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Highly Respected, Beloved Pediatric Neurologist Dies

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Verne Strudwick Caviness, Jr, MD, PhD, a highly respected pediatric neurologist and researcher, died at his home in Rockport, Massachusetts, on July 6. He was 86.

Caviness was the Giovanni Armenise Distinguished Professor of Neurology, Emeritus, and the inaugural Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Child Neurology at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Caviness joined the neurology department at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston in 1969. From 1982 to 2007, he was director of its Division of Child Neurology. He also served as director of the hospital’s Center for Morphometric Analysis.

“Verne was one of the great MGH neurologists: an astute clinician, a successful researcher, and a beloved teacher to generations of MGH Neurology residents,” Merit Cudkowicz, MD, chief of the neurology department, and Kevin Staley, MD, chief of the pediatric neurology unit, both at MGH, said in a statement.

Throughout his career, Caviness was dedicated to teaching younger generations of neurologists. He earned many teaching awards, and after he retired, he established the Verne S. Caviness Endowed Scholar in Pediatric Neurology at MGH.

Brian Edlow, MD, a critical care neurologist at MGH, remembers Caviness as “a mentor and hero to generations of neurologists.”


In addition to teaching, Caviness made many contributions as a researcher, authoring more than 200 peer-reviewed articles. Caviness also co-directed research programs in developmental neurobiology and brain imaging (predominantly using MRI) in the Department of Neurology at MGH.

“A Humanist First”

Caviness was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, and received his education in the state’s public schools. Not averse to physical labor, he cleared land and performed other farm work during the summer. Caviness earned a degree in English literature from Duke University and graduated with honors in 1956. By 1960, he had earned a doctorate in experimental pathology at the University of Oxford, in the United Kingdom.

An early milestone in Caviness’s medical career was his graduation from Harvard with an MD in 1962. His relationship with MGH began with his clinical training in internal medicine and neurology at the institution. During the Vietnam War (from 1967 to 1969), Caviness served as a captain and chief of neurology at the United States Air Force Hospital in Tachikawa, Japan.

After completing his service, Caviness returned to MGH, where he attended on the stroke and child neurology services for five decades. He also was active in MGH’s teaching programs for adult and child neurology and pediatrics.

Soon after his return to MGH, Caviness began researching developmental neurobiology with Prof Richard Sidman. His areas of investigation included normal forebrain histogenesis, developmental neuropathology, neural systems organization, and the histogenesis of the cortical malformation in the reeler mutant mouse.

“Verne contributed many seminal discoveries to our understanding of the cellular basis of brain development,” said Cudkowicz and Staley in their statement. “His powers of observation and thoughtful approach to diagnosis will not be forgotten.”

Many colleagues posted tributes to Caviness on Twitter. Natalia Rost, MD, chief of the stroke division at MGH, remembered him as “a humanist first, a gentle soul, caring doctor, thoughtful mentor, and scientist extraordinaire.”

“It’s not possible to overstate the legacy of Dr. Verne Caviness in neurology and, particularly, child neurology,” wrote Melissa Walker, MD, PhD, a pediatric neurologist at MGH.

Brian Nahed, MD, a neurosurgeon and director of the neurosurgery residency program at MGH, described Caviness as an “amazing master clinician, colleague, and dedicated mentor to so many and the standard by which we all hold ourselves to.”

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