Dr. Edgar M. Housepian, Professor Emeritus of Clinical Neurological Surgery at Columbia University and co-founder of the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR), died peacefully at his home on Fri., Nov. 14. He was 86.
Born March 18, 1928 in New York City, Dr. Housepian graduated from the Horace Mann School and then enlisted in the Naval Air Corps intending to become a World War II pilot. However, like his father and grandfather, he chose a career in medicine. He was a loyal Columbia alumnus, attending Columbia College ‘49 as well as Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons ’53. He joined the faculty at the Neurological Institute of New York, where his productive career spanned nearly six decades.
During his academic tenure Dr. Housepian mentored hundreds of students. He was a member of more than 40 professional societies and served on numerous departmental, university, and society committees as member, officer, or leader. Dr. Housepian published more than 100 research papers, articles, chapters, and books on neurological surgery, retiring officially from his neurosurgical practice in 1997.
After his promotion to Professor Emeritus, Dr. Housepian remained in the department and was appointed as the Dean’s special advisor for international affiliations. As such, he established a program to broaden and enhance the educational opportunities for medical students around the globe. He ultimately created affiliations with more than 20 universities across 5 continents. He took great pride in the fact that 60 percent of Columbia’s medical students now take advantage of overseas educational opportunities. To honor him, Columbia’s IFAP Global Health Program this year is sponsoring “The Dr. Edgar M. Housepian Global Health Lecture Series.”
In 1996, Dr. Housepian was awarded the Columbia University Alumni Medal for Distinguished Service and in 2010 the Board of Trustees of Columbia University honored him with the creation of an endowed Professorship of Neurological Surgery in his name.
In 1988, Dr. Housepian’s global interests intensified following Armenia’s devastating earthquake. He deftly organized an immediate response, forming an airlift of doctors and medical supplies—following in the humanitarian footsteps of his father, Dr. Moses Housepian, who similarly responded to the typhoid outbreak in Armenia in 1916.
Recognizing the magnitude of the relief effort needed in Armenia, Dr. Housepian co-founded the Fund for Armenian Relief, which became and continues to be an integral source of medical, social, and financial aid providing improved health-care delivery, infrastructure growth, and economic reform.
Dr. Housepian was named “Armenian of the Year” in 1992 by the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America. In 1994, he received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor and was referred to as a “doctor’s doctor.” In 1997, he was awarded honorary doctorates from both the Academy of Sciences of Armenia and the Yerevan State Medical University. In 2002, he received the Humanitarian Award of the American Association of Neurosurgeons. His life’s work was honored in a gala tribute sponsored by FAR in 2010. In a fitting tribute, a national library of medicine in Yerevan is to be named in his honor by FAR in the coming year.
Most of all, Dr. Housepian will be remembered for his modesty and wry sense of humor, characteristics that always put patients and families at ease. His personal touch went well beyond his bedside manner. He went out of his way to make connections for people, whether for patients to doctors or students to mentors, often with a handwritten note or a personal phone call. His medical projects became his hobby. He also enjoyed reading about ships and airplanes, and naval history. He loved oysters on the half shell.
He is predeceased by his wife of 59 years, Marion Grace (nee Lyon), and is survived by his two sons, David, and wife Leah, and Stephen, his daughter Jean, her husband Bart, and grandson Sean.
A memorial service will be held at the St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral on 34th Street on Feb. 14, 2015 at 11 a.m. Donations in his honor will be gratefully accepted by the Fund for Armenian Relief, 630 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10016.