Dr. J. Donald Woodruff Sr., 84, surgeon, gynecology professor at Johns Hopkins


Dr. J. Donald Woodruff Sr., a world-renowned surgeon and professor of gynecologic pathology and gynecology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Hospital, died Friday of pneumonia at Keswick Multi-Care Center. He was 84.

A childhood bout of scarlet fever and nephritis and treatment by an old-fashioned Sparrows Point country doctor convinced a young J. Donald Woodruff that he wanted to pursue a career in medicine.

"It was old Dr. Eldridge, and he became a role model for my husband," said the former Bettye M. Gardner, who married Dr. Woodruff in 1939.

"When he was a 10-year-old in school he was writing papers explaining that he wanted to become a physician so he could help people," Mrs. Woodruff said yesterday.

Born in Sparrows Point and raised on C Street, where his father was superintendent of Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s company store, he graduated in 1929 from Sparrows Point High School. He earned his bachelor's degree in 1933 from Dickinson College, where he was a member of Phi Betta Kappa.

He earned his medical degree from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1937 and completed his residency in gynecology at Hopkins in 1942.

He served as chief of urology during World War II with the 56th General Hospital, the first general hospital to land in Normandy after the D-Day invasion. He was discharged at war's end with the rank of major.

During his 58-year association with Hopkins, Dr. Woodruff made significant contributions to gynecologic pathology, influenced a generation of residents and provided skillful care to thousands of patients.

"He was the father of gynecologic pathology as a discipline," said Dr. E. Edward Wallach, former chairman of gynecology and obstetrics at Johns Hopkins.

"He was a great man, unquestionably. He used the microscope to advance the diagnosis of diseases, to impact a generation of gynecologists trained at his side and to improve the care of women," said Dr. Wallach.

He was remembered by colleagues for his gruffness, which belied a caring heart and his ability to make friends.

"For nearly 40 years, students cherished their moments with Dr. Woodruff, sitting across from him at a two-headed microscope while 'the professor' exhibited his endless ability to find something exciting to share, regardless of the number of cervical slides he had reviewed," said Dr. Howard Zacur, professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Hopkins.

"He set the standards as a clinician and teacher -- and his enthusiasm rubbed off on his students," said Dr. Zacur.

He was honored with guest lectureships and professorships throughout the United States, Europe, Asia and South America.

"He could be working in the laboratory and then walk into the operating room and perform a complex procedure. That's how talented he was," said Dr. Zacur.

A physically imposing man with a deep voice and ruddy complexion, Dr. Woodruff also was known for his ability to recite for hours the poetry of Robert Service and Ogden Nash -- and for his dramatic interpretation of "Casey at the Bat."

In 1946 and 1947, Dr. Woodruff pursued surgical pathology studies at Bon Secours and St. Agnes hospitals and from 1952 to 1956 was head of gynecology at Maryland General Hospital. He also was chief of gynecology at the Women's Hospital of Maryland, which later became part of Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

"Much of the early planning for GBMC was done on our dining room table in our Homeland residence," recalled Mrs. Woodruff.

Dr. Woodruff's primary research interest was the origins of ovarian cancer. He wrote extensively on the subject.

He also wrote "Novak's Gynecological and Obstetric Pathology," which still is considered the definitive textbook on gynecologic pathology. He co-wrote a text on the fallopian tubes and made substantial contributions to 18 other medical books.

In recognition of his contributions to Hopkins, the department of gynecology and obstetrics dedicated the Woodruff Lecture Hall in his honor. In 1993, the J. Donald Woodruff Chair was established by his colleagues, friends and former patients.

He was a communicant of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St., where a memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Friday.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by three sons, J. Donald Woodruff Jr., Gary M. Woodruff, both of Baltimore and David C. Woodruff of Thousand Oaks, Calif.; and seven grandchildren.

Pub Date: 7/24/96

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