Tom Parr lived 152 Years

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Medicine: A Challenge to Tom Parr

Source: Time Magazine

In 1944 the American Medical Association gave its distinguished service medal to wiry, twinkle-eyed Dr. George Dock, of Pasadena, Calif. Last week at the Los Angeles County Medical Association Building, 300 physicians closer to home honored the 90-year-old doctor by turning out to attend the tenth annual George Dock lecture.

The old scholar, who has given up the practice of internal medicine to spend his days improving the Los Angeles County Medical Association library, could not get to the lecture this year: he was confined to his home with a mild case of dysentery. But he got a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that the meeting was well attended and that his colleagues were showing a very lively interest in the history of medicine.*

In at the Birth. The lecture series was begun ten years ago to honor Dr. Dock as any good physician would like most to be honored-by encouraging interest in his pet subject, medical history. But Historian Dock had never neglected the other four main areas of his profession-practice, writing, research and teaching.

To the younger physicians and medical students in last week’s audience, Dr. Dock seemed almost a relic of the last century. He was in fact one of the eagerly assisting midwives at the birth of modern medicine.

He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s Medical School in 1884, before the X ray was discovered. He was a student, and later an associate, of the great Sir William Osier, who died 30 years ago. He was one of the first men to recognize leukemia and Hodgkin’s disease as tumors rather than infections. He published the first successful diagnosis on a living patient of the disease now called coronary thrombosis, and made microscopic post-mortem sections of coronary arteries a full 25 years before the process was generally understood.

Out in the Clinic. Since 1888, Dr. Dock has contributed 158 papers to medical journals on an astonishing variety of subjects, the titles of which give a clue to his wry humor and firm thoroughness, e.g., The Advantage of Using Potassium Iodide Until We Have Something Better, Spelling As An Index to the Preparation of the Preparation of the Medical Student. He was one of the first full-time professors of medicine in the U.S. (at Washington University in St. Louis). As a precise, energetic professor at the University of Michigan until 1908, he was the first teacher willing to make the clinic rounds white-jacketed like his students, helped give the school its reputation as one of the country’s finest medical colleges.

Last year, when he was able to attend the ninth George Dock lecture, Dr. Dock, then a mere 89, told his colleagues: “I would like to live as long as Tom Parr.”

Nobody was sure who Tom Parr was, but Los Angeles Urologist Elmer Belt went searching through his medical books in the systematic way that Dr. Dock would appreciate. Finally, buried deep in a volume of The Works of William Harvey (discoverer of the circulatory system), Dr. Belt found a four-page chapter titled: Anatomical Examination Of The Body Of Thomas Parr. It began: “Thomas Parr, a poor countryman, born near Winnington, in the County of Salop [England] died on the 14th of November in the Year of Grace 1635, after having lived 152 years and nine months and survived nine princes.”

* The lecture, delivered by Dr. Charles O’Malley, was titled The Life and Times of Andreas Vesalius, the medieval anatomist (1514-64) who was one of the foremost grave robbers of his day. In 1543, at the age of 28, he shocked the scientific world with his great work, De Humani Carporis Fabrica, which detailed the construction of the human body and scornfully exploded some superstitions of the age.

Monday, Apr. 24, 1950

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