Dr. Howard F. Raskin, former chief of the gastroenterology department at Maryland General Hospital, died Sept. 17 at Duke University Hospital during surgery to replace a heart valve.
The longtime Owings Mills resident was 87.
"Howard was one of the smartest men I ever knew at the University of Maryland Hospital. He was top-drawer and had the manner of a gentleman," said Dr. Jason Max Masters, who retired in 1990 from the hospital, where he had been director of medical technology.
"He was an expert in the field of gastroenterology and would always come and give lectures for me. He spent a lot of time working with the students," said Dr. Masters, who lives in Glen Arm. "He also had an excellent bedside manner and a glowing personality, and I never knew of anyone ever complaining about him. He was that way with everybody."
Howard Frank Raskin was born in Baltimore to a medical family — his father, Dr. Moses Raskin, was a noted eye, ear, nose and throat specialist, and his mother, Rose Frank Raskin, had been acting superintendent of nursing at the old Sinai Hospital on Monument Street. He was raised on Eutaw Place.
Dr. Raskin had attended the old Robert E. Lee School 49 on Cathedral Street and graduated in 1943 from City College. After earning his bachelor's degree in 1946 from the Johns Hopkins University, he earned his medical degree in 1949 from the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
He was chief medical resident from 1953 to 1954 at what is now Mercy Medical Center and the University of Maryland Medical Center before receiving a fellowship in 1954 to the National Cancer Institute.
In 1956, he was appointed to the faculty of the University of Chicago as an assistant professor of medicine. While he was there, Dr. Raskin and two other physicians determined that cancers in the large bowel that could not be detected by X-ray might be diagnosed by microscopic examination of cells taken from the lining of the colon.
Dr. Raskin returned to the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1963, when he was appointed associate professor of medicine. He established the gastroenterology laboratory and headed the division of gastroenterology at University Hospital.
"His laboratory has received world-wide recognition in the treatment and study of diseases of the gastrointestinal tract," The Evening Sun reported in a 1973 profile.
While at Maryland, Dr. Raskin developed techniques and invented instruments that were used in the diagnosis of gastric diseases. One of his innovations that brought him international acclaim was the Barium Burger X-ray examination, which proved to be a reliable method of early diagnosis of stomach disorders.
"Physicians and scientists from all over the world have received counseling and training in the unit's laboratory," The Evening Sun reported.
In 1973, Dr. Raskin was appointed head of the new division of gastroenterology at Maryland General Hospital, where he worked until he retired in 2001.
Dr. Raskin is credited with sparking the meeting between Gov. Marvin Mandel and Dr. R Adams Cowley that resulted in the creation of the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, his sister said.
"He loved to teach medicine and share his immense knowledge. There are gastroenterologists worldwide that he had taught. They have frequently expressed their love, respect and appreciation. Many have maintained contact with him," said his sister, Dr. Joan Raskin, a retired dermatologist who lives in Pikesville.
"He was a compassionate and caring person. He was interested in everyone he met, and he always had time for his patients," his sister said. "He was a thorough physician and often made diagnoses missed by other physicians. There are people alive today because of his thoroughness and determination to find answers to diagnostic problems."
Dr. Raskin was a lifelong fire buff, a fascination that began in his childhood when he visited firefighters at the old Engine Company 25 at McCulloh and Gold streets, with his dog, Champ.
Together with his son, Daniel "Danny" Raskin, who was a volunteer firefighter and lieutenant with the Chestnut Ridge Volunteer Fire Company, he enjoyed collecting fire memorabilia. His son died in 1990 fighting a barn fire in northwestern Baltimore County.
When Engine Company 15 — known as the "Hebrew Firehouse" — on Lombard Street between Howard and Eutaw streets was being demolished in 1973, Dr. Raskin persuaded the wrecking company to spare a Star of David on its front wall over the two engine bays.
Dr. Raskin was a physician for the Baltimore Fire Department and a member of the Box 414 Association, a volunteer organization of fire buffs that provides food and coffee to firefighters working two-alarm or larger fires.
"Howard was an especially bright, insightful and humorous man who had an innate intuition about people and how medicine affected them and their families," said Coos Hamburger, a medical writer and longtime friend. "He was an Old World physician who was up to date on medical technology and believed in the art of medicine."
Dr. Raskin was a student of history, with a particular interest in the Civil War.
"He also loved trivia, jokes, gardening and fishing," said his sister. "A neighbor of ours said he was 'incredibly kind about everything and everybody. He was a Santa Claus without a beard.'"
Dr. Raskin was a member of Chizuk Amuno Congregation.
Services were Sept. 22 at Sol Levinson & Bros.
In addition to his sister, Dr. Raskin is survived by a son, Philip S. Raskin of Oakland, Calif.; a daughter, Lisabeth Raskin of Menlo Park, Calif.; and two granddaughters. Another son, Dr. Adam Raskin, died last year. Dr. Raskin's marriage ended in divorce.