Dr. Stephen C. Jacobs, Baltimore surgeon and urologist, dies

Dr. Stephen C. Jacobs was a surgeon, former chief and professor of urology at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Dr. Stephen C. Jacobs was a surgeon, former chief and professor of urology at the University of Maryland Medical Center. (Baltimore Sun)

Dr. Stephen C. Jacobs, a surgeon, former chief and professor of urology at the University of Maryland Medical Center — who taught even after radiation treatments for cancer robbed him of the use of his arms and hands and reduced his voice to a whisper — died Oct. 30 at his Lutherville home after a fall.

He was 70.


"He was a very intelligent and creative person, and at the same time was down-to-earth," said Dr. Michael J. Naslund head of the division of urology at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

"His patients loved and respected him, and he was a good teacher to the medical students and residents," Dr. Naslund said. "He was the complete doctor. He was a role model."


Dr. Toby C. Chai, professor and vice chair of research in the department of urology and co-director of the female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery program at the Yale School of Medicine since 2013, was hired for his first academic job by Dr. Jacobs in 1998.

"The words that most represent Steve himself are his words about what it takes to be a good doctor," wrote Dr. Chai in a eulogy he will present at Dr. Jacobs' memorial service Saturday. "Steve said a good doctor needs 'ability, availability and affability' and not necessarily in that order.

"Those things that made Steve Jacobs such a good doctor also made him a good human being," wrote Dr. Chai.

"Dr. Stephen C. Jacobs was a man larger than life with an amazing passion for life," said Dr. Natasha Kyprianou, a urologist, surgeon and pre-eminent prostate cancer researcher.


"A brilliant surgeon, a charismatic academic leader, a respected mentor and a beloved friend," said Dr. Kyprianou, who holds the James F. Hardymon chair in urology at the University of Kentucky. "He had the extraordinary ability to be a people's magnet, for all people, of diverse social and cultural backgrounds and intellectual powers."

The son of Wilbur C. Jacobs, an attorney, and Mary Barnes Jacobs, a social worker, Stephen Christiaan Jacobs was born in Iowa City, Iowa, and was raised in Rossford, Ohio.

After graduating in 1963 from Maumee Valley Country Day School in Toledo, Ohio, he earned a bachelor's degree in 1967 from Stanford University, then his medical degree in 1971 from Case Western Reserve University.

In 1971-1972, he was an intern in surgery at the University of California, San Diego. He was an assistant resident in surgery in 1972-1973, assistant resident in urology in 1973-1974, and assistant resident in urology research in 1974-1975, also at the University of California.

Dr. Jacobs was a senior assistant resident in urology and later chief resident in urology at Harvard Medical School.

In 1978-1979, he was professor of urology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, as well as chief of urology at the Veterans Administration Hospital, also in Milwaukee.

In 1989, he was named professor and head of the University of Maryland's Division of Urology, a position he held until 2002, when he stepped down because of declining health. He continued to teach at the University of Maryland Medical School from 2002 until his death.

Throughout his career, Dr. Jacobs was at the "cutting edge of academic research in urologic oncology," said his daughter, Dr. Jennifer Jacobs Porter, an anthropologist who lives in Berkeley, Calif.

In 1979, the American Urological Association presented him with its highest honor for his description of growth-stimulating activity found in the prostate. And in 2009, the same organization presented him its lifetime achievement award for his contributions to urology.

"He pioneered the development of the minimally invasive surgical technique called laparoscopic nephrectomy for donor transplant and bilateral renal carcinoma," said his daughter.

"Dr. Jacobs had many of the Socratic virtues celebrated by Plato in 'The Symposium' — honesty, dignity, modesty, friendship for his fellow man, pursuit of knowledge, emotional depth and living a journey to greatness," said Dr. Kyprianou.

In 1990, at the height of his career, Dr. Jacobs was diagnosed with throat cancer. Subsequent radiation treatments destroyed nerves, rendering the surgeon's arms and hands useless and affecting his voice.

In what would have been a career-ending crisis for many others, Dr. Jacobs was determined to forge ahead and reinvent himself.

"He got up each morning and ignored his disease. He still wanted to contribute and wanted to pass on his knowledge to the younger generation, and this is what he did," said Dr. Chai.

"When he got to where he could no longer practice, he taught students," said Dr. Naslund. "He loved working, loved medicine and loved helping teach other people."

"He was very dedicated to his students," said his daughter, who said her father used a microphone to project his faint voice when teaching.

"He had such a good attitude and never held a grudge. He never complained, even though he had years of pain and suffering," said Dr. Porter.

Dr. Jacobs literally worked until the end of his life. "We have weekly conferences to discuss patients, and Steve was there five days before he died," said Dr. Naslund.

"He always wanted to find out if you were as real and as thoughtful as he was — and he also wanted to know if you could take a joke," wrote Dr. Chai. "Sometimes his words were wise, and sometimes they were hilarious, but they were always genuine — and I am really going to miss that."

Dr. Jacobs was married for 47 years to the former Alice Jeannette "Jeannie" Preston, a singer.

The couple enjoyed traveling across the world with their three children. An Anglophile, he traveled often to England, Ireland and Scotland, and enjoyed "everything from the Beatles to Monty Python to Shakespeare," his daughter said.

A voracious reader and sports fan who also enjoyed the theater, concerts and gourmet dinners, Dr. Jacobs liked vacationing at a family cottage on Lake Michigan.

A memorial celebration of his life will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the University of Maryland, Davidge Hall, 522 W. Lombard St., Baltimore.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Dr. Jacobs is survived by two sons, Dr. Stephen Christiaan Jacobs of Milwaukee and William Preston Jacobs of Alexandria, Va.; four sisters, Mary Cattermole of San Gregorio, Calif., Janet Monroe of Tucson, Ariz., Jennifer Spinrad of Portland, Ore., and Molly Beaudoin of Seattle; and two grandchildren.

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