URMC Mourns Loss of Former Radiology Chair Robert O’Mara

May. 12, 2015
Robert E. O’Mara, M.D., former chair of Radiology, as it was known then, and chief of Nuclear Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center, died April 26, at his home in Tucson, Ariz.  He led ground-breaking research in bone scanning during his 25-year career at the Medical Center.

O’Mara attended University of Rochester, graduating in 1955, though he was very proud of being a part of the football team that went undefeated in 1952.. He graduated from Albany College of Medicine in 1959. Following medical school, he served in the Air Force from 1960-63 during nuclear testing, which piqued his interest. He went on to residency training in surgery at Rochester General Hospital and radiology at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City, followed by a fellowship in nuclear medicine at SUNY Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse.

He served on the faculty at Upstate Medical Center and University of Arizona before returning to URMC in 1975. He was chief of Nuclear Medicine through 1988 and stepped into the role of department chair from 1987 to 1991. He refocused his attention to Nuclear Medicine for eight years before retiring in 1999. He relocated to Tucson and practiced part-time at University of Arizona until 2006.

O’Mara enjoyed caring for people with thyroid cancers because he was able to build a long-term relationship with them.  He took pride in being able to explain how nuclear medicine is used to treat their disease, many times with positive outcomes. 

He thrived in an academic setting because of the generous mix of patient care, teaching and research, said daughter, Bridget O’Mara, M.D., an anesthesiologist at Bassett Health Care in Cooperstown. 

“Dr. O’Mara was an excellent physician, teacher and scholar,” said David Waldman, M.D., Ph.D., chair of Imaging Sciences. “He made a tremendous impact on so many people’s lives.”

Early in his career, while working at Rochester General O’Mara met his wife, Brenda, who was beginning a nursing career. Their daughter said they were the “cute nurse meets handsome doctor” story, marrying in 1964. They had three children and “somehow he was able to coach our sports teams and be at our games.  He was probably our biggest cheerleader at sporting events.”

The former Brighton resident was a member of Midtown Tennis Club. A fan of jazz, classical and folk music and sports, he also loved convertibles.  “It didn’t matter what kind, just one with a top that came down so he would ride with the wind in his hair,” his daughter said. “Living in Rochester made him an often frustrated convertible-owner. He was known to bundle up, blast the heater in the car and start the convertible season early,” Bridget O’Mara recalled.

O’Mara was a voracious reader who started out each day tackling The New York Times crossword puzzle.

He is survived by his wife of 51 years Brenda; son, Robert Jr.; daughters, Susan (Andrew Dennett) and Bridget (Raul Monzon); and two granddaughters. Memorials can be made to the American Cancer Society or Golisano Children’s Hospital.