Beloved otolaryngologist Dudley Weider dies . . . with his scrubs and his skis on
Everybody loved Dr. Dudley Weider. His family, his friends, his colleagues, and his patients. And he loved all of them.
"Dudley was one of the best friends I've ever had," Willem Lange told the packed church at a memorial service for Weider. "I admit to a brief pang of jealousy every time I realized that hundreds of other people felt the same way. He seemed to be everybody's friend!" Weider, a professor of surgery at DMS, died suddenly of a heart attack on February 18. The 66-year-old endurance athlete collapsed mid-stride as he was skate-skiing into the Dartmouth Grant in northern New Hampshire. He was on his way to meet Lange and some other friends for a weekend of cross-country skiing.
Weider was the consummate adventurer. He loved cross-country skiing, hiking, mountain climbing, canoeing, fishing, and biking. But he was the consummate physician, too. His easygoing nature put patients instantly at ease. "He was unstinting of his time and effort on their behalf," says Dr. J. Oliver Donegan, chief of otolaryngology. "He made sure his patients had his home phone number, and he encouraged them to call if they were concerned and they needed his reassurance."
Few people realized that Weider, who joined the Dartmouth faculty in 1974, was known internationally for his work. "Dudley was very modest about his achievements," adds Donegan. But "he was an innovative surgeon and he pioneered and introduced many new surgical techniques and procedures."
Tonsils: In addition to removing tonsils and adenoids, Weider treated patients with spinal fluid leaks in the ear; surgically removed obstructions in the nose and throat to alleviate sleep apnea; and determined why the removal of tonsils could sometimes stop bedwetting. "He realized that the large tonsils created a sleep apnea, and this did something to the antidiuretic hormone in the pituitary," explains Dr. Nathan Geurkink, a fellow otolaryngologist.
As busy as he was professionally, Weider always found time for the out-of-doors. He skied through Alaska on the 200-mile Iditarod Trail; crossed the Arctic Circle by canoe; skied 240 miles across the Greenland ice cap; competed in the first marathon in Antarctica; and participated in the annual Canadian Cross-Country Ski Marathon.
"He was always an inspiration to me because he had done . . . almost outrageous endurance events," says former Dartmouth ski coach John Morton, who wrote about Weider's adventures climbing Alaska's Denali, the highest peak in North America, for the Winter 1999 issue of Dartmouth Medicine. "He'd hear about something like that and say, 'Boy, that would be kinda neat.' And he'd go off and do it."
On the Greenland trip, even when howling winds and 30-below temperatures forced several members of the expedition to quit, Weider was indomitable. "He was like a bulldog-he would never give up," says Dr. Eric Sailer, a retired DMS ob-gyn who, along with several others, was helicoptered out.
The guides begged Weider to consider leaving, too, because his feet were in bad shape. But Weider just borrowed a larger pair of boots that fit over his swollen feet and continued.
Sometimes he brought work along, like on a canoe trip down the Leaf River in Canada. At the end of each day, he'd sit and draft journal articles, oblivious to his exhausted companions who had collapsed beside him. "I can get my mind around it here because there are no phone calls, no emergencies," Weider told John Hannon, another member of that expedition. Weider, Hannon, and Sailer were all members of the Dartmouth College Class of '60.
As focused as Weider could be, however, he was notoriously forgetful. "His absent- mindedness was legendary," Lange said at the memorial service. "Nobody in the world but Dudley could have accidentally tangled his wedding ring in his fishing line and trolled it behind him in the water for several hours."
Legendary: His concern for his patients- or for anyone who was ill-was legendary, too. "I think he was born to be a healer," recounted Lange. "If you were sick or blistered or bleeding, Dudley was there. And there was always a follow-up call to see if you were better. He wouldn't let go of it until you were."
He may not have been ready to let go of life yet, but his friends and family agree that he lived his days to their fullest. The week he died, he had seen patients; done surgery; attended a grandson's basketball game and a granddaughter's talent show; and was on his way to spend a weekend with good friends doing what he loved.
"He died wearing his uniform-his green scrubs [under] his Johnson woolies, his L.L. Bean flannel shirt, his red suspenders, his headlight . . . his skis and ski boots," said Weider's son, David, at the memorial service. "He wouldn't have wanted it any other way."
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