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Dr. Philip Norman did extensive research on the properties of ragweed.
Dr. Philip Norman did extensive research on the properties of ragweed. (HANDOUT)

Dr. Philip Norman, a leading allergist at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine who was at the forefront of new immunologic techniques being developed in the 1960s and in subsequent years, died Aug. 2 of complications from Parkinson’s disease. Dr. Norman died in his home in Baldwin two days before his 95th birthday.

Dr. Norman was born an only child in Pittsburg, Kansas. His mother was a homemaker, and his father was an engineer.

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Dr. Norman excelled in academics, graduating two years early from high school before going to Kansas State Teachers College at the age of 16. His college education was interrupted after 2½ years when World War II broke out and he was taken into the Army and assigned to the Air Corps. Unable to participate in flight duty because he was nearsighted, he was sent to school to become a meteorologist. After three years in the service based in Suriname, he returned to Kansas State Teachers College, where he dedicated his studies to becoming a physician and researcher.

Freed from financial constraints by the G.I. Bill of Rights, he began to immerse himself in the medical field. He was introduced to J. Ralph Wells, who had received his Ph.D. in immunology. Dr. Norman was “hooked” after taking Dr. Wells’ graduate-level course in immunology, according to an autobiographical sketch. Dr. Wells recommended that Dr. Norman go to medical school at Washington University in St. Louis, from which he received his medical degree.

During this time, Dr. Norman delved into immunology research, working with the immunology of mismatched transfusion reactions and a study of dogs showing aspects of reactions that resembled anaphylaxis.

He transferred to Vanderbilt Hospital for two years as an assistant resident. While there he met his eventual wife, Baltimore native Marion Birmingham, who was working as a research laboratory technician.

Although the details of how the two met are unknown, their daughter, Helen Norman-Elmore, said they went to the symphony with two tickets she was given by her boss.

“She made stuffed pork chops for their first meal,” said Mrs. Norman-Elmore, who lives Star Bright Farm in White Hall near her brother, Drew, who lives at One Straw Farm. “She was a good cook. He had good memories of that.”

His wife, who died in 2006, was the love of his life.

“That was his one and only love of his life. He never wanted to remarry. He didn’t even want to date,” Mrs. Norman-Elmore recalled.

Dr. Norman and his wife relocated to Baltimore in 1956 when Dr. Norman became an instructor in the Johns Hopkins Department of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Disease, which became the Division of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He stayed at Johns Hopkins for 50 years before officially retiring at 87.

“They were thrilled to get the position at Hopkins,” said Mrs. Norman-Elmore.

In the early 1960s, Dr. Norman began to purify ragweed pollen allergens. His research in the process was published in The Journal of Allergy in 1962 with Don McKaba and T.P. King of the Rockefeller Institute in Biochemistry.

Starting in 1961, Dr. Norman worked with Larry Lichtenstein in Abraham Osler’s immunology lab for a number of research projects that primarily dealt with ragweed. Their findings were considered groundbreaking and resulted in coverage from the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times. The duo’s work took them to the newly built O’Neill Research Laboratories at Good Samaritan Hospital. In 1989, the division moved to the new Johns Hopkins Asthma and Allergy Center. At that time their division had grown to 25 faculty, 25 postdoctoral fellows and a total of 125 people.

In 1999, Dr. Norman received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. He also served on a number of medical boards and belonged to numerous organizations throughout his career.

Despite his many accomplishments, Dr. Norman didn’t like to discuss his work at home and with others.

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“He really put allergy on the map,” his daughter said. “It was a field that not a lot of people were doing anything with. But he never talked about himself. He was really about encouraging everyone to be their best. Up until the day he died, when I was talking about how great he was and how much he accomplished, he just said, ‘If you say so,’ and then he would change the subject. He was a very humble man.”

In his spare time, Dr. Norman enjoyed reading and writing, particularly the intersection of religion and science, according to his daughter.

Until the beginning of July, he was doing readings at a church, she said.

“He was super sharp. He never lost a brain cell,” she added.

Dr. Norman was also a season-ticket holder for the opera and symphony. Each show he would take a different grandchild for an evening that consisted of dinner, usually at Woodberry Kitchen or Cosima, and then a performance.

“He was very much about music,” she said.

Dr. Norman was extremely organized, according to his daughter.

“He was an incredibly meticulously organized man,” she said. “He would also have a party every year. He never wanted to move from his house. He really maintained relationships. He was really good about that.”

He was so well organized that he planned his funeral seven years ago, according to his daughter.

“He chose his music and his prayer,” she said. “It felt good for him to organize that. Also, he wanted a big party in his house. He had close to 300 people there [after the interment].”

In addition to his daughter and son, Dr. Norman is survived by another daughter, Margaret Reynolds Tenezas-Norman, who lives in Brooklyn, New York, and five grandchildren. Funeral services were earlier in August.

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