Dr. Simeon G. “Moan” Margolis, a retired leading endocrinologist who had been a professor of medicine, endocrinology and biological chemistry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a Baltimore Sun medical columnist, died of cardiovascular disease Monday at Roland Park Place. The former longtime Cedarcroft resident was 91.
“I feel a great personal loss of a great friend. I was a great admirer of him,” said Dr. John K. Boitnott, a pioneering Johns Hopkins liver pathologist. “He was a good friend through medical school and beyond, and we had played basketball together as undergraduates. He was a star basketball player who still holds a Mason-Dixon scoring record.”
Simeon Gerald Margolis was the son of Lithuanian immigrant parents. His father, Edward C. Margolis, was a watch repairman, and his mother, Bella Cantor Margolis, was a homemaker and seamstress.
Born and raised in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Dr. Margolis was a graduate of Westmont Upper Yoder High School and earned his bachelor’s degree in 1953 and his medical degree in 1957 from the Johns Hopkins University. In 1964, he obtained a doctorate in biochemistry, also from Hopkins.
As an undergraduate scholarship student at Hopkins, Dr. Margolis balanced playing baseball and basketball with classes. As a 5-foot-10-inch guard, he pulled off an athletic record that still stands after 69 years.
In a 1953 game against Randolph-Macon College and before the three-point jump shot, Dr. Margolis scored 44 points, setting a single-game scoring record.
“I never really considered myself a shooter,” Dr. Margolis explained in a 1997 interview with The Gazette, the Johns Hopkins University newspaper. “I was more a ball handler, but I led the team in scoring very year I played.”
Near the end of the contest, he was shouting to Coach Bob Bilgrave to bring in a sub, which he refused to do, which kept Dr. Margolis very much on the floor and in the game.
“When the game was over, the famously parsimonious athletic director handed Margolis the game ball, an act of generosity which surprised him more than the record,” reported The Gazette. “Far from celebrating, Margolis and a teammate showered and trekked to their work-study jobs in the Department of Psychology, cranking out statistics on a mechanical calculator until midnight for $2.50 an hour.”
For his accomplishments that night, he was inducted into the Johns Hopkins Athletic Hall of Fame in 1997.
“If you can play a sport and still get the grades to get into medical school, you show you are organized and dedicated,” Dr. Margolis told The Gazette. “Playing teaches you teamwork, too. You have to learn you don’t know all the answers in medicine, and other people — nurses, paramedics, other doctors — can teach you something.”
He explained in the interview that sports were also valuable because they taught lessons about losing and how humbling an experience it can be.
“In medicine, it’s important to have some humility, another attribute I look for in applicants to medical school,” he said.
After graduating from the Johns Hopkins Medical School, he remained at Hopkins, where he completed his internship and residency, serving as chief resident. Except for a two-year stint at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Dr. Margolis’ career at Hopkins spanned more than a half-century.
Although other universities attempted to lure him away, he “remained loyal to Hopkins,” according to a biographical profile submitted by his family. “The professor of emeritus of medicine and biological chemistry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine enjoyed working so much he never officially retired, stopping work only when he could no longer get to the hospital.”
Dr. Margolis became director of the division of endocrinology and metabolism in 1968, where he conducted cholesterol research and treated patients. He led the division until 1981 then returned in 1985 as head until 1990.
In 1984, Dr. Margolis transitioned into an administrative role in the medical school when he was appointed associate dean for academic affairs, a position he held for six years, until being appointed associate dean in 1990 for faculty affairs, where he served until 1992. He also was a consultant to various federal advisory committees.
His personal medical practice was centered on the management of diabetes and the prevention of coronary heart disease, and he taught medical students and physicians alike about the control of serum lipids and lipoproteins.
“He was extremely bright, conscientious and honest,” Dr. Boitnott said. “He wanted to know answers, and I always admired that in people. He understood the work, had an intense curiosity and wanted answers.”
After conducting lipid metabolism research for 12 years, Dr. Margolis arrived at a conclusion, brought on by changes in the field and new techniques, that he could take a sabbatical year and retrain. He decided to write On Call, a weekly question and answer medical column for The Sun, which he did for a decade, starting in 1987.
He edited the monthly The Johns Hopkins Medical Guide to Health After 50 for more than 20 years, in addition to more than 23 books and white papers on a variety of medical issues. He also wrote a regular blog for Yahoo! Health.
Dr. Margolis also lectured widely on a variety of topics, including the prevention of coronary heart disease, control of cholesterol levels, treatment for diabetes and even alternative medicine.
“Dr. Margolis said that the way to lower cholesterol level is simply not to eat fewer foods high in cholesterol content (such as liver, eggs, shrimp, beef, custard pies) but to greatly reduce consumption of saturated fats,” reported The Sun in a 1978 article. “He suggests that for those who are concerned, replacing lards or solid shortenings with vegetable oil, such as corn or safflower, when cooking.”
Known as “Moan,” a shorter version of his name, he was fond of joking that he earned the nickname for “always complaining,” family members said.
Dr. Margolis was gifted with a keen intelligence, quick wit and a very dry sense of humor.
“He was outgoing and friendly, all good adjectives to describe him,” Dr. Boitnott said. “He saw only the best and good in people, but he had high standards and expected a great deal from them, yet he was always very positive.”
“I think one of the most important things he did as a doctor was his ability to listen to people,” said a daughter, Susan Margolis of Cary, North Carolina. “He had a knack for putting things in context and could make a patient feel better. And he always took time to find referrals for them, no matter where it was.”
Dr. Margolis noted in The Gazette interview that sports were one of life’s honest pleasures. He was an avid tennis player who played regularly at the Bare Hills Tennis Club and enjoyed taking longs walks through his Cedarcroft neighborhood.
The Morning Sun
A resident of Roland Park Place since 2016, Dr. Margolis enjoyed playing the violin, working on his stamp collection, reading widely, playing bridge and summering in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
“He was always learning, always curious,” Ms. Margolis said.
She said her father wrote a weekly letter, first by hand and later on a typewriter, to his three daughters when they were away at college.
In 1954, he married the former Mary Alice “Bebe” Kahl, whom he had first met at an eighth grade party in Johnstown. They later became high school sweetheartsand wed during his first year in medical school.
Mrs. Margolis, who was a Johns Hopkins Hospital budget administrator and secretary, died in 2011.
Plans for a celebration-of-life gathering are incomplete.
In addition to Ms. Margolis, Dr. Margolis is survived by two other daughters, Amy Elizabeth Hardin of Homeland and Karen M. Griswold of Wellesley, Massachusetts; and six grandchildren.