When Dr. Roger Brumback learned a friend's mother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, he sent the friend a book on how families can cope with the disease.
The book was even signed by its author: Roger Brumback.
“There are a lot of people in medicine who are smart, there are some who aren't as smart but work hard, and there are some who are just nice people,” said Dr. E. Steve Roach, a longtime friend and colleague of Brumback and the recipient of that book. “Roger was one of those rare people who was very nice to people, very, very smart and worked hard. That's how you get someone who runs a department, writes a dozen books, edits two journals and does all the things he's done.”
Brumback, the former chairman of Creighton University's department of pathology, was remembered last week by those who knew him as an accomplished physician and researcher across several medical fields.
He was well-published in neurology and pathology, having authored or edited 14 books and textbooks and written more than 130 academic articles. He founded and edited two medical journals. He even had a species of monkey named after him, the result of a research project during his college days.
His wife, Mary, was remembered as a devoted wife and mother who took the lead in raising the couple's three children and assisted her husband in his many academic pursuits.
Roger and Mary Brumback were found dead in their west Omaha home last week, victims of what police say was a double homicide. Funeral services for the couple, both 65, were still pending Saturday.
Roger Brumback was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in a Pittsburgh suburb, the son of an attorney. After graduating from Gateway High School in Monroeville, Pa., in 1965, he entered Penn State University that summer. He graduated in just two years in pre-medicine and became the youngest student in the inaugural class of Penn State's new medical college in Hershey, Pa.
It was also at Penn State that Brumback met Mary, who was born in Washington state and who studied pharmacy before pursuing a career in law. The two would eventually have three children, Daryl, Audrey and Owen.
At the Penn State medical school, Roger Brumback early on showed a knack for groundbreaking research. For a research project, he did a chromosomal study of owl monkeys and was surprised to find what biologists had believed to be a single species was actually several different species. He wrote an article on his findings for a respected primatology journal.
But Brumback was interested in becoming a doctor, not a primatologist. So he turned his findings over to a biologist who years later finished the work. The primatologist paid tribute to Brumback's contribution by naming one of the newly discovered species after the young medical student: Aotus brumbacki.
After graduating with his medical degree in 1971, Brumback pursued additional training in Baltimore and St. Louis and became board certified in pediatrics and neurology. For a time he worked at the medical neurology branch of the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C., before leaving to take a neurology post at the University of North Dakota medical school in Fargo, N.D.
In 1982, Brumback decided to shift career tracks and pursue an earlier interest in pathology, seeking additional study at the University of Rochester in New York.
Then in 1986, he moved to the University of Oklahoma Medical Center. In Norman, he built a new research program studying Alzheimer's. He became an expert in the neurologic pathology of the disease. In recognition for his work, the Oklahoma Alzheimer's Association named an annual award for contributions to research into the disease after him.
Brumback also founded and published the first issue of the Journal of Child Neurology, a new academic journal in his previous field of study, in 1986. Mary Brumback did much of the clerical work as the publication got off the ground. At the time of his death, Brumback was still serving as the editor of the journal.
“He liked to write, and he was likely a certifiable workaholic,” said Roach, a professor at Ohio State University who got to know Brumback through their work for the Child Neurology Society. “He came home, had dinner with his family, fired up his computer and started working again.”
While the couple were in Oklahoma, Mary Brumback established a practice in family law. She also co-authored a book in 1989 with her husband on dietary fiber and weight control.
Then in 2001, the couple moved to Omaha as Brumback took over as chairman of Creighton's department of pathology. Leading a pathology department had been a goal of his, friends said.
Besides heading the department from 2001 to 2010, Brumback continued his interest in Alzheimer's at Creighton as a professor of pathology, neurology and psychology. And in 2011, he launched a new medical journal, one devoted to evidence-based alternative medicine.
After the couple moved to Omaha, Mary Brumback retired from law and devoted herself to volunteer work through the Creighton Service League and other organizations.
Recently, Brumback informed Creighton officials he was retiring from the university and would be moving to West Virginia. Despite his planned retirement, he planned to continue to edit his two journals.
“I think Roger's idea of retirement was cutting back from 70 hours a week to 50,” Roach said.
The move to West Virginia also would get him and his wife closer to family members who still live on the East Coast.
Friends say the Brumbacks loved to travel together, Mary often accompanying him on trips to medical association meetings.
“You almost don't talk about one without talking about the other,” Roach said. “They were always together. She was just absolutely devoted to Roger.”
The couple in Nebraska also became big fans of Cornhusker football, joining his continued allegiances to the football teams at Penn State and Oklahoma, said Dr. Richard Baltaro, a former colleague of Brumback at Creighton and Oklahoma. He was also a big Pittsburgh Steelers fan.
Besides football, Roger Brumback also had strong interests in genealogy and medical history, collecting old medical equipment and rare books. He also continued his interest in the owl monkey named for him, recently making a donation to a conservation fund aimed at protecting the species.
Two of the couple's three children followed Brumback into medicine. Audrey is a doctor on the neurology faculty of the University of California at San Francisco. Son Daryl works as a medical technologist in Salt Lake City.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1130, firstname.lastname@example.org