In Memoriam: Joseph M. Foley, MD, FAAN

July 17, 2012


Former AAN President Joseph M. Foley, MD, FAAN, passed away on July 13, 2012, at the age of 96 in Cleveland Heights, OH. Foley joined the AAN in 1949, and served as secretary, vice president, and president elect prior to his term as Academy president from 1963 to 1965.

Former AAN President Joseph Foley, MD, FAAN.

Foley was born in Boston in 1916 of immigrant Irish parents. His mother stressed the need for education and he graduated magna cum laude from the College of the Holy Cross. He attended Harvard Medical School, where his interest shifted from psychiatry to neurology. After graduating from Harvard in 1941 and spending a year and a half at Bellevue Hospital in New York, he was called up to service in the Medical Corps of the US Navy’s Second Beach Battalion. In 1943, he saw action in the invasion of Sicily and the following summer he landed in Normandy with the first wave of soldiers on D–Day, receiving the Bronze Star for heroism. Foley, known for his sense of humor, liked to quote the medal’s citation that while under fire “he exposed himself repeatedly.” Yet he also recalled later that he could not look upon a dead soldier without thinking of the man’s mother, wife, or child.

Near the end of the war, Foley was assigned to the Naval Hospital in Philadelphia, where he worked with future AAN presidents Pearce Bailey and Francis M. Forster.  Upon his discharge from the Navy, Foley returned to Harvard Medical School, holding research and teaching positions over the next 13 years. During that time he also served for three years as assistant professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine.

During his years in Boston and New York, Foley was associated with some of the best and the brightest of neurology, including Houston Merritt, Derek Denny–Brown, Raymond Adams, and Paul Yakovlev.

In 1961, after two years at Seton Hall College of Medicine and Dentistry, Foley was named chair of the neurology program at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. He led the department until 1986 when he became professor emeritus. Foley was president of the American Neurological Association from 1974 to 1975. He held numerous titles at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institute on Aging, and the US Public Health Service.

Known for his warm and compassionate nature with patients as well as his good humor, Foley continued to be involved in neurology in retirement, and took special interest in gerontology as he aged. He also survived five bouts of cancer, a stroke, a heart valve replacement, and was battling macular degeneration.

“Dr. Foley was the kindest, most compassionate, and most considerate person I’ve ever encountered,” said Robert B. Daroff, MD, FAAN, Foley’s successor at Case Western Reserve. “In addition, he was probably the wittiest. He was an inspirational educator who was beloved by all who knew him.”

“Joe Foley was passionate about many things but it was always the patients who mattered most,” said Joseph B. Martin, MD, PhD, who did his residency under Foley at Case Western Reserve. “I recall him chiding us as residents about being kind to the nurses, who he insisted had a lot to teach us about patient care. I recall him saying, ‘I can get along without you but not without them.’ He was a superb mentor and held us all to the highest standards of professionalism.”

Foley was interviewed in December 2011 by Douglas J. Lanska, MD, FAAN, and historian Barbara Sommers as part of an ongoing project by the AAN’s Oral History Work Group. Read the interview.