Walter W. Tunnessen, Jr, MD (1939-2001)
On November 11, 2001, The ARCHIVES, and pediatrics as a whole, lost a kind and gentle ally when Walter Tunnessen left us after a brief but valiant struggle with melanoma, a disease, given Walter’s interest in dermatology, that he often warned his friends and coworkers about, admonishing them to stay out of the sun. In the end, this cancer caused us to lose one of the truly fine educators of our time.
Walt was a native of Pennsylvania and spent a good deal of his professional career in the northeast. Penn [University of Pennsylvania], The Johns Hopkins University, and SUNY-Syracuse [the State University of New York, Syracuse] were all blessed with his presence before his move to North Carolina. It was during his early faculty days at Penn that some of us were first introduced to Walt’s many talents. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, and, following his residency and a stint in the military, he was recruited by Dr Lewis Barness to run the nurseries at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Dr Barness knew talent when he saw it, and lack of any formal training in neonatal-perinatal medicine was considered a minor impediment for Walt. Good people adapt quickly to the circumstances that surround them, and Walt certainly did, leaving behind a well-organized nursery when he headed off to Syracuse, where, as a member of the ambulatory division in the Department of Pediatrics at SUNY, he developed his interest in pediatric dermatology. He was highly skilled as a clinician, ran a diagnostic referral program, and was the pediatric rheumatologist for a broad geographic area. Most of all, however, Walt was a teacher. At Syracuse, and subsequently at Johns Hopkins, Penn, and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Walt garnered every major teaching award. He was especially proud of those that came from the housestaff. As a residency program director, he influenced the lives of hundreds of trainees throughout the years, earning their lasting gratitude. One of Walt’s residents summed up this aspect of Walt’s career best in remarks prepared for his memorial service:
He was a man of keen intellect, tremendous generosity of time and spirit, possessed of a deep caring about both individuals and issues, and yet was more humble than the day is long . . . so uncharacteristic in the field of egos that dominate medicine.
Walt’s professional career ended during an all too brief period as Senior Vice President of the American Board of Pediatrics, a position that drew upon his experience as an educator and mentor. Mentor he did. Whether you were an applicant for the examination in need of serious counseling, a residency program director in trouble with the Residency Review Committee, or the CEO of a healthcare system requiring advice on physician competency issues, you received Walt’s absolute attention and interest.
These are merely the facts of Walt Tunnessen’s career. Facts, however, don’t convey the most important and lasting aspects of an individual’s life—the ultimate impact that one life has on another. Walt’s legacy lives in everyone he has touched. No one could be around him for very long and not have learned from his example. In short, knowing Walt made everyone want to be a better person.
The words of Robert Louis Stevenson seem to apply to Walt Tunnessen:
There are men and classes of men that stand above the common herd: the soldier, the sailor and the shepherd not unfrequently; the artist rarely; rarely still, the clergyman; the physician almost as a rule.1
Walt was such a man. We will miss him and his many contributions.
Walter Tunnessen. Jr. MD Award
Recognizing Dr. Tunnessen’s dedication and gifts as an educator, clinician, and advocate for children, and strong proponent for Med-Peds residency training, the MPPDA has established this award in his honor.
Program directors may nominate one of their fourth year residents for this award by submitting a letter (up to two pages) describing the qualities and accomplishments of the resident in the following areas:
- Education: the resident should be recognized by faculty, peers, and students as an excellent teacher and role model.
- Clinical Care: the resident should demonstrate compassion, altruism, and outstanding communication skills with patients and families.
- Advocacy: the resident should show awareness of the impact that the larger community has on the health of children and adults, and should show evidence of advocacy on behalf of patients or the larger community.
Click here for the nomination form: Walter Tunnessen Jr., MD Award
Previous Award Recipients:
2015 Nicole Cooper, MD
2014 Anna Marie White Lewarchik, MD
2013 Ann Marie Navar-Boggan, MD, PhD
2012 J. Drew Goldsmith, MD
2011 Natasha Archer, MD
2010 Emily Ward, MD
2009 Ariel Frey, MD
2008 Ryan Buchholz, MD
2007 Anjali Niyogi, MD
2006 Peter J. Ackerman, MD
2005 Heather Toth,MD
2004 David Cywinski, MD
2003 Anthony Horinek, MD
2002 Michael Steiner, MD