May 17, 2002

Meng, pioneer in nutrition, dies at 84

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Dr. Raymond H.C. Meng, professor of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, Emeritus, and professor of Surgery, Emeritus, died Sunday, May 12, at the age of 84.

Dr. Meng was born in Hebei Province, China, in 1917, and, as a young man, was planning a career in music. Shortly before he was to depart for college, however, his mother, her mind perhaps taking a more practical bent, insisted that he study either engineering or medicine. Bowing to his mother’s wishes, he chose medicine.

And while the music world lost his talents, at least as a professional (Dr. Meng did sing for many years in church choirs), his career was remembered for its contributions to the university and his field.

“Professor Meng contributed enormously to the research environment of this institution and colleague institutions,” said Dr. John E. Chapman, associate vice chancellor for Medical Alumni Affairs and Dean of the School of Medicine, Emeritus. “He was a mighty force for research and its outcomes.

“Beyond all of this, he was a gentleman and great friend of Vanderbilt.”

Dr. Meng studied medicine at Cheeloo University Medical School in China and the University of Toronto, earning his M.D. degree from Toronto in 1941. He later attended Northwestern University in Chicago, earning an M.S. degree in 1946 and a Ph.D. degree in 1947, with a major in physiology and minors in pharmacology and biochemistry.

One of his main areas of research was the nutritional support of patients unable to eat by mouth. Toward that end, Dr. Meng and colleagues conducted a pioneering study in which they succeeded in meeting all the nutritional needs of a dog intravenously. That study became one of the cornerstones in the field of parenteral nutrition.

Dr. Meng founded the International Society of Parenteral Nutrition in 1966, and later became its first president. He organized and co-chaired the first International Symposium on Parenteral Nutrition in 1968 at Vanderbilt. He was also a member of the several advisory committees on nutrition for the Office of the Surgeon General, the American Medical Association and the National Science Council, and was given awards by the AMA and American Chinese Medical Society for research achievement in his field.

Dr. Meng was also well known as a teacher, having taught physiology to several generations of Vanderbilt medical students.

His reputation as a rising star in his field made him attractive to the department of Physiology at Vanderbilt in 1947 at a time when the department had only three faculty members.

Dr. Meng proved a shrewd bargainer when he was interviewing for his first faculty job at Vanderbilt. He was offered the position and, after dinner at the department chair’s home, returned to his downtown hotel for the night to think over the offer. Rather than go to sleep immediately, Dr. Meng decided to take a walk, and, in his description, was overwhelmed by the dark and deserted streets of downtown Nashville.

“At that point, I made up my mind not to move to Nashville. It was not for me,” he recalled years later in a 1988 Reporter article.

So, he politely declined the job offer and caught a train the next day back to Chicago.

But Vanderbilt was not prepared to let Dr. Meng go. “The chairman increased his offer to the point where I could no longer refuse,” he recalled in the article.

He always maintained that his return to Chicago was not a bargaining ploy, although he cheerfully admitted it worked out that way.

Dr. Meng did several visiting fellowships over the years, including service as a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow in 1960 and 1961 at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. Following his retirement from Vanderbilt, he was a visiting professor at Veterans General Hospital and Tri-Service General Hospital and National Defense Medical Center in Taipei, Taiwan, and helped found the Department of Nutrition at China Medical College in Taichung, Taiwan.

But from 1947 until his death earlier this week, Vanderbilt was Dr. Meng’s professional home. “Vanderbilt is a great place, why else would I stay so long?” he said shortly before his retirement in 1988.

Dr. Meng is survived by his wife Cecilia and their children Brita Outzen (Mrs. Christian), Erika and Henrik.

A memorial service was held on Thursday, May 16 at Vanderbilt’s Benton Chapel. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Vanderbilt University Medical School, c/o Gift Records, 301 University Plaza, VU Station B, box # 357727, Nashville, Tenn., 37235-7727.