October 15, 2004

Friends, colleagues recall ‘Dean of Deans’

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Monroe Carell Jr.

Friends, colleagues recall ‘Dean of Deans’

The following is a roundup of tributes and recollections from some of the people who know Dean John Chapman.

Dean Chapman – Deano to me – was the most goofy serious man I've ever known, or maybe the most serious goofy man. How many times have I seen him pontificating on this or that serious subject, when all of a sudden he'd say, seriously, “Oh, well, Allawatzakima” and smile.

He was a good friend, a source of constant support, someone who could make me smile in the worst and the best of times, a man I could trust for the best advice, and a valued counselor. I remember one day when pressures had gotten too much for me and I went outside to escape and walk, pretty soon I looked up and there was Dean Chapman beside me, just walking, not talking – supporting me in his own way. I once told him he was the only thing that made things bearable in D-3300, day in and day out, with his totally irreverent sense of humor.

Who would ever have thought when we celebrated New Year's on Jan. 1, 2004 that this Medical Center would lose three of the lions – the true giants – that we have lost in this one year. . . . I don't know how we can ever recover from not having Andrea Carroll, Ike Robinson and John Chapman here among us.

— Jane F. Tugurian, executive assistant, office of the vice-chancellor for Health Affairs

One thing John Chapman and I had in common was we both rode around in Jeeps. His was a city Jeep and mine was a country Jeep; we would compare notes and generally use the topic as an opportunity to poke some fun at each other.

John was a very kind and thoughtful person. He wanted to take care of students and faculty so that they experienced a minimum of trouble and red tape. His efforts were always to help others to do their work.

Sometimes his language was a little complicated; it was fun to listen. But you always understood that what he wanted was whatever was best for students and faculty.

— Stanley Cohen, Ph.D., distinguished professor of Biochemistry, emeritus

John Chapman represented everything good in the soul of Vanderbilt Medical Center. His leadership and values helped make Vanderbilt what it is today.

As students of medicine, we learn not only what we're instructed, we also learn how our teachers conduct themselves and how they react to things. John did a stellar job of instilling the best values in students; he never wavered in the face of difficult decisions, and he is emulated today by a series of Vanderbilt graduates who have gone on to become leaders in their own right.

He was also just a great guy; he was never one to throw his weight around, and it was always a pleasure to talk with him. John was a true gentleman in every sense. He will be sorely missed.

— Richard E. Strain Jr., M.D., 1975 graduate of the School of Medicine and founder of the Dr. John E. Chapman Lectureship on the Ecology of Medicine and Medical Education

Dr. Chapman and I started working together in 1979, so I have many, many things to remember about our Dean. What comes to mind first are our day-to-day interactions. There were times I would get so mad at him I'd want to strangle him, but mostly he just made me laugh. The silly stories he would tell. His witty quips. Sometimes his daffy/feeble routines drove us nuts, but they were endearing and were usually good for a giggle.

I'll forever remember his “Radio Girl” perfume (that's what Andrea Carroll called it) that was a bit too cheap and strong, but luckily he didn't wear it very often. He was always a good sport when we made him the butt of the skits or jokes we did around the office; in fact, I think he loved the attention. He was always the first one to contribute to anything that anyone needed. His museum-like office was always a mess and he lost just about every piece of paper ever given to him. He loved his medical students and loved participating in the Cadaver Ball skits – he was such a ham! Picnics for students that he hosted at his home, commencement exercises and reunions – I'm sure that these were the highlights of his deanship in his eyes.

I won't soon forget His Deanliness (he just glowed when we called him that). There will never be another person quite like him. So Deano, wherever you are, Allawatzakima!

— Jan Lotterer, manager, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center administrative office, and former member of the Dean's Office

On the eve of beginning my medical education, I sat in a formal convocation, wondering whether I had what was needed to serve others as a physician. Dean John Chapman spoke at length that evening of what would be required in the next four years, and for the rest of my life. My classmates and I listened as he offered his belief that we were capable and ready. Because he believed it, I did; and I began the study of medicine the next day with hope and anticipation. His compassion, clarity, and kindness were a constant inspiration during my medical school years and residency.

For most of my 12 years on the faculty at VUSM, John Chapman was the dean. He lead the departments with humor and grace, and his years of experience provided a stability that allowed faculty to achieve great things. John set the standard for collegiality and dedication, values that are fundamental to the Vanderbilt medical community. His tireless commitment to education and a healthy professional environment helped to establish the Medical Center as a uniquely supportive and nurturing community where opportunities and achievements are diverse and virtually unlimited.

— Joyce E. Johnson, M.D., associate professor of Pathology and 1986 graduate of the School of Medicine

John Chapman was a gentleman with a clear voice and a careful choice of words. He was devoted to medical education and showed tremendous loyalty to his medical students and his faculty. All who came in contact with him benefited.”

— Irwin B. Eskind, M.D., 1948 graduate and major benefactor of the School of Medicine

As an undergraduate and prospective medical student at the University of Kansas, I heard John Chapman give a talk, and I'll always be grateful that that talk inspired me to follow him to Vanderbilt.

His door was always open and he always had time for students. He was the epitome of the student advocate and his influence was momentous.

Howard Baker, the legendary U.S. senator from Tennessee, once visited the campus to learn how the government could better support medical education. I was just a green medical student, and Dean Chapman called me to his office for a one-on-one discussion with Senator Baker. That showed me once and for all just how much the Dean valued the input of students.

Dean Chapman's philosophy took hold within an institutional culture already present at Vanderbilt, wherein everyone at VUMC wants to support the student and see the student succeed. That's how, near the culmination of his tenure, the School of Medicine came to be rated highest in the country in graduating student satisfaction. Personally, I believe that the culture of support behind that distinction is the school's prime achievement.

He was wont to poke fun at himself with the story about his showing in a student speech contest judged by none other than Winston Churchill. The comment from Churchill to him was something like, “Mr. Chapman, a speech to be effective must be both brief and informative; yours was neither.” Perhaps he took that comment to heart and it helped make him the highly effective speaker that he became.

He has always been a source of support to me. Whenever I needed to call someone in the know for administrative guidance and direction, no one I know could have been more helpful. I'll miss him.

— Gary E. Penner, M.D., 1972 graduate of the School of Medicine

John Chapman's tenure as dean of the Vanderbilt School of Medicine was the longest and most productive in the institution's history. As the Medical Center experienced extraordinary growth by every measure under the leadership of vice-chancellors Robinson and Jacobson, Dr. Chapman's singular commitment to the education of medical students led to Vanderbilt's number one national ranking in medical student satisfaction and its steady ascendancy to the upper ranks of American medical schools.

Dr. Chapman's national influence on medical education was recognized this year when the American Medical Association announced him as the recipient of its Distinguished Service Award to be awarded at its December meeting.

Vanderbilt is fortunate indeed that John Chapman devoted his professional life to our institution.

— John Neeld Jr., 1966 graduate of the School of Medicine and president-elect of the Vanderbilt Medical Alumni Association board of directors