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April 18, 2012

In Memoriam: Neurologist Robert Joynt, Distinguished University Professor

Robert JoyntRobert Joynt, one of the most influential neurologists of the last half century and the founder of the Department of Neurology at the Medical Center, died April 13 at Strong Memorial Hospital. He was 86.

Joynt was well known in international circles of neurology and headed both leading societies in neurology, the American Academy of Neurology and the American Neurological Association. He also served as president of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

He was a beloved member of the Medical Center’s community, which he had served through several top-level posts, including dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry.

“The first word that comes to mind when thinking of Bob is integrity,” says Jules Cohen, professor of medicine and medical humanities, a good friend who enjoyed frequent meals over a span of decades with Joynt. “He was honest and straightforward, and did his job without fanfare. He was generous of spirit in his approach to everyone. He was just a totally decent human being.”

Joynt was the first person to oversee both the academic enterprise of the School of Medicine and Dentistry as well as the patient-focused clinical enterprise that includes Strong Memorial Hospital. Under the integrated leadership model, the Medical Center has flourished and has undergone unprecedented growth.

“Bob Joynt was truly a great man. He made a fundamental difference in the way our Medical Center is led through his leadership in integrating academic medicine and clinical care,” says President Joel Seligman. “I met him late in his life, but his charm, his dedication to his colleagues, the Medical Center and Rochester, his capacity to inspire affection in others were always evident. He will truly be missed. He was everyone’s friend here.”

Joynt’s encyclopedic knowledge of health and disease ultimately benefitted people around the globe who were treated by the thousands of physicians influenced by him. That influence was a product both of his intellect and his self-effacing, congenial personality, colleagues say.

“Bob was extraordinarily intelligent and able to make all kinds of challenging diagnoses in his patients,” says Richard Moxley, a longtime friend and colleague. “At the same time, he had a remarkably comfortable way dealing with people, and they embraced him, and his knowledge and insights.”

“Bob was a true renaissance man, with more knowledge on more topics than most people can imagine,” says Bradford Berk, CEO of the Medical Center. “Bob taught me neurology when I was a medical student, and part of the reason he was such an extraordinary teacher is because he knew how to make you laugh. Later I had the opportunity to interact with him in a discussion group called the pundit club. He was the master of American history and shared with us his insights into our presidents and politicians with his usual humor and whimsy.”

Joynt studied neuro-anatomy at the University of Iowa. After medical school, he interned at Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal and then studied as a Fulbright scholar at Cambridge University. Then he returned to Iowa City and earned his doctoral degree in neuro-anatomy before joining the faculty of the University of Iowa.

In 1966, Joynt was tapped to create the Medical Center’s Department of Neurology, an effort that began with three full-time neurologists. Today, the department is home to more than 25 times that number and is widely regarded as one of the top departments in the nation.

Joynt was elected to the National Institute of Medicine, one of the highest honors that can be bestowed on a physician. He was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the Board of Regents of the National Library of Medicine. He also served as editor of Archives of Neurology and is the author of the field’s major textbook, Baker and Joynt’s Clinical Neurology.

In recent years his colleagues led a fundraising effort to endow a professorship in his honor; last year neurologist Karl Kieburtz, was named the first Robert J. Joynt Chair in Neurology.

Joynt was still working at the Medical Center, mentoring students and colleagues alike. After a full work week, he died on his way to neurology grand rounds, a weekly event he enjoyed for more than 45 years.

He is survived by his wife, Margaret, and their six children: Robert, Patricia, Mary, Anne, Thomas, and Kathleen, their spouses, and nine grandchildren. The University flags were lowered April 18 in Joynt’s honor.

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