In Memoriam: Dr. Lewis Barness, a pioneer in pediatrics

A physician, a mentor and a friend to all who met him will truly be missed.

Lewis A. Barness, MD, a father of modern pediatrics, the founder of the USF Department of Pediatrics, a teacher to generations of physicians, and a groundbreaking researcher of infant nutrition, died Nov. 18, 2013. He was 92.

“USF Health would not be the place that it is today without the guiding influence of Dr. Lewis Barness,” said Donna Petersen, ScD, MHS, CPH, interim senior vice president of USF Health. “His founding leadership of the Department of Pediatrics and his contributions to the field of infant nutrition have helped so many children and helped build our institution. But we value Dr. Barness most as a friend. His complete commitment to his patients and mentorship of generations of students have helped make USF Health a better and more compassionate place. As we celebrate his legacy, our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

“Dr. Barness leaves an incredible legacy for us,” said Harry van Loveren, MD, interim dean of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine. “He has been a stellar leader and a wonderful role model for generations of medical students and resident physicians. We have all admired his affection for his patients, his dedication to scholarship and his commitment to teaching. You know, I sometimes say that we make new doctors one at a time. Dr. Barness was the exception: he leaves behind an entire legion of physicians who have been inspired and guided by him. We are all the better for having known and learned from him.”

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Lewis Barness came to be a physician in Boston, where he completed medical school at Harvard and his residency and research fellowship at Children’s Hospital. He then joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Barness joined USF in 1972 as the first chairman for the USF Department of Pediatrics. As the inaugural chair, he helped recruit faculty to the fledgling medical school, built a curriculum, and attracted many of the best and brightest medical graduates to careers in pediatrics.

“Dr. Barness was a giant in Pediatrics and we are so proud that he was the founding Chair at USF,” said Patricia Emmanuel, MD, professor and chair of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, and holder of the Lewis A. Barness Endowed Chair.

“He built a superb pediatric program and inspired so many students, residents and faculty to promote children’s health. His spirit of inquiry, his joy of life, and love of children live on in our department – he defined our past and shapes our future.”

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His obvious love for teaching had a significant impact on countless students with both serious and a fun side, said Loren Bartels, MD, an otologist, neurotologist, and skull-based surgeon practicing in Tampa and a member of the USF College of Medicine charter class.

“Dr. Barness was amazing in his breadth and depth of knowledge,” Dr. Bartels said. “As a charter class member, I was privileged to rotate on pediatrics at Tampa General Hospital where Dr. Barness held court…with an enforcer of a syringe filled with water for any who reasoned illogically. We all loved this gentle professor who was incredibly bright, an awesome teacher, and everyone’s favorite. He was certainly my favorite professor and, as I had the privilege later of knowing him as a co-faculty member and one of his personal physicians, I loved this man all the more. Even near the end, his eyes sparkled on meeting with him. He had an optimistic liveliness and was always so endearing. To me he was not just the internationally famous academic, not just a well honored author, not just a fabulous teacher, not just a brilliant man, he was a lovely person. He will be sorely missed.”

As a researcher, Dr. Barness made a huge impact on the field of infant nutrition and metabolism and used science to advocate the benefits of breast milk for infants. Recognized as a pioneer, his work truly advanced the field, said Jane Carver, PhD, MS, MPH, professor in the USF Department of Pediatrics and co-author with Dr. Barness on much of his research while at USF.

“Dr. Barness’ contribution to the field of pediatric nutrition and metabolic disorders is immeasurable,” Dr. Carver said. “He was a brilliant scientist who advanced the field to a higher level through his innovative and ground-breaking laboratory and clinical investigations. Dr. Barness was also a most compassionate and caring individual whose mentorship inspired generations of investigators to pursue this exciting area of research.”

He is the author of more than 260 manuscripts, 95 book chapters and 50 books.

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Dr. Barness’ remarkable career spans more than 55 years and is filled with professional accolades and awards, including the prestigious John Howland Medal from the American Pediatric Society, recognized as the highest praise attainable in pediatrics. He has also earned a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Academy of Pediatrics in recognition of his outstanding teaching, the Abraham Jacobi Award from the American Academic of Pediatrics and the Joseph St. Geme Leadership awarded from all of the pediatric societies. He has been inducted into the Pediatrics Hall of Fame, an organization established in Philadelphia, PA, to honor physicians who have made remarkable contributions to the practice of pediatrics.

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Richard F. Lockey, MD, Distinguished University Health Professor, professor of medicine, pediatrics and public health and director of the USF Division of Allergy and Immunology, spent time with Dr. Barness and his wife Dr. Enid Barness a few months ago, sharing memories as charter faculty.

“During our visit, we had the opportunity to marvel over the changes that have taken place in the healthcare arena in Tampa Bay,” Dr. Lockey said. “We recollected about Sam Bukantz, Roy Behnke, Donn Smith, Andor Szentivanyi, and many of the other original USF medical faculty members, and how close knit we all were during the first decade of the College of Medicine’s existence. We all faced many of the same struggles and that made us into a unified and collegial group. Dr. Barness was the ‘compleat’ physician, à la Issac Walton’s classic The Compleat Angler. Dr. Barness’ legacy is his friends and trainees. I will truly miss him, as will all of the individuals whose lives he touched.”

For his tireless work at USF, Dr. Barness is easily regarded as one of the founding fathers of the USF College of Medicine, in the company of Roy H. Behnke, MD, and Donn L. Smith, MD. Dr. Barness was awarded a Distinguished University Professorship at USF in 1999.

In 2002, physicians and researchers from throughout the country attended a weekend-long event in his honor, including a scientific session and a banquet dinner.

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Drs. Enid and Lewis Barness.

When he retired in 2007, fans, friends and colleagues packed the USF Gibbons Alumni Center to see him, to thank him and help celebrate the man and his career, sharing the accolades and anecdotes of someone who had truly made an impact.

Over the years, he was bestowed with several honorary degrees: a Master’s of Art degree from the University of Pennsylvania (1971), a Doctor of Science degree from the University of Wisconsin (2002), and a Doctor of Public Health from USF (2008).

Dr. Barness is survived by his wife, Enid Gilbert Barness, MD. Surviving children include Carol Barness, Laura Barness and Joseph Barness. Surviving stepchildren include Jennifer Voss, Mary Lawrence, Elizabeth Gilbert-Bono, and Rebecca Hills.

Services will be held at noon, Wednesday, Nov. 20, at Congregation Schaarai Zedek, 3303 W. Swann Ave., Tampa, FL, 33609.

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 Video by Allyn DiVito, USF Health Information Systems, and Elizabeth Peacock and Eric Younghans, USF Health Communications