Former Professor, Chief of Neuropathology, Dies

March 01, 2006

Lowell Winship Lapham, M.D., a professor of neuropathology at the University of Rochester Medical Center from 1964 to 1992, died Feb. 8 at the Cleveland Clinic at the age of 83.

A native of Iowa, Lapham was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Oberlin College and a 1948 graduate of Harvard Medical School, cum laude. He trained in internal medicine and neurology at Boston City Hospital and Harvard, and at the Neurological Institute of New York and Columbia University, then did a fellowship in neuropathology at Massachusetts General Hospital.

His first faculty appointment was at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in 1955. In 1964 he came to the University of Rochester Medical Center to serve as head of neuropathology, and served as both an outstanding basic scientist and a world-class clinical neuropathologist who trained many of the top figures in neuropathology.

As a neuropathologist, Lapham was an expert at studying the brain in great detail and then drawing lessons that could be used to improve human health. His basic research on the brain ultimately contributed greatly to our knowledge of several diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, brain damage from hepatitis, and the effects of mercury poisoning. He was an expert on brain cells known as astrocytes, which are becoming increasingly important in diseases like epilepsy and Alzheimer’s.

But Lapham is remembered as much for his manner as his knowledge and wisdom. In 1994 Lapham was recognized for his contributions to neuropathology when he received the Award for Meritorious Contributions to Neuropathology at the annual meeting of the American Association of Neuropathologists. His colleague Michael Norenberg, M.D., who trained under Lapham and who is now a neuropathologist at the University of Miami, had this to say at the awards ceremony:

“Lowell was and still is a gifted teacher, whether it be in neuropathology, neurology, or expository writing. He was demanding but patient, critical but respectful, eager to advise but never to command, always ready to encourage and to nurture, and always generous with praise….Lowell is a gentle, caring, understanding and forgiving human being, an absolute class act. I do not believe a hostile thought ever crossed his mind. Like all of us, he had his share of disappointments and frustrations, but one would never know it. I think the phrase that best describes his attitude is ‘grace under pressure.’”

In addition to recognition by his peers around the world, Lapham was honored for his work in Rochester – he was chosen as the Henry C. and Bertha H. Buswell Distinguished Service Fellow in 1980-1981, for his contributions to the University of Rochester and Strong Memorial Hospital.

He retired from the University in 1992 and moved to a retirement community in Oberlin, Ohio. After retiring he traveled extensively, often with family members, to such destinations as China, Africa, Australia, Ireland, Papua New Guinea, and Fiji. Between trips he continued to be active academically – within the last year he was working with his Rochester colleagues on a study looking at possible effects of low levels of mercury on the brain.

He is survived by his wife, Miriam Lapham; four children, Joan Lapham Morrison of Hartford, Conn.; Steven S. Lapham of Gaithersburg, Md.; Judith M. Lapham of Minneapolis, Minn.; and Jennifer A. Lapham of Bloomington, Ill.; and four grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday, March 22, at the University’s Interfaith Chapel on the River Campus, with a reception to follow. People who plan to attend should call Linda or Tina in the Department of Pathology, (585) 275-3202.

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