of employment. He has been a warm and supportive colleague to generations of residents and peers and a dedicated and effective advocate for patients and others who are in need of help. The term renaissance man is often abused, but if ever anyone deserved that designation, it is Bud Rowland.”

We extend our condolences to Dr. Rowland’s family and to his many colleagues at Columbia and throughout the world who benefited from his knowledge and wisdom as a mentor, physician, and administrator.

Drs. Lee Goldman and Richard Mayeux