TAMPA — With a national reputation in pediatrics and dozens of medical textbooks to his credit, Lewis Barness wielded a stature that might have intimidated the students and residents he supervised.
He was, after all, a stickler for thoroughness, a perfectionist with a trove of questions yet to ask when other clinicians had exhausted theirs. While his students or residents surely expected to be confronted over mistakes, few could have anticipated the form this criticism would take: a thin stream of ice water in the face, shot with a smile from a syringe the doctor carried in his coat pocket.
"If you fell asleep in a lecture or didn't pay attention, or if you said something stupid or looked away, he would squirt you," said Patricia Emmanuel, who holds the Lewis A. Barness chair of pediatrics at the University of South Florida Health Morsani College of Medicine.
Dr. Barness, who built USF's pediatrics department from the ground up since becoming its founding chairman in 1972, died Monday after an illness. He was 92.
"When he came here he was already an international superstar," said Tampa ear, nose and throat physician Loren Bartels, a former student. "The fact that our medical school was able to recruit him was really an extraordinary feather in the school's cap."
Dr. Barness pioneered the study of human breast milk, which he found contains important proteins and carbohydrates, and was an authority on infant metabolic disorders. He worked with formula manufacturers in the 1970s and 1980s, resulting in significant improvements, said Jane Carver, a USF pediatrics professor who co-authored research with him.
Yet, his style was as disarming as his achievements were daunting.
With patients who were frightened, "He might say, 'Oh, you have such a pretty dress on' to try to connect," said Carol Barness, his daughter.
Some things even the master had to learn on the job. "He used to wear regular ties," his daughter said, "but switched to bow ties because the kids threw up on them."
Lewis Abraham Barness was born in Atlantic City, N.J., in 1921, the son of a farmer and builder. He grew up in Warrington Township, Penn., and played the violin well enough to be featured on a radio program.
He entered Harvard University at age 16, graduating from Harvard Medical School in 1944. The Army sent him to Japan, where he served as a medic and was discharged in 1946 as a captain.
He married Elaine Berger, with whom he had three children. He served as chief of pediatrics at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania for 15 years before coming to USF.
Elaine Barness died in 1985 due to breast cancer. In 1986, Dr. Barness married Dr. Enid Gilbert, whom he had once mentored at the University of Pennsylvania. They authored many texts together, including papers on sudden infant death syndrome and the Handbook of Pediatric Physical and Clinical Diagnosis (8th Edition), published in 2008.
Dr. Barness won numerous accolades for his work, including the prestigious John Howland Medal from the American Pediatric Society, and induction into the Pediatrics Hall of Fame.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.