Lives of the fellows

Morton Irvine Grossman

b.4 May 1919 d.26 May 1981
BA Ohio(1939) MS Northwestern(1942) PhD(1944) MD(1944) FRCP*(1981)

Morton Grossman was born in Massilon, Ohio, USA, the third and youngest child of Russian immigrants; by the time he was growing up, his father had made a fortune and lost it by unwise investments. Morton’s mother profoundly influenced his development; she was a loving but stern and austere perfectionist who drove her children to strive for the highest standards of achievement. At 16, he enrolled in Ohio State University, supporting himself by sparetime jobs. On graduation (1939) he entered the School of Medicine but after two years was advised to transfer to Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago. During his clinical studies there he began research in gastrointestinal physiology with Andrew Ivy, then at the height of his reputation in this field.

After army service (1944-1946 and 1951 - 1955) chiefly in nutritional research, Morton trained in clinical gastroenterology and became chief of gastroenterological services of the Veterans Administration (VA) Centre, Wadsworth Hospital, Los Angeles. In 1962 he was appointed one of the first senior medical investigators of the VA, a highly prestigious permanent fulltime research appointment, which he held for the rest of his life.

In 1965 he was persuaded to combine this with chairmanship of the department of physiology of UCLA, but he relinquished the latter after only four months. From 1974 he was the first director of the Centre for Ulcer Research and Education (CURE) in Los Angeles, a multicentre project funded by the National Institute of Health and private benefactors.

Morton Grossman was universally regarded as one of the outstanding figures of this century in investigative gastroenterology. The broad theme of his research, expressed in hundreds of publications by himself and more than forty pupils from many countries, was the integration of nervous and hormonal influences in the control of the gastrointestinal secretions in health and disease, notably peptic ulcer.

Of prodigious energy, great intelligence and possessing an encyclopaedic memory, his interests were of vast range, not only within the biological and medical sciences, but in literature, art, music and philosophy; he was interested in everything. His day in the laboratory began at 4 —5 am and ended at 5 —6 pm; he needed only little sleep and his evenings were spent mostly at home in leisure pursuits with his family.

Apart from his research, he exerted over many years a unique and worldwide influence on standards of research and teaching in gastroenterology by his writings and eponymous lectures, participation in international meetings (he loved travel) and refereeing of countless papers submitted to gastroenterological journals in the USA and other countries; his editorial association with Gastroenterology, the journal of the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA), extended over 21 years.

His many honours and awards included presidency of the AGA (1967-1968), honorary membership of the British and Canadian Societies of gastroenterology, membership of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the Association of American Physicians; he received the Anniversary Medal of the Swedish Medical Society (1970), the Friedenwald Medal of the AGA (1978), and posthumously the Beaumont Triennial Prize of the AGA (1981), shared with Sir James Black FRS.

Morton Grossman was a warm, gentle, generous, modest man, fond of laughing at himself; the best things in his life, he thought, were his family and what he had done for the advancement of his subject and his pupils. He bore his terminal illness with exemplary fortitude. He married Dorothy Armstrong in 1957; they had one child, David.

Details of his life and work, including part of a taped autobiographical interview, are found in Gastroenterology 75, 1978, and (Memorial Number) 83(2), 1982.

RA Gregory

* Elected under the special bye-law which provides for the election to the fellowship of "Persons holding a medical qualification, but not Members of the College, who have distinguished themselves in the practice of medicine, or in the pursuit of Medical or General Science or Literature.."

(Volume VII, page 231)

<< Back to List