Dr. Richard F. Mayer

Pi­o­neer­ing neu­rol­o­gist re­mem­bered for his rig­or­ous sched­ule as a teach­ing physi­cian and for his bow ties

Baltimore Sun - - OBITUARIES - By Tim Pru­dente tpru­dente@balt­sun.com

Dr. Richard Mayer, who trained gen­er­a­tions of neu­rol­o­gists over nearly 50 years as a teach­ing physi­cian in Bal­ti­more, and whose pi­o­neer­ing re­search ad­vanced test­ing with elec­tromyo­g­ra­phy, known as EMG, died Tues­day af­ter a car crash in Tow­son. He was 87.

Since his boy­hood help­ing at the fam­ily butcher shop in New York state, Dr. Mayer had as­pired to a ca­reer in medicine. At the time of his death, he was still teach­ing one day a week at the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land School of Medicine. He lived at the Eden­wald re­tire­ment com­mu­nity in Tow­son.

Dr. Mayer was known for main­tain­ing a per­fectly knot­ted bow tie while work­ing a rig­or­ous daily sched­ule.

It was his “sig­na­ture dress code,” said Dr. Rafael Ro­driguez, his stu­dent in the 1980s. In those days, Dr. Mayer was of­ten last to leave the hospi­tal.

“He would get there at 5 in the morn­ing and write his ar­ti­cles, then from 8 to 4 see as many pa­tients as he could see, then stay un­til 9 or10 do­ing his re­search,” Dr. Ro­driguez said. “I thought to my­self, ‘When I grow up I want to be like him.’ ”

Dr. Ro­driguez, who now prac­tices in Tampa, Fla., said he wears a bow tie each day to the of­fice to pay homage to his men­tor.

One of Dr. Mayer’s daugh­ters, An­drea Deni­coff of Po­tomac, stud­ied nurs­ing at the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land in the 1980s. Once she asked to fol­low her fa­ther on the rounds that kept him from home so many evenings.

They met a woman who didn’t un­der­stand the neu­ro­log­i­cal disease af­flict­ing her young son.

“My dad, this brainy guy, he sat and touched her hand and tried to help her un­der­stand,” said Ms. Deni­coff. “It made me feel at peace: ‘OK, my dad might not be home much, but I know what he’s do­ing.’ ”

Dr. Mayer grew up in Olean in western New York state. His par­ents, Fran­cis and Rose Mayer, ran a butcher shop and en­cour­aged their two sons to con­sider other ca­reers.

“You heard it all the time that Dick was go­ing to be a doc­tor and I was go­ing to be a lawyer,” said Don­ald Mayer, the younger brother, who now lives in The Vil­lages, Fla. “He was only three years older than me, but he seemed much older.”

Dr. Mayer grad­u­ated with hon­ors from St. Bon­aven­ture Uni­ver­sity in 1950 and Ja­cobs School of Medicine and Bio­med­i­cal Sciences in Buf­falo, N.Y., in 1954. His train­ing took him to lead­ing in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing Mas­sachusetts Gen­eral Hospi­tal, the Mayo Clinic and the Na­tional Hospi­tal for Neu­rol­ogy and Neu­ro­surgery in Lon­don.

In the late 1960s, Dr. Mayer was re­cruited by the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land School of Medicine. There he trained young doc­tors and emerged as a leader in treat­ing pa­tients with neu­ro­mus­cu­lar dis­or­ders such as amy­otrophic lat­eral syn­drome, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and myas­the­nia gravis.

Af­ter a shake-up of the uni­ver­sity neu­rol­ogy depart­ment in the late 1970s, Dr. Mayer served four years as in­terim chief.

“He was the glue that kept things to­gether,” said Dr. Michael Sell­man, chief of the neu­rol­ogy cen­ter at Greater Bal­ti­more Med­i­cal Cen­ter.

Dr. Mayer dis­cov­ered that elec­tromyo­g­ra­phy test­ing, which reads elec­tri­cal sig­nals in mus­cle tis­sue, could de­tect Guil­lainBarre syn­drome, a rare dis­or­der.

“Within neu­ro­log­i­cal cir­cles, he was known all over the world,” said Dr. Sell­man, who trained un­der Dr. Mayer in the 1970s. “This man was very con­tent to be in the back of the room, just very quiet. He didn’t feel any need to tell peo­ple how smart he was.”

In 1959, Dr. Mayer mar­ried Janet Bury, and they raised five chil­dren. Dr. Mayer played the cello, and they reg­u­larly at­tended the Bal­ti­more Sym­phony Orches­tra.

He bought a house on Broad Creek out­side St. Michaels in 1997. He went crab­bing, col­lected wine and read bi­ogra­phies of U.S. pres­i­dents. Dur­ing sum­mers on the Eastern Shore, the fam­ily would bi­cy­cle to the Scot­tish High­land Cream­ery in nearby Ox­ford. Dr. Mayer pre­ferred the straw­berry ice cream, some­times the mas­car­pone.

On Sun­days, he would take out his 22-foot Oday sail­boat with his son, Christo­pher Mayer. His son lives in Cock­eysville and was born de­vel­op­men­tally dis­abled.

“They would just be silly to­gether and prank each other,” Ms. Deni­coff said. “It would bring out this silly side of my dad that I don’t know would have been there if not for Chris. It was a beau­ti­ful thing to watch.”

With his wife, Dr. Mayer was a long­time sup­porter of The Arc Bal­ti­more, a non­profit as­sist­ing those with de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties Dr. Richard F. Mayer’s re­search ad­vanced test­ing us­ing elec­tromyo­g­ra­phy.

fu­neral Mass will be cel­e­brated at 10 a.m. Satur­day at the Cathe­dral of Mary Our Queen in Bal­ti­more. For his fu­neral, his sons and grand­sons will wear his bow ties.

In ad­di­tion to his son, daugh­ter and brother, Dr. Mayer is sur­vived by two other daugh­ters, Kathryn Mayer of New York and Julie Mayer of San Fran­cisco; another son, Ran­dall Mayer of An­dover, Mass.; and six grand­chil­dren. His wife of 56 years died in Jan­uary.

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