Lives of the fellows

John Phillip McGovern

b.2 June 1921 d.31 May 2007
BS Duke(1943) MD(1945) FRCP(1984)

John P McGovern was an extraordinary physician, scientist and philanthropist. He was born in Washington, DC, the son of Francis Xavier and Lottie McGovern, and educated in the public schools of the District of Columbia. He earned his bachelor of science and medical degrees at Duke University. His postgraduate training included appointments at Yale University School of Medicine, Duke University Hospital, Guy’s in London, L’Hôpital des Enfants-Malades in Paris, the Children’s Hospital of the District of Columbia and Boston Children’s Hospital.

From 1950 to 1954 he was an associate in paediatrics and then an assistant professor at George Washington University. He then spent two years as an associate professor of paediatrics at Tulane University School of Medicine. He was board certified in both paediatrics and allergy.

In 1956 he went to Houston and joined the faculty of Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Texas in the growing Texas Medical Center. He contributed to innovative teaching programmes, while founding the McGovern Allergy and Asthma Clinic, of which he became founder emeritus in 1984. In 1961 he established the John P McGovern Foundation and served as president and chairman.

At the time of his death, McGovern held 17 professorships at 15 universities. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Alpha Omega Alpha, Sigma Xi and many other honorary and professional societies in medicine, science and health education. He was past president or chief elected officer of 15 such organisations, including the American College of Allergy and Immunology and the American Osler Society.

McGovern’s service to governmental agencies was extensive and included a four-year presidential appointment to the board of regents of the National Library of Medicine, which he chaired from 1973 to 1974, and to which he remained an active consultant. In 1987, he was appointed to a four-year term on the National Advisory Council of the Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health. In 1960 and 1970 he served as a member of the Texas delegation to the White House Conference on Children and Youth.

McGovern was the author or co-author of 252 publications, including 26 books, in the medical sciences, humanities, health promotion and disease prevention. He was the editor, associate editor or a member of editorial boards of more than 23 scientific journals.

He received numerous awards and honours. Duke University School of Medicine awarded him the distinguished alumnus award in 1976. In 1985 he received President Reagan’s Private Sector Initiative Commendation for “his lifetime of meritorious service in medicine and generous voluntary contributions of his community”. In 1989 he was presented with the American Medical Association’s board of directors’ special award for meritorious service, as well as the Surgeon General’s medal for “his lifetime of meritorious and multi-faceted contributions to the broad field of health promotion and disease prevention.” In 1996 the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence honoured him with the R Brinkly Smithers gold medal award for outstanding work and support in the field of alcoholism and drug abuse.

In 1996 the new Museum of Health and Medical Science in Houston, dedicated to health education for children and families, named the John P McGovern building in his honour, and in 2001 the museum was renamed the John P McGovern Museum of Health and Medical Science.

He was awarded with 28 honorary degrees, including from his alma mater Duke University, from the University of Nebraska, Kent State University, Georgetown University, Union College and Thomas Jefferson University School of Medicine. His numerous foreign awards and decorations included the Royal Medallion of the Polar Star from Sweden, L’Ordre National du Mérite from France, and the K Ataturk gold medal distinguished service award, the first awarded to an American citizen by the Government of Turkey.

His foundation has endowed 26 annual award lectureships at universities in Texas, as well as nationally, including Duke, Harvard, Yale, the C Everett Koop Institute at Dartmouth, and Green College at Oxford University.

McGovern endowed numerous professorships, including at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. A founding leader of the American Osler Society, he was known worldwide as a champion for humanistic patient care in the spirit of the great Canadian physician, Sir William Osler [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IV, p.295]. McGovern also admired his dean and lifelong friend, the late Wilburt Davison.

McGovern’s wonderful sense of humour defined a highly accomplished physician and citizen who lived a balanced life with the support of his wife, Kathy, who also was his fishing partner. He also will be remembered for his love of tennis, music and philosophy, collecting rare medical books, and keeping up with Duke basketball and baseball. He leaves a legacy of accomplishments and service.

Bryan Boutwell

[The New York Times 11 June 2007]

(Volume XII, page web)

<< Back to List