URMC Mourns Loss of Great Mentor, Founding Chief of Pulmonology

Nov. 4, 2014
Richard W. Hyde, M.D.

Richard Witherington Hyde, M.D., founding chief of pulmonary medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center, died Oct. 30, 2014, at his Scottsville home. He was 85 and continued to mentor young doctors until his recent retirement due to the onset of Parkinson’s disease.

“He was a wonderful physician and a great mentor and teacher who truly embraced the missions of the institution in every way,” said Patricia Sime, M.D., F.R.C.P., chief of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine and associate chair for Research in the Department of Medicine.  “He leaves a tremendous legacy with his decades of mentorship for physicians who are now caring for patients around the world.”

Those who worked closely with Hyde described him as a brilliant physician who had a knack for guiding, challenging and encouraging young doctors as they develop mastery of the art and science of medicine. 

“I had the unique privilege of working with Dr. Hyde for more than 25 years at URMC.  He brought outstanding clinical and scientific skills to this institution,” Paul C. Levy, M.D., chair of the Department of Medicine. “What I admired most about Dick was his humble demeanor and insatiable curiosity. Even as he was nearing retirement, he remained fascinated by scientific problems and eager to jump into discussions on difficult clinical issues.  I will dearly miss his down-to-earth attitude and insightful perspectives that he so willingly shared with us.  We’ve lost a true gentleman and scholar.”

Pulmonologist Mark Utell, M.D., trained under Hyde in the late 1970s and described Hyde’s commitment to patients and young physicians as “unparalleled.” 

“During my first year I had to write a grant application while Hyde was away on vacation.  He came back on a Sunday and he called me to see how it was coming along,” Utell recalled. “I told him that it was coming along and I was doing OK.  He immediately asked what I was doing in a half hour and showed up at my house that afternoon to help me work through it. That had a huge impact on me personally and professionally.”

He also remembered that Hyde routinely rounded with residents and fellows in the mornings and always came back in the early evening to check on them again. Hyde’s patients praised his attention to detail and warmth repeatedly through his long career.  “He received great satisfaction from taking care of people and truly enjoyed spending time with his patients,” said Utell, professor of Pulmonary and Critical Care.

Anthony Pietropaoli, M.D., was the last fellow Hyde mentored in the early 1990s. Hyde once asked what sort of research interested him and Pietropaoli was unsure.    

“He took me under his wing and showed me his passion for making new discoveries and developing new methods that he got me hooked,” Pietropaoli said.

Hyde was a “great example of how a physician can be both a great investigator and great clinician. His research was tied to his clinical interest. He was a translational researcher before we called it translational research,” Pietropoali said, associate professor of Pulmonary and Critical Care.  

Hyde’s research followed his own mentors, Robert Forster, M.D., and Julius Comroe, M.D., of the University of Pennsylvania, and lead to development and validation of non-invasive techniques for measuring gas transfer from the alveoli into the pulmonary capillary blood. This work provided the foundation for a common pulmonary function test, known as the carbon monoxide diffusing capacity, to evaluate patients with pulmonary symptoms and disease. His groundbreaking physiologic work included developing methods for non-invasive measurement of cardiac output, probing determinants of pulmonary blood flow, and characterizing relationships between cardiac and pulmonary function. 

Most recently he fathered the theory and method for measuring the production and diffusion of nitric oxide gas in the lungs. This work established important basis for clinical measurements of exhaled nitric oxide gas, which is routinely used across the world. This work earned Hyde further international recognition and affirmed his place alongside his former mentors as pioneers in respiratory medicine.

Hyde joined the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in 1969. He established and served as medical director of the Respiratory Therapy Department, which is now known as the division of Pulmonary and Critical Care. Hyde also served as medical director of the Pulmonary Function Laboratory and oversaw tuberculosis care. 

Hyde attended Yale University and his studies were interrupted by service as a sergeant in the U.S. Army from 1950-52, during the Korean War. He graduated from Yale in 1953 and pursued medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, graduating in 1957.  He began his career at the University of Pennsylvania in 1958 before relocating to Rochester.

He was a voracious reader who loved architecture. Hyde and his wife, Susan, repaired and restored three homes – an early Italianate Victorian home, a federal-style home and an 18th century cottage – during their marriage.  They also enjoyed touring the European countryside on a tandem bicycle, whitewater kayak adventures with their children, and raising numerous Labrador retrievers.

Strong and independent, longtime faculty remember Hyde riding a motorcycle with a sidecar to the hospital on warm days.

Hyde is survived by his wife, four children and six grandchildren. Funeral services will be at 2 p.m. Friday at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Rochester. Memorial donations may be directed to the University of Rochester Pulmonary Research Fund at 601 Elmwood Avenue, P.O. Box 692, Rochester, N.Y. 14642.