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Enthusiastic about Elmer

People who know Pfefferkorn need little prompting to enthuse about him. Here are some comments drawn from the interviews that were conducted for the adjacent story, as well as from previously published accounts.

As many of our instructors use PowerPoint and fall into reading off the slide, Dr. Pfeff comes armed with a packet of notes and an old-fashioned slide projector and overhead—which he rarely uses. You learn to sit back and listen. Dr. Pfeff doesn't teach in bullet points and outlines but in stories. You learn about each disease on the basis of outbreaks and discoveries, and somehow you end up with molecular mechanisms and disease characteristics from engaging and interesting histories. His classes prove that technology cannot substitute for excellent teaching.

—Christina Megli, DMS '09

The students adore him. He really enjoys teaching, and there is a mutual sense of respect. He feels that he owes the students his very best effort. Did you know that after all these years, he practices his lectures? He asks when the auditorium is free and goes in to run through his lecture. And he always asks for pictures and bios of the first-year class so he can familiarize himself with the students before he begins teaching them.

—Linda Martin, DMS Office of Student Affairs

My first memory of Elmer was his greeting us as scared first-years sitting around a table at Kellogg Cafeteria. He not only knew all our names, but he knew all about us. He set the tone for the DMS experience—and it's something I've tried to live by, a small and caring community of support.

—Joseph O'Donnell, DMS '71, now a professor of medicine at DMS

Elmer Pfefferkorn is perhaps one of the most beloved of all DMS teachers. Over 40-plus years, he has taught thousands. Everyone remembers his reference to "fecal veneer" and the gross worms and stuff he so eloquently taught us about. Three cheers for Elmer, and long live little creatures.

—Benjamin Gardner, DMS '96, now medical director of Choate Rosemary Hall School

Elmer Pfefferkorn is one of the faculty members at DMS who most influenced my future as a researcher and physician in infectious diseases. His passion for teaching and genuine excitement for medicine inspired me. To this day, I am grateful to Elmer for his time, wisdom, and his inspiration.

—Donna Ambrosino, DMS '77, now executive director of Massachusetts Biologic Laboratories

When other people were starting to buy premade reagents fromcommercial suppliers, we were making up our own—usually a year's supply at a time. Elmer was very frugal. And he wanted to know that the media he was going to use would be the same and not vary from batch to batch.

—Joseph Schwartzman, DMS '72, now a professor of pathology at DMS

In Dr. Pfefferkorn, one sees a glimpse of Socrates, wandering the streets of Athens, consumed by his calling—nearly to the point of distraction.

—Christopher Reveley, DMS '89, now an anesthesiologist in Utah

Elmer Pfefferkorn was recognized by Dartmouth medical students year in and

year out for his excellent teaching, while at the same time he was doing superb research on bugs and parasites that afflict cats and humans. Elmer, while walking, looked as if he might topple forward. Indeed in this activity he did not give away the reality that he was a superb squash player. Many were the days that I tried desperately to at least get 10 points in a game against him. Elmer was a true academic. His loves were his work, his books (all about him in the office), and his family.

—Edward Harris, DMS '60, emeritus chair of medicine at Stanford

He has a sparkle in his eye every time he talks about bacteria.

—Diego Lerner, DMS '90, now a psychiatrist in California

Although I can't say that microbiology was my favorite topic in medical school, Dr. Pfefferkorn's lectures were standouts for their eloquence and clarity.

—Suzanne Bird, DMS '85, now director of the psychiatric emergency service at Cambridge (Mass.) Hospital

Dr. Pfefferkorn is the only lecturer I have ever had who always began and ended class precisely on time. He still attends our weekly infectious disease clinical conference (always on time), as well as many other lectures on campus, and continues to serve as an inspiration to his many former students who are now faculty members, here and around the country.

—Kathryn Kirkland, DMS '86, now an associate professor of infectious diseases at DMS

My best memory of Dr. Pfefferkorn is when I was studying in the serials room in the Dartmouth College library. He'd come in every day, around the same time, to read the newspaper. He was always up on current events in the medical world, but it was unexpected to see him sitting peacefully in the undergrad library, reading the New York Times.

—Amanda Thornton, DMS '10

Despite my having been an English major in college, Dr. P. identified significant gaps in my exposure to some of the "great books" and took it upon himself—quietly and unobtrusively—to continue my education in the humanities even as he was helping me to become a physician and scientist. I would often arrive at my lab bench in micro to find an undiscovered literary classic waiting forme to read—most notably Charles Dickens's Bleak House, which quickly became, and remains, one of my all-time favorite reads. He remains unforgettable amongst the legions of teachers I have had in my life.

—Suzanne Bird, DMS '85, now director of the psychiatric emergency service at Cambridge (Mass.) Hospital

One hilarious encounter occurred when Dr. Pfefferkorn had explained that chlamydial conjunctivitis is usually transmitted genital to hand, then hand to eye. Someone asked: "Can it be transmitted directly from genital to eye?" Dr. Pfefferkorn stopped, reached up, and took off his spectacles and replied, "Not if you wear your glasses!"

—Justin StormoGipson, DMS '82, now an ophthalmologist in Idaho

I fondly remember his good spirits and

entertaining ways of delivering a lecture.

—Elaine Choy Lee, DMS '79, now a pediatrician in New York City

Elmer Pfefferkorn is the reason that I fear taking public transit to this day. I will always remember his references to the "fecal veneer" of society whenever I sit in a taxicab or hold the handrail on the Boston T. Other than that, I have nothing but fond memories of his lectures on intestinal parasites and body lice."

—D. Eric Brush, DMS '99, now an emergency physician in Massachusetts

He would say, "It's good to have a lifetime supply." For instance, about the time I came to Elmer's lab, people began switching from glass jars to plastic to grow cell cultures. So Elmer bought cases and cases of the 32-ounce glass medicine jars that he used for his cell cultures because he was afraid they weren't going to be available soon—so he made sure he had a lifetime supply.

—Joseph Schwartzman, DMS '72, now a professor of pathology at DMS

Dr. Pfefferkorn's contagious enthusiasm for exotic parasites has played a role inmy career decision-making, including, I'm sure, my choice to practice medicine with the Peace Corps in East and Central Africa. I remember well when I was a first-year student, I brought him back a huge ascaris [worm] in formalin, retrieved from a vomiting child on the ward where I had just completed an elective in South Africa. He couldn't have been more thrilled with this off-beat little gift.

—Patricia Ruze, DMS '90, now area medical officer for the Peace Corps in Kenya

Who can forget Elmer Pfefferkorn, whose cheery and spritely manner energized our studies.

—Kenneth Settel, DMS '69, now a psychiatrist in Massachusetts

Elmer's work paved the way for the explosion in molecular biology, cell biology, and genomic research associated with this organism. Elmer's intellectual rigor and deep thinking has had a significant influence on current researchers on Toxoplasma gondii, and we are all indebted to his generosity of spirit and profound insights into this pathogen.

—From the dedication in Toxoplasma gondii, The Model Apicomplexan: Perspectives and Methods

I found animal virology in the form of an elective course taken when I returned to my third year of medical school, and in the person of Elmer Pfefferkorn. From the course, I learned that the viruses of animal cells were ripe for study with the tools of molecular biology ... From Elmer, I learned the inebriation of research, the practice of rigor, and the art of disappointment. I began my work with Elmer in odd hours snatched from the days and nights of my formal curriculum. But an enlightened dean gave me a larger opportunity when he approved my outrageous proposal to ignore the curriculum of my final year in medical school, to spend most of my time in the research laboratory...Flexibility of this sort in the affairs of a medical school is rare, even now, in this allegedly more liberal age. My work with Elmer was sheer joy.

—J. Michael Bishop,
1989 Nobel Laureate

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