In Memoriam: Former AAN President Gilbert H. Glaser, MD, FAAN

January 26, 2012


Former AAN President Gilbert H. Glaser, MD, FAAN, at the 1974 Annual Meeting.

Gilbert H. Glaser, MD, FAAN, who served as president of the AAN from 1973 to 1975, died on January 21, 2012. Glaser, who was 91, had been quite disabled by spinal stenosis and diabetic neuropathy in recent years, according to AAN President Elect Timothy A. Pedley, MD, FAAN.

Glaser was one of the post-World War II neurologists who solidified the profession's status as a distinct specialty apart from internal medicine. He was internationally known as a leading epilepsy researcher and authority on EEG, but he was also recognized as an excellent general neurologist of wide experience. He was the founding chair of the neurology department at Yale University, a position he held from 1971 until his semiretirement in 1987. He retired fully in 1991.

Glaser believed strongly in disease-oriented laboratory research and emphasized the importance of this in training students, residents, and fellows. He established the comprehensive epilepsy center at Yale and was the principal investigator of an NIH-funded program grant supporting epilepsy research. In his work in epilepsy, Glaser expanded treatment through both surgical and non-surgical techniques. He developed a keen understanding of how anticonvulsant drugs work and which drugs offered the best treatment for various types of seizures. Through both his research and academic endeavors, Glaser built the epilepsy program at Yale into one of the leading programs in the world.

Robert B. Daroff, MD, FAAN, was one of the "Glaserian ganglion," as Glaser's former residents referred to themselves. "Gil had an encyclopedic knowledge of neurology, as well as an eidetic memory; he never forgot anything he read," Daroff said. "One day I showed him an article about a subject we had discussed. He just seemed to glance at it and said, 'Interesting.' I was disappointed that he seemed so dismissive. About six months later, at a conference, he referred to the article ('that Bob Daroff brought to my attention') and discussed it at length. I had forgotten most of the details, but not Gil. During my years at Yale (1962-65), there was only one other full-time attending neurologist at New Haven Hospital. Thus, we made rounds with Gil every day, unless he was out of town. We learned to think like him. For years after finishing, when I was confronted with a difficult problem, my mind always jumped to, 'What would Dr. Glaser do?', and it turned out to be the correct decision."

Glaser was fortunate to be trained by two of the legends of neurology. After graduating from Columbia College with a zoology major, Glaser had been prepared to leave Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons out of boredom with the curriculum but for the arrival of neurology pioneer Tracy Putnam. After graduating from Columbia in 1943, Glaser's neurology residency at the Neurological Institute of New York was with H. Houston Merritt. Glaser was then drafted and served as director of the EEG laboratory at Brooke Army Medical Center from 1946 through 1948. Following his discharge he became an assistant attending and chief of the neurology clinic at the Neurology Institute in New York. He moved to Yale in 1952 as assistant professor and head of the section of neurology. In 1963 he became professor of neurology at Yale.

Glaser was president of the American Epilepsy Society in 1963, and was presented with the organization's W.G. Lennox Award that year. He was editor of the journal Epilepsia from 1958 through 1976, and served on the editorial boards of many journals including the Journal of Neurological Sciences, Archives of Neurology, and the Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases.

In honor of Glaser's work, Yale established an annual Gilbert H. Glaser Lectureship in 2006, and created the Gilbert H. Glaser Professorship. The current chair of neurology at Yale, David A. Hafler, MD, is the first incumbent of the Glaser Professorship.

Glaser is survived by his wife, Morffyd, and children, Gareth and Sara.