Dr. Joseph P. Whalen, M.D., 80, academician, educator, and clinician, died on September 3, 2013 after a brief illness. Having grown up in Troy, NY, he received his A.B. degree from Fordham University in 1955 and his M.D. degree from SUNY Syracuse in 1959. After completing an internship and residency in radiology at the same institution, he began his professional career at Albany Medical College before returning to Syracuse and subsequently became associate attending radiologist at the New York Presbyterian Hospital (New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center) in 1968. He was appointed chairman of the department of radiology and radiologist-in-chief in 1976, a position he held for 16 years until he left the institution in 1992. During his time at New York Hospital, Dr. Whalen served as medical director from 1989 until 1992.
Dr. Whalen had a deep understanding of the role of advanced imaging technology in medicine, in particular the role of cross-sectional imaging. He developed innovative techniques for studying the human cross-sectional anatomy, which helped usher in the new era of medical imaging. In line with his innovative research and thinking, he was responsible for bringing the first computed tomography (CT) scan to New York City, as well as the first MRI and in establishing the usefulness of these modalities in clinical medicine. He had many areas of research interest extending even beyond traditional radiology. With leading researchers at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, he studied calcium metabolism and its role in osteoporosis and periodontal disease and, together with them, conducted experiments on bats, pigs, and rats to better understand the mechanisms for their development. For this and other innovative research, he delivered the prestigious “New Horizons” lecture at the Radiological Society of North America in 1972 and gave the Gold Medal Oration in 1974 at the American Roentgen Ray Society. He received the Gold Medal of Honor from both the Radiological Society of North America and also from the American Roentgen Ray Society. During his time as chairman of radiology at Weill-Cornell, he was highly supportive of clinical research activities and, with his background in thoracic imaging, immediately realized the potential of low-dose CT screening for lung cancer. He was responsible for developing the initial funding that started this research in 1991, which has now reached a major new milestone with the recent affirmative recommendation by the US Preventive Services Task Force just before his death.
Throughout his tenure as chairman of radiology at Weill-Cornell, he held to the idea that it was of utmost importance that he not lose contact with the clinicians and that he remain available for clinical consultation as he felt that having clinical credibility was one of the keys to being a successful administrator. All those who worked with him learned this important lesson, and he remained a vital clinical resource throughout his tenure not only for the clinicians but also for his staff.
In 1992, Dr. Whalen accepted the position of dean of the college of medicine and vice president of biomedical and medical education at the State University of New York Health Science Center in Syracuse, NY, where he remained until 1995.
Dr. Whalen was the editor-in-chief of Clinical Imaging for 25 years, a position he enjoyed and held until the time of his passing. He authored or co-authored over 200 peer-reviewed scientific articles, as well as four medical textbooks. He was also an active member in numerous professional societies, including the Radiological Society of North America, the American College of Radiology, the New York Roentgen Ray Society, and the Harvey Society. He was a founding member of the International Skeletal Society and the Society of Gastrointestinal Radiologists, and an honorary member of radiologic societies throughout the United States and Canada. He was also a board examiner for the American College of Radiology.
Dr. Whalen was immensely proud of his Irish heritage and was, in fact, in the process of developing a scholarship program for underprivileged Irish students at the time of his death. During his retirement, he served as President of the John, Marie, and Joseph Whalen Foundation and the Mons Concepit Foundation.
Dr. Whalen had the natural gift of being able to hold a group's attention when telling a story often making his points through humor. For those who listened to his stories, one of the striking aspects was that even if you had heard it before, each time he told it, it seemed to get better and more meaningful. He was intensely loyal and would always stand by his friends in times of trouble. He was the type of person a friend could always count on without question.
Dr. Whalen is survived by his wife Elizabeth Varga Whalen, as well as three children, Philip J. Whalen (Frances) of Briarcliff Manor, NY; Joseph P. Whalen, Jr. (Mary) of Oceanport; NJ, and Mary P. Whalen of New York City; a stepson, Charles G. Bouchard, Jr. (Teresa); six grandchildren, Casey (Cy), Ryan (Amy), Timmy, Devin; and three step-grandchildren, Charlie, Julianne, and Caroline.
We will miss him and the many discussions we had with him about research and life in general and greatly appreciate having had the chance to have worked with him and to have him as a friend.
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