March 19, 2014
Riya V. Anandwala

Rodney M. Coe, Ph.D., 1933-2014

ST. LOUIS - Fondly remembered as the champion of service among members of Saint Louis University, Rodney M. Coe, Ph.D., who served as the chair of the department of family and community medicine from 1982-1992, passed away March 14 after a prolonged illness. He was 80.

Rodney Coe
Rodney M. Coe established the Distinction in Community
Service Program in mid-90's that recognizes the service work
students do in the community.

"Rod was a visionary," said Robert Heaney, M.D., associate dean of the School of Medicine at SLU who worked with Coe. "He was quite good at bringing people together and finding out what was possible to achieve together - turned out there was a lot."

Coe played a key role in transitioning the family medicine residency program in Belleville, Ill., into an affiliation with Saint Louis University, and ultimately a partnership between the University, St. Elizabeth's Hospital, Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation and Scott Air Force Base. The program utilizes the resources of the community, the medical school, and the military to provide residents with training in a variety of locations and with a diverse patient population.

"Rod had an eye for the future. He helped the department of community medicine transition into family and community medicine by helping to recruit his successor, a family medicine physician, Dr. Mark Mengel, who built the research and clinical arm of the department," Heaney added.

"I always felt he was the one that put the building blocks together in the 90's that became the department I inherited in 2000," said Mengel, M.D., who now works as the vice chancellor for regional programs at the University of Arkansas for Medical Science. "He was passionate about being involved in the community and responding in a positive way to their health needs, particularly underserved communities. He was a good man and a passionate leader."

In his 29 years at SLU, Coe held several teaching positions. He joined the University in 1970 as an associate professor in the department of community medicine, now family and community medicine, and went on to become the chairman of the department in 1989. He also served as a professor in the department of internal medicine and School of Public Health.

He was an accomplished scholar and researcher, with numerous published articles and books covering gerontology and medical sociology issues. He was a member of more than a dozen medical and sociological associations and societies.

In the mid-90's, a group of medical students asked Coe if there was a way to recognize students' work in community service. Responding to the request from students, he created the distinction in community service program that provides service learning opportunities for medical students. Future doctors develop an understanding of communities and community health issues, acquiring skills and compassion to become successful community health leaders. After Coe retired, the program was renamed Rodney M. Coe Distinction in Community Service.

David Schneider, M.D., the current chair of the department said Coe's efforts in building the department of family and community medicine and institutionalizing the community service learning programs into the medical education were very important.

"His contribution really spoke to the Jesuit mission of SLU," said Schneider.

David Pole, instructor of community medicine and mentor in the Rodney M. Coe Distinction in Community Service Program said Coe's aim was to support student involvement in service in order to help them develop their connection to the community as part of their professional formation as physicians.

"Every year Rod would participate in the final poster presentation and was very supportive and encouraging of the work students were doing," Pole said. "He believed engaging in community service developed a skillset that makes you a better practitioner and enables you to fully exercise your purpose as a physician."

"He always liked knowing about their projects and what they were working on," Pole said. "He was sincerely interested in how students understood change in the community and how it would help them going forward," he said.

Medical students who are in the Coe Program said they immensely benefitted from the service projects and are thankful to Rodney Coe for establishing the program.

"The Coe Program has really fostered my desire to serve and stay connected to the community in which I practice medicine," said Brianna Brei, a fourth-year medical student.

Jesse Whitfield, another fourth-year medical student at SLU, said the program provided her an opportunity to engage in meaningful community service.

"It also gave me larger context of social justice awareness that has been critical in shaping my trajectory and philosophy as a health care professional," she said.

Along with his passion and commitment to service, Heaney remembers Coe's personality as warm and kind.

"I loved my time working with Rod. He always had a smile, always had a big laugh... and he was always happy to talk about his golf game," he said.

Coe is survived by his wife of 59 years, Elaine Elwell Coe; children Kevin, Curtis, Andrea, and Douglas; seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be conducted at the First Congregational Church in Webster Groves, 10 West Lockwood Ave at Elm at 2 p.m. Thursday, March 20. A reception will follow immediately in the Memorial Hall of the Church.

Higher purpose. Greater good.
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