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Robert Woolsey, M.D.: 1931-2019

Robert Woolsey, M.D., professor emeritus of neurology at Saint Louis University, died Feb. 18, 2019. He was 87.

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Robert Woolsey, M.D.

Credited with organizing SLU’s neurology residency program, Dr. Woolsey spent 45 years in the department of neurology. He trained thousands of medical school students and residents during his time at SLU, before becoming a professor emeritus in 2006.

John Selhorst, M.D., former chair of the department of neurology, reminisced about the strength of Dr. Woolsey’s teaching in a newsletter article marking Selhorst’s retirement in 2014.

“I started my career in the early 1970s in internal medicine and perhaps, in another life, I would’ve ended up in that specialty. But after a two month rotation with Dr. Robert Woolsey, neurology won,” Selhorst said.

Dr. Woolsey was on faculty when Jim Willmore, M.D., now associate dean of SLU School of Medicine and professor of neurology, was a medical school student.

“Watching Dr. Woolsey work made neurology look so easy. Little did I know, how challenging it was,” Willmore said.

Florian Thomas, M.D., professor emeritus in neurology at SLU and now chair of neurology at Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University, described Dr. Woolsey as a charismatic story teller.

To hear Bob talk about his undergraduate days at Saint Louis University when he took courses from some of the same priests who had been involved in the famous 1949 exorcism that gave rise to the movie was a true experience, Thomas said.

“He always impressed me with his quiet confidence and gentle life-affirming humor. As a lecturer to peers, residents and students, he was very engaging and knew how to make important points in a crystal clear manner. 

Dr. Woolsey also was a talented clinician. In 2009, he received the Paralyzed Veterans of America’s highest award in recognition of his work with those who suffered spinal cord injuries while in the military. Dr. Woolsey served as chief of the neurology service at the St. Louis VA Medical Center as well as chief of the hospital’s spinal cord injury unit, which was named in his honor in 2002.

Dr. Woolsey was born in Chicago and received his undergraduate and medical degrees from Saint Louis University. He did his neurology residency training at the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor and the National Hospital in London, England. He received his fellowship in neuropathology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, New York.

Dr. Woolsey edited four books on spinal cord disorders and authored more than 60 articles in medical journals and textbooks. He served on the board of directors of the American Paraplegia Society, which recognized him in 2002 with the A. Estin Comarr Memorial Award for Distinguished Clinical Service.

Dr. Woolsey met the woman who he would marry, a fellow neurology faculty member at Saint Louis University, in 1962. Dr. Joyce Devine Woolsey was a pediatric neurologist, and the two joined the chair of the department to build SLU's neurology residency program. 

Dr. Woolsey is survived by his wife of 52 years, Joyce Devine Woolsey, M.D.;  daughter Kathleen Woolsey Bilderback (Kip); grandchildren James Thaddeus Bilderback and Robert Nathaniel Bilderback; and sister Nancy Kane Carlson (Douglas Dixon).

Visitation will be held  from 4 to 8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 25, at Lupton Chapel, 7233 Delmar Blvd. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26 at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, 7148 Forsyth Blvd. in University City.