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Dr. Giraud V. Foster, who had dual careers as a gynecologist-obstetrician and an archaeologist, dies

Giraud Foster, foreground, and his colleague Norman Barker worked in micro-photography.
Giraud Foster, foreground, and his colleague Norman Barker worked in micro-photography. (Elizabeth Malby / XX)

Dr. Giraud V. Foster, a gynecologist-obstetrician and a director of the Johns Hopkins gynecology and obstetrics program who had a dual career as a part-time archaeologist, died Dec. 3 from renal failure at Union Memorial Hospital. The Poplar Hill resident, who spent nearly three decades working on excavations in Cyprus and other locations in Italy, Greece, Israel and Jordan, making him something of a real-life Indiana Jones, was 92.

“He was an adventurous spirit and a true Renaissance man, I must say,” said Dr. Norman J. Barker, professor of pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and a friend and colleague of 35 years. “How many people can say they were the personal physician to the King of Yemen? He had interests in so many areas, art, archaeology, photography, and was even a gourmet chef. He did so many things and was just everywhere.”

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Giraud Vernam Foster, son of Giraud Van Nest Foster, a business owner, and his wife, Valerie Vernam Foster, a homemaker, was born and raised in New York City.

“Foster downplays his blue blood lineage and is hesitant to talk about his parents, who divorced when he was young,” according to a 2003 article in Baltimore magazine that described him on its cover as “The Most fascinating Man in Baltimore.”

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“His father, who never had to work a day in his life, married four times, and his mother went on to wed a grandson of Woodrow Wilson’s. While they circulated in the upper strata of the social scene, Foster gave them plenty to talk about over cocktails and showed that he wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. As a former colleague observes, “[Foster] loves hardship.”

His lifelong spirit of wanderlust was sparked as a 10-year old boy by a rafting trip down the Mississippi River he took with several of his classmates, re-creating a similar trip by Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. It was sponsored by Minute Maid as a promotion.

After graduating in 1946 from St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, he served in the Marine Corps and enrolled at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, from which he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1952.

He earned his medical degree from the University of Maryland Medical School and completed his training in internal medicine at what is now the University of Maryland Medical Center.

In 1952, he married the former Carolyn Lindquist, and in the 1950s, the couple led a medical team in Haiti to rejuvenate the provincial hospital in Jeremie. After a six-month trip to study the ancient architecture of India, Dr. Foster became a postdoctoral student in the department of physiological chemistry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, which was interrupted in 1961 when he became the personal physician Muhammad al-Badr, Yemen’s last king.

It was while he was in Yemen that Dr. Foster developed an interest in that ancient land and archaeology that remained with him for the rest of his life.

In 1963, he returned to the academic world when he was named senior lecturer at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School in London, where he had support for research for the next 10 years, and a visiting professorship at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, and during those years earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry.

Dr. Foster returned to Hopkins in 1972, joining the medical school’s Department of Physiology and Medicine and later the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. He was eventually named one of the directors of the Johns Hopkins Program in Gynecology and Obstetrics. He retired from Hopkins in 2006.

He spent 28 years in Cyprus assisting with archaeological digs at Kourion that were supported by the Walters Art Museum and later participated in other excavations in the Mediterranean.

In an autobiographical essay, Dr. Foster wrote that he “studied animal sacrifices from their bones, the making of ancient pottery using various X-ray techniques, read details on heavily corroded coins with xeroradiography, discovered how minerals were used in Roman times to sterilize surgical instruments and, by measuring the ratios of stable isotopes of oxygen and carbon in marble datable by stylist considerations and comparing them to marble similarly assayed from known Mediterranean quarries, worked out the history of the marble trade in Cyprus from Phoenician through Crusade times.”

He also had a profound interest in the tribal music of New Guinea, which culminated in journeys during the late 1960s and early 1970s to the jungles of Irian Jaya, where he made recordings of singing and music of former head hunters.

He and his partner, Dr. Barker, who lives in Parkville, photographed fossils from all over the world, resulting in a traveling exhibition and a book, “Ancient Microworlds.”

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“Three further traveling exhibits followed: on seaweeds, another on photographs of India taken at night, and one of alabaster antiquities from Yemen,” Dr. Foster wrote. “Again, these were published as books: ‘Seaweeds,’ ‘A Festival of Lights,’ and ‘Faces of Arabia.’ Images from these projects are now in permanent collections on more than fifty museums.”

Dr. Foster was a Cordon Bleu-trained gourmet cook and took additional classes all over the world, counting among his accomplishments having run a restaurant for eight days in Kabul, Afghanistan, and having met such acclaimed chefs as Julia Child, James Beard and British chef Elizabeth David.

“His home looked like a museum and was filled with art and archaeology from his travels,” Dr. Barker said. “He was a true Renaissance man when you consider what he did.”

Dr. Barker lauded his friend for being a great conversationalist.

“Whether it was a president of a university or a hotel bellman, he’d start a conversation by saying, ‘Well, tell me,’ and this was his way of getting the conversation going. He was a humble guy who never blew his own horn.”

Plans for a memorial service to be held in the spring of 2021 are incomplete.

In addition to his wife of 68 years, Dr. Foster is survived by two sons, David Foster of Kensington and Douglas Foster of Rutland, Vermont; a daughter, Nicola Foster “Nikki” Sabin of Marblehead, Massachusetts; and six grandchildren.

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