Dr. Leopold M. 'Leo' Karpeles, longtime physician, dies

Dr. Leopold M. "Leo" Karpeles was a physician who had been an associate professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He later had a second career as a country doctor.
Dr. Leopold M. "Leo" Karpeles was a physician who had been an associate professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He later had a second career as a country doctor. (HANDOUT)

Dr. Leopold M. "Leo" Karpeles, a retired physician who had been an associate professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and later had a second career as a country doctor, died April 26 of complications from dementia at Fairfield Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Crownsville.

The Annapolis resident was 95.


"Leo was kind, thoughtful and, as a teacher, made what at times could be somewhat challenging experiences delightful," said Dr. Mark M. Applefeld, a former student who is now director of the Heart Center at Mercy Medical Center and a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "He helped us enjoy our first years of medical school, which are not always enjoyable."

The son of Dr. Simon Karpeles and Dr. Kate Karpeles, both physicians, Leopold Maurice Karpeles was born and raised in Washington, and graduated in 1937 from Central High School.


He earned a bachelor's degree in 1941 in physics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that year, he took a job as a civilian physicist with the Navy Bureau of Ordnance in Washington. Over the next four years, his worked centered on degaussing — a technique that reduced a ship's magnetic signature, which afforded it greater protection from enemy magnetic mines.

"Early in 1945, he went to some lengths to dodge his protective status as a key civilian so he could serve in uniform," a daughter, Tamia Karpeles of Millersville, wrote in an email.

"He was drafted into the Navy and served for a little more than a year, including a stint aboard the battleship USS Alabama, before being honorably discharged with the rank of electrician's mate third-class in 1946," she wrote.


With the coming of the Cold War and conflict in his personal views regarding physics, he decided to change careers and pursue medicine.

He moved to Seattle, where he entered the University of Washington School of Medicine. There he obtained a medical degree in 1955.

He was married in 1951 to Eileen Burrer while studying in Seattle.

From 1955 to 1956, he was an intern at Albany Hospital in Albany, N.Y. Then, from 1958 to 1960, Dr. Karpeles was a postdoctoral fellow in the department of physiology and biophysics at the University of Washington.

"As he earned his medical degree and completed an internship, his family grew to encompass three young children; so instead of embarking on a grueling residency, he accepted a position teaching cardiovascular physiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine," wrote Ms. Karpeles.

In 1960, he was named assistant professor at the medical school. In 1967, he was named associate professor, a position he held until 1977.

"Leo was very outgoing and approachable with the class. He would sit down with us and go over problems until he made sure that we understood them. He was always willing to sit down personally and discuss them," said Dr. Applefeld. "Access is sort of a rare commodity in most fields, and we could use many more like him."

After his first marriage ended in divorce in 1970, he purchased a home on Portland Street in Ridgely's Delight, which he restored. The house was bought through Mayor William Donald Schaefer's "dollar house" program.

Dr. Karpeles was 57 when he decided to become a practicing physician — which meant completing a three-year family practice residency in 1980.

He fulfilled his dream of becoming a country doctor when he established a practice in 1980 in Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., where he was "generous with his time" with patients who came to his office, his daughter said. He also made house calls to visit the ill in their homes.

Personal health concerns later arose, and he sold his practice in 1986.

That year he married Nancy Surrick, founder of Miss Nancy's Fancy Bakery in Annapolis.

Dr. Karpeles was active in the Unitarian Universalist Church of Towson, which was founded in 1960, and served as its president from 1967 to 1969.

As a social activist, he volunteered his services as a medic numerous times during civil rights protests and peace marches in Washington.

With his wife, he was a participant in Bible studies at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Washington while also maintaining membership in the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis, which he joined in 1986.

"I first met Leon 13 or so years ago when we came to the church and he saw that we were visitors," said Kenneth S. Apfel, president of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis and a former Social Security commissioner. "He sought us out to tell us about the church. He was deeply engaged with the church and its outreach to the community."

Dr. Karpeles was also a senior member of a men's discussion group at the church and always injected lively viewpoints.

"He was extremely brilliant, well-read, and had a great of knowledge of whatever we were talking about," said Mr. Apfel. "Leo had a bit of an edge and was not a get-along, go-along type of person. He used that edge to get us to look at different things."

In addition to reading for recreation, Dr. Karpeles read to elementary school students and enjoyed raising adopted dogs.

He left his body to the Maryland State Anatomy Board.

Regarding that donation, Roy Hatch, a son-in-law who lives in Millersville, said Dr. Karpeles was always dedicated to teaching. "Now he will be able to teach a little while longer," he said.

A celebration of Dr. Karpeles' life will be held 3 p.m. May 15 at his church, 333 Dubois Road, Annapolis.

In addition to his wife of 30 years and his daughter, Dr. Karpeles is survived by two other daughters, Robin Magdalene of Baltimore and Katherine Maeda of Berkeley Springs, W.Va.; a stepson, John Surrick of Annapolis; a stepdaughter, Marion Leukhardt of Annapolis; a granddaughter; five step-grandchildren; and a step-great-grandchild.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun