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Obituary of Dr. Neville Grant: Prominent local physician taught at Washington U. medical school

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 22, 2009 - A memorial service for the late Dr. Neville Grant of Nashville, Tenn., formerly of St. Louis, will be at 1 p.m., Saturday, March 7, in Graham Chapel on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis.

A reception follows the service in the Danforth University Center. Dr. Grant died in Nashville on Jan. 17. The Beacon's obituary from Jan. 19 follows.

The family asks, in lieu of flowers, that contributions be made to John Burroughs School, St. Louis; the Samuel B. Grant Visiting Professorship at Washington University School of Medicine; or the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship program (www.schweitzerfellowship.org ).

To reach Graham Chapel, enter the campus from Forsyth Boulevard via Wallace Drive. Parking is available in the underground garage.

Neville Grant, a revered St. Louis doctor and a member of a prominent family of physicians here, died unexpectedly Tuesday in Nashville, Tenn., at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center due to complications from a recent bypass surgery. He was 80 years old.

Dr. Grant's father, Samuel B. Grant, M.D, was founder of the Grant Medical Clinic in the city's Central West End, which continues its work today. Both Neville Grant, and his brother, the late John M. Grant, practiced there. John Grant died in 1997. Their mother, Natalie Neville Grant, was also a strong presence in the St. Louis community. She died in 1999 at the age of 101.

Neville Grant was born in St. Louis in November 1928 and was reared in Clayton. He attended Community and John Burroughs schools. He graduated from Yale University in 1950, and attended medical school at Columbia University in New York City, from which he received his M.D. in 1954.

During his last four months at Columbia, he worked with Dr. Albert Schweitzer at his hospital in Gabon, in western Africa. His daughter, Johanna Grant Nicholas, who is on the faculty at Washington University School of Medicine, said, "Working with Dr. Schweitzer was one of the most profound experiences of his life."

"He was very moved by Dr. Schweitzer's compassion for the people he served," she said, "and I think it was quite formative in Dad's approach to his patient care. Throughout his adult life he has participated in various conferences and seminars that presented Dr. Schweitzer's work. In fact, at the time of his death, Dad had just submitted some photos for just such a project."

Dr. Grant returned to St. Louis for an internship at Barnes Hospital, now Barnes-Jewish Hospital, in 1954. In 1955, he joined the U.S. Air Force, with the rank of captain. He was stationed first in Chateauroux, France where he met his wife, Diane. They were married at Phalsbourg, near Strasbourg.

In 1957, Dr. Grant returned to Yale for his residency. In 1959-60, he was a fellow in endocrinology at Stanford. He returned home in 1960 and began his work at the Grant Clinic, where he practiced medicine until his retirement in 1999. He taught in the department of medicine at the Washington University School of Medicine for those 39 years, and was recognized as an outstanding teacher during his time on the faculty. He retired from the medical school with the rank of emeritus professor of clinical medicine in 1999. At the time of his retirement, Barnes-Jewish Hospital created the Neville Grant Award for Clinical Excellence.

When Dr. Grant retired, the Grants moved first to Santa Fe, N.M. Finding himself missing the practice of medicine after only a few months, he began seeing patients at Regional Endocrinology Associates in Santa Fe. Through the University of New Mexico, he was involved for several years with a rural health clinic where he worked on educational programs related to diabetes care and treatment with the local Native American population.

He continued to see patients until his second retirement in 2006. In 2007, the Grants moved to Nashville to be closer to their family. Dr. Grant was most recently visiting professor of surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where he was actively engaged in a research study on the connections between metabolic syndrome and cancer.

During his lifetime Dr. Grant published papers on topics of diabetes, medical practice and environmental concerns. He was an early advocate for environmental causes and in the early 1970s gave testimony before Congress on the harmful effects of mercury pollution.

On Wednesday, Dr. Michael Bavlsik, who works at the Grant Clinic, said, "What impressed me most was how he could not separate his role as a scholar from that of clinician. There is a saying we try to impress on students, that patients don't care what you know until they know how much you care.

"He cared," Bavlsik continued, "and that was evident."

"He was a physician, a scholar, a gentleman and a humanitarian," Dr. Bavlsik said. "He was also a doctor's doctor," evidenced by the fact that so many physicians sought him out to be their doctor.

Dr. William H. Danforth, chancellor emeritus of Washington University in St. Louis, recalled Dr. Grant's roles as professor and physician, and praised his abilities as both. He noted also Dr. Grant's idealism and the deep impression made upon him by Albert Schweitzer. To summarize, Danforth said, "He did right by his patients," a commendation to which all doctors aspire.

Sally Bixby Defty, a life-long friend of the Grants, wrote that many years ago her mother, then living in Florida, had an unpleasant condition with her legs. "Florida doctors gave her diuretics (with unpleasant consequences), simply treated the symptoms. My sister and I brought Mother to St. Louis. Neville Grant, who never simply treated symptoms but always sought the cause, found that Mother was not digesting an amino acid that keeps fluids in their vascular channels. He put her on a food supplement, he treated the cause, and the problem was over.

"Nev also organized a group of internists who gave up their Saturday mornings to play a sort of 'Name that Condition.' Nev asked Mom if she would come be a living exhibit," recalled Mrs. Defty. "She was thrilled to take on that role, answering questions as the physicians tried to make a diagnosis. As a result a bunch of St. Louis internists got a memorable lesson on a condition and how to solve the problem."

His brother, Samuel B. Grant, said Dr. Grant was "the miracle man, the person who always took care of the rest of us. That is the way I felt, we relied on him so much. He sometimes said to me that he couldn't always recognize good, but he did know what was bad.

"I know what good is, looking at him," Sam Grant said.

Besides his brother, Dr. Grant is survived by his wife, Diane, of Nashville; three daughters, Johanna Nicholas, of St. Louis; Bevin Baetjer of Portsmouth, R.I.; and Natasha Deane, of Nashville, and six grandchildren: Elizabeth and Grant Nicholas, of St. Louis; Nelson and Charles Baetjer, Portsmouth; and Nicole and Alexandra Deane, of Nashville.

There will be a gathering of the immediate family in Nashville this weekend. A memorial service will be conducted in St. Louis at a later date, and a memorial fund will be announced when arrangements have been made.

Contact Beacon associate editor Robert Duffy.

Robert W. Duffy reported on arts and culture for St. Louis Public Radio. He had a 32-year career at the Post-Dispatch, then helped to found the St. Louis Beacon, which merged in January with St. Louis Public Radio. He has written about the visual arts, music, architecture and urban design throughout his career.

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