Dr. Robert Mason

Dr. Robert Mason

Dr. Robert E. "Bob" Mason, a Baltimore internist and cardiologist who developed the standard stress test that has saved countless lives worldwide, died Wednesday of pneumonia at the Brightwood retirement community in Lutherville. He was 95.

"He was always wonderfully good-natured, upbeat, mild, self-retiring and there was never any braggadocio about him. He was intellectual beyond compare," said Dr. E. Hunter Wilson, a retired internist who lives in Cross Keys.

"He developed the stress test in the early 1960s, and was known for diagnosing and treating unusual cardiac problems," said Dr. Wilson.

The son of a physician and a homemaker, Robert Eugene Mason was born and raised in Birmingham, Ala. After graduating from high school in Birmingham, he entered Princeton University, from which he graduated magna cum laude in 1938.

Dr. Mason was attending the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine when he enlisted in the Army the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Army allowed him to complete his residency and then assigned him as an Army Medical Corps lieutenant to a thousand-bed general hospital in England.

Dr. Mason landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, and helped establish a field hospital at St. Lo. After Allied forces crossed the Rhine River, this hospital moved to Liege, Belgium, where it became a German target during the Battle of the Bulge.

In an interview published in the Brightwood retirement community's newsletter, Dr. Mason said the hospital was hit by "one of those infernal buzz bombs," and he barely escaped with his life.

"One of his jobs was performing triage on wounded soldiers, those that could be saved and those who could not," said a son, Dr. Steven J. Mason, a cardiologist who lives in Homeland.

After the war, Dr. Mason returned to Hopkins Hospital where he directed the clinical skills course for many years, instructing medical students on how to complete a medical history as well as a physical examination.

He was also in private practice and was a member of a practice he shared with Drs. Benjamin M. Baker Jr., Louis Hammond and Charles Wainright at 9 E. Chase St. next to the Belvedere Hotel.

"I trained under Dr. Mason for four or five years and we later shared patients," recalled Dr. Wilson.

"He was a man who was looked up to by all of his students. We all wanted to have him as a teacher," he said. "There were various groups and if you were lucky enough to be assigned to him, you got to see how he worked with his patients. He was always nice to be around and was so encouraging."

Dr. Mason's major medical contribution was developing the In-Exercise Electrocardiographic Stress Test, which indicated whether the patient had coronary disease that required an angioplasty or coronary-bypass surgery.

The procedure, once called the Mason Stress Test, that he developed in 1965 has become a standard part of a cardiac evaluation, and continues to save lives all across the world.

"He donated to Hopkins a patent he received for a silver electrode that made it possible to record cardiac electrical impulses while a patient was moving," said his son.

"Subsequently, he used this at Hopkins to develop the 12-lead treadmill exercise test, which has become standard worldwide for detection of coronary artery disease," said Dr. Mason.

He also signed the resolution that removed and banned all cigarette machines from the premises.

In a message to the hospital's medical board, he wrote: "In its official position as a healing institution, the hospital should refuse to endorse the sale of cigarettes."

Dr. R. Robinson Baker, a retired professor of surgery at Hopkins who had been head of thoracic surgery and the breast cancer clinic, was both a colleague and longtime friend.

"Bob was a very respected leader. ... When I had a heart attack, I chose him to be my doctor," said Dr. Baker of Owings Mills.

"He was very competent and principled. He still visited patients; not many doctors to that today," said Dr. Baker.

Dr. Mason retired in 1986.

Dr. Mason traveled several times to Nepal. During his first trip, he worked at a Protestant missionary hospital with the staff.

On a subsequent visit, several young doctors accompanied him on a survey in northwestern Nepal to assess the health needs and report to the king of Nepal. Dr. Mason and his party discovered that due to a lack of iodine, thyroid problems were quite common.

Dr. Mason, who was an avid hiker, had climbed the Grand Tetons, the Matterhorn and Kilimanjaro. He and his wife also climbed 18,500 feet to a base camp on Mount Everest in Nepal.

When living on St. George's Road, Dr. Mason took up skiing and enjoyed instructing others in the activity.

"He took up skiing later in life but with gusto," his son said.

"In short time, he was an expert and built a 150-foot tow rope on our back hill in Roland Park complete with night lights and outdoor speakers playing Swiss mountain horn and yodeling music," he said.

Dr. Mason had been a Johns Hopkins Hospital trustee and an active member of Brown Memorial Woodbrook Presbyterian Church.

Dr. Mason, who had moved to Brightwood from Woodbrook in Baltimore County a decade ago, was an accomplished photographer and woodworker. He was also an avid golfer and member of the Elkridge Club.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Nov. 3 at Brown Memorial Woodbrook Presbyterian Church, 6200 N. Charles St.

In addition to his son, Dr. Mason is survived by his wife of 34 years, the former Beverly Mann; another son, Andrew H. Mason of Hollis, N.H.; a daughter, Elizabeth M. Baker of Columbia; four stepsons, U.S. District Judge Benson E. Legg of Roland Park, Christopher Legg of Ruxton, Bruce Matthai of Woodbrook, , and William Legg of Key Largo, Fla.; two stepdaughters, Beverly Ciccarone of Mount Washington and Anne Reigeluth of Harrison, N.Y.; and 30 grandchildren. An earlier marriage to the former Dr. Jane White ended in divorce. Another son, Robert E. Mason Jr., died in 2001.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com