William Nelson Spellacy, MD

William Nelson Spellacy, MD

William Nelson Spellacy, MD (October 8, 2015)

William Nelson Spellacy, an icon of American obstetrics and gynecology who chaired departments in three medical schools, died at aged 81 on October 8, 2015 in Tampa, Florida. His death was caused by complications from a fall experienced two years earlier.

A regular contributor to AGOS meetings, Dr. Spellacy was among a fast-disappearing cadre who attained Fellowship in the organization by virtue of election to its two predecessor societies, the American Gynecological Society and the American Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Election to each involved presentation and rigorous evaluation of an original thesis, steps Bill accomplished in successive years in the early 1970s.

Bill was educated at the University of Minnesota for both undergraduate and medical studies, graduating with honors in both cases. He then completed residency in obstetrics and gynecology at the same institution. As a resident, he did landmark original research on the effect of pregnancy on maternal insulin levels. This report, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, was the first of his more than 500 research publications that covered an astonishingly wide array of subjects, with a common focus on pregnancy and its complications.

Following relatively brief terms on the faculty of his alma mater and then the University of Miami, he began a remarkable academic odyssey that would take him successively to the chair of three medical school departments—the University of Florida, the University of Illinois, and the University of South Florida. He spent about a decade at each stop, and in each location he built an outstanding academic department. In 2002, he stepped down from the chair at South Florida but continued in full time teaching and research, including the role of residency program director, until his final illness.

He participated actively in national and international organizations, often in leadership roles, but took special care to ensure that these activities did not interfere with his obligations at home base. Recognition of his great abilities led naturally to his election to the presidency of many organizations, among them the Society For Gynecologic (now Reproductive) Investigation, the Association of Professors of Gynecology and Obstetrics, and the Society of Perinatal Obstetricians (now Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine). He shaped the specialty as a director of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and he served on the Council of the National Institute of Child Health and Development, along with numerous editorial boards. He brought to all these positions an unwavering objective, a thoughtful approach, and a remarkable ability to think strategically.

Honors and recognitions came to him in abundance. He was elected to the Institute (now National Academy) of Medicine and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecolgists as a Fellow ad eundem. In 2012, he received the Dean’s award of his medical school and gave the commencement address.

He was a charismatic and inspirational teacher and mentor—admired and even revered by students, residents, and fellows. Especially adept in faculty development, he found ways to encourage, guide, and when necessary, subtly correct junior faculty colleagues. By his own example, he taught all that every patient deserves respect and dignity, along with the very best care. All of these qualities were levied with a subtle but keen sense of humor.

Bill was an avid long-distance runner and completed marathons on several occasions. Family relations were especially important to him. He is survived by his wife Lynne Larsen, three children (Kathleen Spellacy, William N. Spellacy, Jr., and Kimberly Schroeder), and six grandchildren.

If it is true, as Mohammed tells us, "A man’s true wealth is the good he does in this world," few of us will ever know anyone as wealthy as William N. Spellacy.

Submitted by Dr. Roy M. Pitkin, MD

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