Dr. James Frenkil

The Baltimore Sun

Dr. James Frenkil, a retired internist who practiced industrial and occupational medicine, died of pneumonia complications Saturday at his Northwest Baltimore home. He was 96.

"As one of the oldest living graduates of the University of Maryland's School of Medicine, he was a source of strength to all of us when he came to reunions and university affairs," said Dr. E. Albert Reece, the school's dean. "James was a kind, gentle, generous and warm person. When he extended his hand, it was a shake of friendship, indicating 'My pal.' "

Born in Baltimore and raised on Fernhill Avenue, he was a 1930 graduate of Forest Park High School, where he won a Mid-Atlantic Championship medal for pole vaulting. He earned a bachelor's degree at the Johns Hopkins University in three years.

According to a memoir he left, Dr. Frenkil acceded to his mother's wishes and applied to the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He sent a $10 registration fee, and when his acceptance letter arrived, he said, "You could have knocked me over with a feather."

He received his medical degree in 1937. As part of his medical training, he delivered babies in the homes of their mothers.

He did residencies at Gallinger Municipal and the Casualty hospitals in Washington and then established a private practice in the Ashburton section of Baltimore. He rented a two-bedroom apartment and charged his patients $1 a visit and $2 for house calls.

"He was an outstanding diagnostician and a good listener," said his wife of 25 years, the former Carolyn Bearry. "People were attracted to his warmth. He also had an incredible curiosity about life."

In 1943 he joined the Army and attended its wartime School of Tropical Medicine. Assigned to India, he became a squadron medical officer for a Boeing B-29 Superfortress command in Calcutta. He conducted research on tropical disease, and his work led to the use of sulphaguanidine to prevent dysentery. He had his medical corpsmen distribute to each man half of a 7-grain tablet of the drug at mess halls before lunch. He found that dysentery rates fell by 80 percent among those who took the drug.

He returned to Baltimore and entered a new field: occupational medicine.

"At that time, health insurance simply did not exist to the extent it does today," Dr. Reece said at a ceremony in Dr. Frenkil's honor last year. "But Jimmy recognized the opportunity that existed in occupational medicine in treating work-related injuries and illnesses through workers' compensation insurance."

Dr. Frenkil, whom friends described as having an "acute business sense," established a chain of Central Medical Centers. His original practice was in downtown Baltimore on West Pratt Street, and he later had satellite clinics in Eastpoint, Hunt Valley, Elkridge and Columbia. He employed nearly 100 medical staff members, and the centers treated about 450 to 600 patients a day. He was the owner and president until selling the practice in 1987. He later donated his 16 S. Eutaw St. medical building to the University of Maryland Physicians; it is named in his honor.

A donor to the Maryland medical school's alumni association, he and his wife established the James and Carolyn Frenkil Endowment Fund for "a medical student who has suffered significant medical problems" while pursuing schooling. A fund has also been established for the James Frenkil Center in Kenya for the testing, counseling and education of AIDS orphans.

He was a past chairman of the state's Occupational Disease Board and had been medical director of the Mass Transit Administration. He held similar posts with the Chessie System and Pan American World Airways. He also headed industrial medicine at the old Lutheran, North Charles and South Baltimore General hospitals, as well as Sinai Hospital.

Dr. Frenkil invested in real estate and had owned the North Avenue Market property on West North Avenue for more than 40 years.

He was a member of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at Sol Levinson & Brothers, 8900 Reisterstown Road.

In addition to his wife, survivors include a son, Anthony Frenkil of Baltimore; a daughter, Amy Meadows of Washington; a stepson, David McGuire Jr. of Northeast; a stepdaughter, Randi Tur of Bel Air; six grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

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