Vol. 33, No. 2     Fall 2010
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Alexander M. Spence, M.D.

Robert H. Knopp, M.D.Alexander M. Spence, UW professor in the Department of Neurology and the Department of Pathology, died Jan. 20 after a long struggle with cancer.

Spence graduated from the University of Chicago School of Medicine in 1965 and trained in neurology at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston. He was at Stanford University for three years as an NINDS Special Fellow, working with tumor neuropathologist Lucien Rubenstein. He spent time as a staff neuro-oncologist at Beth Israel in Boston and was the chief neurologist at Carswell Air Force Base in Texas.

Spence joined the UW faculty in 1974 and rose to the rank of professor in 1987. He had a particular interest in novel radioisotope imaging of brain tumors. Spence had joint appointments in neurology and pathology, as well as adjunct appointments in medicine and neurosurgery. He was an active investigator and clinician throughout his career and served as a consultant for the VA Hospital and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

Spence had a strong commitment to patient care and to finding better ways to diagnose and treat patients with brain tumors. He was the catalyst for developing the neuro-oncology specialty at the UW. He received various awards during his long career in medicine, including the “Certificate of Recognition” from UW Medical Center in 2008. Spence trained several generations of neurologists and neurological surgeons in the field of neuro-oncology and was a dedicated, highly respected mentor.

Daniel L. Silbergeld, M.D., Res. ’92, UW professor and the Arthur A. Ward Professor of Neurological Surgery, and Richard G. Ellenbogen, UW professor and chair in the Department of Neurological Surgery and the Theodore S. Roberts Endowed Chair in Pediatric Neurosurgery, wrote about Spence, “He was especially beloved by his patients, and the health-care professionals with whom he interacted daily. He so beautifully exemplified the art of melding ‘cutting-edge’ care with common-sense concerns in a group of patients with challenging tumors, many with poor prognoses. It was with those patients we observed his gift of dignity, modesty, professionalism, honesty and compassion. He taught all of us not only how to deliver superb, evidence-based medical care, but how to deliver it in a caring, effective, yet personal manner.”

Paul G. Ramsey, M.D., CEO of UW Medicine and dean of the School of Medicine, said about Spence: “Alex was a remarkable individual — dedicated, compassionate, selfless, wonderfully understated — a model physician and researcher. His death is a sad occasion and a great loss.”

Spence’s unique contributions to neuro-oncology at the UW will be recognized in perpetuity by the creation of the Alexander Spence Endowed Chair in Neuro-oncology, established through the generosity of the family of Ellsworth C. “Buster” Alvord, Jr., M.D. The two physicians were longtime friends and colleagues. Alvord died Jan. 19.

Spence was a devoted husband and father. He leaves behind his wife, Marie, and children Douglas and Evelyn. According to close friends, he loved to ski, make pizza, attend the symphony, and, for 21 years, he made an annual trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. His family and many friends will remember him for his dry sense of humor, his dedication, brilliance and loyalty.

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