June 25, 2013

Ross recalled as champion of Medical Center

Joseph C. Ross, M.D., who from 1982 to 1998 served VUMC as associate vice chancellor for Health Affairs, died Saturday, June 22, after a lengthy illness. He was 86.

Joseph C. Ross, M.D., who from 1982 to 1998 served VUMC as associate vice chancellor for Health Affairs, died Saturday, June 22, after a lengthy illness. He was 86.

Joseph C. Ross, M.D.

Dr. Ross, who was professor of Medicine, Emeritus, and associate vice chancellor for Health Affairs, Emeritus, played a key role in many Medical Center initiatives during his years of service, including the establishment of the Department of Emergency Medicine and LifeFlight.

He was also the driving force behind banning smoking at VUMC, which became effective in 1989, and often served as a media spokesman for the Medical Center.

“Dr. Ross was an outstanding leader. He was a kind man who, perhaps because of his unflappable demeanor, was able to accomplish so much for Vanderbilt that continues to benefit our institution and the citizens of Middle Tennessee.

The number of lives saved through the creation of integral programs he helped establish, such as LifeFlight, is literally incalculable,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “As we mourn his passing, our thoughts are with his family during this difficult period.”

“Joe Ross was a giant of a man. He was respected, liked and admired by all of us who worked with him at VUMC,” said C. Wright Pinson, MBA, M.D., deputy vice chancellor for Health Affairs and CEO of the Vanderbilt Health System. “He wisely, graciously and gently managed major advances and significant daily issues alike during his era on the Medical Center’s management team. To a significant degree, it is on his shoulders that we stand today. We honor him personally as well as his great contributions, and bid him a sad but fond farewell.”

“Dr. Ross was indeed a founding father for both the Emergency Department and Lifeflight,” recalled John Morris, M.D., professor of Surgery and chief of staff of the Vanderbilt Health System. “Dr. Ross’ vision for Vanderbilt as a 24/7 acute care hospital defines what we are today, and is very different from where we were in 1984. Joe Ross had vision paired with compassion, a rare combination.”

Joseph Comer Ross was born in Tompkinsville, Ky., the son of a grocer.

“I started working in the store when I was pretty young. I guess I was 9 or 10 years old,” he once said. “When I was 15 years old, I could almost manage the store.”

But it was an earlier experience in his life, a bout with polio when he was 4, which may have made the biggest impact on his life. He recalled being diagnosed by an uncle who was a physician, and that early encounter with the world of medicine left a powerful impression on the small-town Kentucky boy.

The polio left a partial paralysis of his right hand that left him with an idiosyncratic writing (and tennis playing) style.

He was known throughout his life for his dedication to his family, his church and to medicine, and for his love of horticulture, especially the cultivation of roses.

Dr. Ross earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Kentucky and graduated from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in 1954. He chose to focus his career on pulmonary disease, was a resident in Medicine at Duke and began his career in academic medicine at Indiana University, where he participated in research that helped lead to the Surgeon General’s warning about smoking and health in the 1960s. He was internationally prominent in his specialty, and was elected president of the American College of Chest Physicians in 1978.

He served as medical director and chair of the Department of Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina before returning to Vanderbilt in 1981 as professor of Medicine. He was persuaded by then Vice Chancellor Roscoe R. Robinson, M.D., to enter Medical Center Administration in 1982, where he served until gaining emeritus status in 1998.

Joseph Ross, M.D., right, talks with John Morris, M.D., at the 2005 event celebrating 20 years of Vanderbilt’s LifeFlight program, which Ross was instrumental in establishing. (file photo)

A lectureship in Emergency Medicine in Dr. Ross’ name was established in 2005, and in 2007 the Joseph C. Ross Chair in Medical Education and Administration was established, with Gerald Hickson, M.D., associate dean for Faculty Affairs, as its holder.

“Dr. Ross was the ultimate professional,” Hickson remembered. “He modeled the Vanderbilt Credo before we had written the Credo, making all those he served as his highest priority. Dr. Ross led by example. Whenever he identified an opportunity for improvement anywhere within the Vanderbilt system, he appealed to our collective professionalism and we all went to work.”

Dr. Ross was preceded in death by his parents, Joe and Annie Ross, and sister, Martha Bailey. He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Isabelle Nevins Ross; siblings, Ola Jones and Jeff Pinckley Ross; children, Laura (David) Abney, Sharon (David) Shaub, Jennifer (Randy) Goodman, Mary (Matt) Hearn, and Jeff Ross; and by 12 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be Tuesday, June 25, 10-11 a.m. at the Brentwood Hills Church of Christ on Franklin Road, followed by a funeral service at 11 a.m. A private burial service will follow.

The family says that contributions in honor of Dr. Ross may be made to Healing Hands International or Ronald McDonald House Charities Nashville.