Arthur Knight Asbury, MD, a leading academic neurologist and pioneer in clinical and experimental peripheral nerve research, died at Penn Medicine Hospice on October 19, 2022 from treatment-resistant prostate cancer in the presence of dementia. He was 93 years old. A graduate of the University of Cincinnati School of Medicine, Dr. Asbury was the Van Meter Professor Emeritus of Neurology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Previously, he was chair of the department of neurology and served as interim dean and executive vice president of the University of Pennsylvania Medical System. Dr. Asbury was a past president of the American Neurological Association, the Association of University Professors of Neurology, the Philadelphia Neurological Society, and the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. He also served as Vice President of the World Federation of Neurology and later received its Lifetime Achievement Award for his work on neuromuscular diseases. He was elected to the National Academy of Medicine and the Royal College of Physicians. While he was president of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, he also served as interim CEO. During his more than 60-year career in neurology, Dr. Asbury has become internationally recognized for his expertise in Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), diabetic neuropathy and other peripheral nerve diseases, including neuropathies in patients with chronic renal failure. His early research on GBS described how the disease damages nerves. More recently, as part of a team of Penn, Johns Hopkins and Chinese researchers who studied an annual summer outbreak of GBS in rural children, the group identified a second type that damages another part of the nerve. Dr. Asbury has received the Penn Medical System’s Master Clinician Award, the University’s Lindback Award for Excellence in Teaching, and in 2015 the University awarded him the Honorary Doctor of Science. Mentorship was his most valued role, and in 2004 the medical school established the annual Outstanding Faculty Mentorship Award in his name. As Associate Dean, one of Dr. Asbury’s major commitments was to raise funds for the medical school’s 21st Century Endowed Scholars Fund. Initiated by former Dr. Walter Gamble and his wife, Anne, the Fund helps provide tuition support to relieve medical student debt so students can choose residencies in their chosen fields regardless the potential revenue generation needed to repay student loans. Dr. Asbury liked to encourage potential donors by describing that he funded the living expenses of his neurology residency through the sale of a yearling he owned that had been bred on his family’s thoroughbred horse farm. , Forest Retreat, in the bluegrass of Carlisle, Kentucky. Few students, he noted, have had this kind of opportunity. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio on November 22, 1928, to two physicians, surgeon Eslie Asbury and eye pathologist Mary Knight Asbury, his older brother Taylor “Tuck” Asbury was an eye surgeon. All three were on the faculty of the University of Cincinnati. As a boy, Dr. Asbury and his sister Lib (Elizabeth Asbury Stone, a civic leader from Cincinnati) spent summers working at Forest Retreat. Originally built by former Kentucky Governor Thomas Metcalfe (“Old Stonehammer”) and named after Henry Clay remarked that it was a veritable lumber retreat, the Asburys purchased the farm during depression, including Metcalfe’s stone house built in 1814 and a log cabin built by Daniel Boone in 1792. When Art was a teenager, he and farm superintendent Russell Selvage, a craftsman who had been in the Civilian Conservation Body, have restored the cabin. They used the same rocks to rebuild the chimney and used matching logs from the pioneer barns. The Asburys developed a thriving Thoroughbred horse-breeding operation. When Dr. Asbury’s father returned after leaving his young son for a weekend to work on the farm under the supervision of horseman “Big” Charlie Thomas and asked how his boy had done, Big Charlie replied: “Hey well doc, he was very good company.” When Dr. Asbury’s teenage son, William F. Asbury, wanted to do a high school summer internship at a racetrack, Dr. Asbury had to write a letter to the teacher explaining that it was legit, that the races of thoroughbreds were part of Will’s upbringing. . He eventually became a veterinarian. He and his sisters Dana Asbury, MFA (former editor of the University of New Mexico Press) and Lyndia Asbury (spiritual healer and counselor) visited the farm every year until they were adults. After Dr. Asbury graduated from Phillips Academy Andover and then the University of Kentucky in 1951 with a BS in agriculture in anticipation of managing Forest Retreat, he served two years of active duty on the L American army during the Korean War. With his BS, he was assigned to the First Guided Missile Group where he became an instructor. He credited his military service at Fort Bliss, Texas with the opportunity to gain experience in leadership, responsibility (“always do what you say you will do”) and recognition of what he could accomplish outside of family relationships. Upon graduation, he decided to become a doctor and applied to medical school at the University of Cincinnati. The Dean asked Dr. Asbury to speak to his father first. Her father reacted by saying “you wanted to be a farm manager, then maybe an aeronautical engineer, now you want to be a doctor…but I always thought you would be a good doctor.” Dr. Asbury was accepted but, with no traditional pre-medical training, the admissions officer admonished him with “Don’t embarrass us!” He graduated top of his class in 1958 and was the first graduate of UC medical school to be admitted to the medical internship program at Massachusetts General Hospital. While at UC, during the summer between his freshman and sophomore year, he worked in the EEG lab and developed an interest in neurology under the mentorship of the president, Dr. Charles D. Aring. He later received the Daniel Drake Medal from the University of Cincinnati and wrote to Dr. Aring that he strived to be as good a mentor to his students as Dr. Aring had been to him. He received the Distinguished Graduate Award at the 50th Class Reunion of the Medical School. Dr. Asbury and his wife of 42 years, Dr. Carolyn H. Asbury, established the Arthur Knight Asbury MD Chair in 2019, which will be held by the chair of the department of neurology. The first recipient is current President Frances E. Jensen, MD. In addition to his wife, sister, and three children from a previous marriage to Patricia A. Asbury, Dr. Asbury is survived by two grandchildren, Dana Asbury and Richard Levy’s daughters, Alexandra Asbury Levy (David Collin ) and Katherine (Kate) Esther. Levy (Evan Tingle), three great-grandchildren Elliott Collin, and Hazel and Cecilia Tingle, and nine nieces and nephews. The family asks anyone wishing to make a donation in Dr. Asbury’s memory to contribute either to the GBS-CIDP Foundation International or the University of Pennsylvania Medical Hospice Service.
Posted on October 25, 2022
Posted in KY Enquirer, Cincinnati Enquirer