Melvin Greer, first chair of neurology department, dies at 80

Iconic first chair of the UF department of neurology died May 19.

By: John Pastor
Melvin Greer, MD

Melvin Greer, MD

Dr. Melvin Greer, the iconic first chair of the department of neurology at UF, died May 19. He was 80. Swaggering but kind, direct but tactful, confident yet humble — Greer embodied qualities that endeared him to his students and colleagues, according to his friends at the Health Science Center. He was the department chair who would go the extra mile for his faculty, the physician who would fill in for residents, and the father who considered students, faculty and residents as part of his own family.

“We had the honor of bestowing Dr. Greer with a Lifetime Achievement Award just a few weeks ago for his 49 years of service to our college,” said Dr. Michael Good, dean of the College of Medicine. “It was a welcome time for us to reflect on the great things he did for the college and the university — a moment that has been made bittersweet by his passing.”

Good offered condolences and heartfelt support on behalf of the College of Medicine to Greer’s wife, Arline, their daughter, Allison, and their three sons, all COM graduates, Jonathan Greer in 1983, Richard Greer in 1985 and David Greer in 1995.

Greer joined the College of Medicine faculty in pediatrics and neurology in 1961. He became the first chair of the department of neurology when it was created in 1974 and remained chair until 2000.

In that time, he trained about 150 residents and countless medical students in his field. For many years, he was the area’s only pediatric neurologist, colleagues say. He also was board-certified in adult neurology.

The current chair of neurology, Dr. Tetsuo Ashizawa, holds the Greer professorship at UF.

“Dr. Greer was working in the clinic until shortly before he died, and he left his white coat here. We want to keep it here, to symbolically preserve his presence,” Ashizawa said. “I am honored to hold the professorship that carries his name.”

Dr. Robert Watson, MD ’69, a professor of neurology who served for 17 years as senior associate dean for educational affairs at the College of Medicine, recalls he was always uncomfortable with calling his chair “Mel,” and Greer wasn’t keen on being called Dr. Greer.

So Watson started called him, “Chief,” a name that Greer seemed to like. The name stuck.

“I remember sitting across from him when I interviewed for medical school,” Watson said. “He looked like Errol Flynn, a big, athletic-looking man with a mustache. I was almost immediately intimidated. He started asking me about my research and my life, and in seconds he put me completely at ease. He was the kindest, sweetest person. He had a remarkable way about him that I always tried to emulate, but never got quite right. He could let you know when you hadn’t done something well, but not erode your confidence.”

Dr. Greer graduated with a bachelor’s degree with honors in 1950 from the College of Arts and Pure Science at New York University, where he would go on to earn his medical degree in 1954. He served his internship and residency at Bellevue Hospital in New York and was a fellow in neurology at the New York Neurological Institute of the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center.

He received several teaching awards from UF, including the 1970 Hippocratic Award and the 1975 and 1979 Award for Clinical Teaching Excellence.

Donations in Dr. Greer’s memory can be made to the Melvin Greer academic endowment fund. For information or to make a donation, call 352-273-5882 or e-mail