Remembering Robert E. Wise, MD, prominent radiologist and Lahey Clinic executive who managed historic move from Boston to Burlington

Scott Hartman, Lahey Clinic
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Remembering Robert E. Wise, MD, prominent radiologist and Lahey Clinic executive who managed historic move from Boston to Burlington

Dr. Wise passed away peacefully on Sunday morning, August 12.

A native of Pittsburgh, PA, Dr. Wise first joined Lahey Clinic in 1953 as a staff member in the Department of Radiology. He was appointed Chairman of the Board of Governors in 1973, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, and assumed the duties of Chief Executive Officer in 1975, a position he held until his retirement in 1991. As CEO, Dr. Wise, already one of the country’s most respected radiologists, led the Clinic’s move in 1980 from scattered Boston locations to its present 40-acre site in Burlington. Dr. Wise continued to serve as a member of the Board of Trustees until 2011 but remained as Trustee Emeritus and Chairman of the Robert E. Wise, M.D. Research and Education Institute, which provides funding and other resources for Lahey Clinic research initiatives.

Widely respected as a pioneer in the field of diagnostic imaging, Dr. Wise served as Chairman of the Lahey Clinic’s Department of Radiology, authored several research papers and two medical textbooks. He was also an early adopter of many technologies that emerged during his career, including ultrasound, MRI and CT scanning. For his distinguished and exemplary service to the field, Wise was awarded the prestigious American College of Radiology’s Gold Medal in 1979, the organization’s highest honor for service in teaching, basic research, clinical investigation and statesmanship.

Dr. Wise earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Pittsburgh and his Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Maryland. Following graduation from medical school in 1943, with World War II in full force, he served as a lieutenant in the Navy Medical Corps until 1947. During this time he completed his internship and radiology residency at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Philadelphia and a tour of duty with Operation Crossroads, the 1946 atomic bomb testing program on the remote Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. Upon discharge from the Navy in 1947, he completed a Fellowship in Radiology at the Cleveland Clinic, followed by service as a staff member in the departments of radiology at the Cleveland Clinic and the Falk Clinic of the University of Pittsburgh.

Frank Lahey, founder of Lahey Clinic, recruited Dr. Wise in 1953 to serve as a staff radiologist. During his nearly sixty years at Lahey Clinic, Dr. Wise assumed numerous management and medical roles including Chairman, Board of Governors, Chairman, Board of Trustees, and Chief Executive Officer. He also chaired the departments of radiology at New England Baptist Hospital in Boston and Brooks Hospital and was a staff member of the Department of Radiology at the former New England Deaconess Hospital. Dr. Wise was a member of numerous professional and civic organizations, serving as president of the Radiology Society of North America and the American College of Radiology, Massachusetts Radiological Society, Eastern Radiological Society and the New England Roentgen Ray Society. His contributions to the field of radiology include numerous clinical and research papers that were highly regarded for exploring new technologies in the rapidly changing field of diagnostic imaging and was the author of two radiology textbooks including “Intravenous Cholangeography,” which was ultimately translated into several foreign languages. A respected educator, Dr. Wise served as a clinical professor of radiology at Boston University School of Medicine and held visiting professorships at medical schools in Houston, Pittsburg and Toronto. In 1979 he received the University of Maryland Medical Alumni Association Honor Award and Gold Key.

Dr. Wise also held numerous civic postions, including serving as a trustee of the Eleanor Naylor Dana Charitable Trust, a trustee of Middlesex Community College, and a director of the North Suburban Chamber of Commerce.

It was during his tenure at Lahey Clinic as Chief Executive Officer that Dr. Wise would accept the most daunting task of his career: the planning, supervision and construction of a new hospital that would centralize and relocate the growing health care facility that began under the leadership of Frank Lahey in 1923. In the early 1970s, after years of discussions, planning and site negotiations, Lahey Clinic’s Board of Trustees made the bold decision to move the clinic from its cluttered Kenmore Square location and establish a single 200-bed hospital and outpatient clinic in Burlington, Massachusetts.

“That task represented the most fascinating and educational years of my entire career,” he wrote to his medical colleagues at the time.

Lahey Clinic’s move to Burlington was challenged with numerous legal suits by community and physician groups and state regulatory agencies. Committed to his vision for a new hospital in a new location, Dr. Wise orchestrated the filing of an appeal that brought the matter before the legal system. The move suddenly evolved into a highly publicized court case challenging the Clinic’s right to move from Boston to Burlington.

"Patients come to Lahey Clinic seeking Lahey Clinic-type care,” he told the Massachusetts Public Health Council at a regulatory hearing. “They will not tolerate being shunted to facilities which in their opinion do not meet the same standards of quality." Dr. Wise remained steadfast in his commitment to bringing about the changes necessary for the Clinic to grow and increase the quality of patient care. To his credit, the Clinic stands today as a major hospital, ambulatory-care, training and research facility housing a physician-led group practice with more than 450 physicians and 4,000 nurses, therapists and other support staff members.

Dr. Wise will be remembered for his many personal and professional accomplishments during his tenure at Lahey Clinic. His ultimate success, however, will be measured by his vision, dedication and leadership in fulfilling Dr. Lahey’s dream of opening a new kind of medical clinic; one where patients could get all the treatment they needed under one roof.

Dr. Wise is formerly of Wellesley Hills, Boston, and Westwood, Massachusetts and Palm Beach, Florida. He leaves his beloved wife of 69 years Yvonne (Bonnie) and his brother James of Largo, Florida as well as devoted children Lynne Wise Smith of New Castle, NH, Robert E. Wise, Jr. of Lincoln, MA and John B. Wise of Lincoln, MA. Dr. Wise is also survived by seven grandchildren.

A funeral mass will be held at St. Paul’s church in Wellesley, MA at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, August 18, 2012 with a reception following. The family requests that donations in Dr. Wise’s memory be directed to the Robert E. Wise, M.D. Research and Education Institute, c/o Lahey Clinic, 41 Mall Road, Burlington, MA 01805