James Roncie Duke, ophthalmologist

Dr. James Roncie Duke, a retired ophthalmologist and Johns Hopkins pathologist who was a collector of F. Scott Fitzgerald's works and lived in what once was the novelist's Baltimore home, died of complications from dementia Oct. 16 in Bolton Hill. He was 88.

Born in Tampa, Fla., he was the son of an ophthalmologist. He attended Plant High School in Tampa and was a 1942 graduate of Staunton Military Academy in Virginia.


In an autobiographical essay he wrote for a 50th class reunion at Princeton University, he said, "I wanted a change of scene from the South" when he applied to college. He received an application to Harvard, but found that "the Harvard application form was the more complex, so I returned only the Princeton form."

He said that he arrived at Princeton in 1942 and was interested in the writings of Fitzgerald, who had studied there. "His literary reputation was then in eclipse," Dr. Duke wrote. "I began then to collect his writings and have continued to collect materials related to his life and work."


After his graduation from Princeton, he earned a degree at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He trained at a pathology program at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital and returned to Hopkins in 1949 for a three-year residency at the Wilmer Ophthalmological Institute.

"During this period I worked closely under the tutelage of Dr. Jonas Friedenwald, who had written the first textbook in English on ophthalmic pathology," Dr. Duke wrote in an autobiographical sketch.

During the Korean War, he entered military service and served in the Army at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology and at Fitzsimons Army Hospital in Denver. The hospital also served tuberculosis patients.

"After one year of working there, I traded in my lab coat for pajamas and began treatment myself for pulmonary tuberculosis," Dr. Duke wrote.

During his recuperation, he said, he read classics by Mann, Melville, Proust and Tolstoy. He remained a reader and kept up a voluminous correspondence.

He left the Army as a captain and accepted Dr. Friedenwald's invitation to return to Hopkins to head the ophthalmic pathology laboratory in September 1955. He then moved to Bolton Hill.

"As a teacher, he was exacting and made us toe the mark when studying the pathology slides," said Dr. Robert B. Welch of Baltimore. "He also had a wonderful sense of humor."

A 1970 Baltimore Sun article noted his role in an earlier Hopkins experiment involving 26 lab rats that were fed a diet of nothing but yogurt and developed cataracts.


He wrote that in 1968 he was "ready for a change of pace" and left Hopkins to begin a private practice at 14 W. Mount Vernon Place. He retired in 1982 and became a consultant in the Office of Disability Operations for the Social Security Administration.

"The work load is variable, the hours flexible ... an ideal arrangement for the physician in retirement," he wrote.

In his essay for his 50th Princeton reunion, he wrote that in 1973 he bought the Park Avenue house that Fitzgerald rented between 1933 and 1936. "During that time, [Fitzgerald's wife] Zelda was hospitalized for mental illness at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and at the Sheppard Pratt Hospital, where I served as a consultant. The Fitzgeralds entertained Gertrude Stein at this home. Scott completed 'Tender Is the Night' here and posed for promotional photographs at the fireplace in the study," he wrote.

He went on to say, "It was a sad and troubled place for him. My life in this house, however, has been a pleasant and rewarding one."

He donated his Fitzgerald holdings to Princeton several years ago. He was also a benefactor of the Walters Art Museum and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Friends said that Dr. Duke was also a collector of American 19th-century landscape paintings, as well as antique furniture, rugs and porcelain that he displayed in his residence. He regularly visited New York and Baltimore auction houses, galleries and museums.


"He had a marvelous cook named Lina, and she prepared memorable meals and served them beautifully," said a former neighbor, Richard J. Roszel, who lives in Baltimore. "I recall the dining room with its cool, apple-green walls, handsome mantelpiece, gold clock and candlesticks."

Another former pathology student, Dr. John W. Payne, said Dr. Duke was "the embodiment of the perfect gentleman."

He recalled "scintillating dinner parties" where Dr. Duke made "sardonic" observations in a "withering delivery."

Dr. Payne recalled an evening when a dining companion said it was the first time in years when the menu was not potluck. Dr. Duke replied, "We must travel in different circles."

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Dr. Duke also dined at the Maryland Club and was a Friday evening regular at Marconi's on Saratoga Street. "We'll miss the soft crabs, which were always the small spider variety and were beautifully prepared," he said in a Sun article when the restaurant closed in 2005. "The waiters got to know you. One of them sent me Christmas cards long after he had retired."

After Marconi's closed, he spent his Fridays at the Speakeasy in Canton and the Ambassador on Canterbury Road.


"He lived a wonderful lifestyle," said his attorney, Frederick S. Koontz. "He was a Southern gentleman. He grew up in that world, and it was his world."

Dr. Duke frequently traveled to Venice. He also enjoyed lengthy railroad trips.

No funeral will be held.

Survivors include two nieces.