Robert G. Lancaster, a retired Mercy Medical Center chief pathologist and teacher, died of cancer Saturday at College Manor in Lutherville. A resident of the Hampton section of Towson, he was 79.
Born and raised in Spokane, Wash., he was a graduate of Gonzaga University and moved to Baltimore to attend the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He served in the Navy from 1958 to 1960.
In 1961, he became Mercy's laboratory director and worked in its old College of Physicians and Surgeons Building on Calvert Street. Colleagues said his lab's shelves were filled with medical specimens. A pipe smoker, he invited students and physicians into his lab for lengthy discussions.
"He was always interested in the patient and in their care," said a former student, George Lowe, who is a Mercy internist. "He loved talking about the patients and getting a fuller picture."
He recalled that Dr. Lancaster also performed autopsies and welcomed questions from the medical staff.
"He was an excellent teacher who welcomed you into his lab. He had a two-headed microscope and would have you sit down and look at a slide. He would then give you a full lecture right there," he said.
He added that Dr. Lancaster embraced new technologies and innovations that would help in his work.
"He was a walking book of knowledge," said Sister Mary Jacinta Robson, a Sister of Mercy who worked at the medical center. "He made the time to talk, and he knew the answers."
Sister Paula Marie Thelan, who worked with him for 24 years, said, "We just called him ‘The Chief.' He was loved and respected. He was a great pathologist, but he was also a great human being."
Before retiring in 1985, Dr. Lancaster was named pathology department chair and chair of the School of Medical Technology.
"He was a true scientist," said Jay Goodman, Mercy's chairman emeritus of the Department of Medicine. "He was important to our teaching program, and you could sit in his office and get support on any issue."
Dr. Lancaster served on state and national committees, including the American Association of Blood Banks, College of American Pathologists, American Society of Clinical Pathology and the Maryland Society of Pathologists, where he had been president.
He taught at the University of Maryland School of Medicine's pathology department, at the old Mount St. Agnes College in Mount Washington and at what is now Loyola University Maryland in medical technology programs.
In the late 1960s, he and several other local pathologists founded the Central Laboratories of Associated Maryland Pathologists. The group operated a laboratory that did blood analyses along with toxicology screenings before it was economical for hospitals to do the tests in their labs. He also started a company that produced chemical reagents that were used in local hospital laboratories.
He was the author of scientific articles and occasionally wrote for The Baltimore Sun, including a 1966 editorial page article in which he described "The Value of an Autopsy."
Dr. Lancaster joined another group of Philadelphia-based physicians who liked to backpack. They were called the Katahdin Medical Philosophical Society and hiked the Appalachian Trail, as well as areas in New England and Norway.
He was Scoutmaster for Troop 322, affiliated with Towson United Methodist Church, for 10 years. Dr. Lancaster was an Eagle Scout, a rank also obtained by two of his sons and three of his grandsons.
Dr. Lancaster was an avid vegetable and rose gardener. He built his own greenhouse and also enjoyed cooking, woodworking and working on his computer.
A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Friday at Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church, Ware Avenue, Towson, where he was a member.
Survivors include his two sons, Stephen G. Lancaster of Jarrettsville and Scott Lancaster of Dayton; four daughters, Mary Linthicum of Abingdon, Kathryn Kingsbury of Columbia, Valerie O'Shea of Lincoln University, Pa., and Kelly Torbit of Fallston; and 13 grandchildren. His wife of 51 years, the former Dolores A. Walsh, died in 2004. A son, Paul Lancaster, died in 2003.