Published February 3, 2020
Evan Calkins, MD, the first chair of the universitywide Department of Medicine and an expert in the field of geriatrics, died on Jan. 24 at Erie County Medical Center. He was 99.
At the time that Calkins came to Buffalo, the Department of Medicine for the university was co-chaired by the heads of medicine at Buffalo General Hospital (now Buffalo General Medical Center) and Edward J. Meyer Memorial Hospital (now Erie County Medical Center). Calkins’ initial appointment in 1960 was chief of medicine at Buffalo General Hospital and co-chair of the university’s Department of Medicine.
In 1962, the University of Buffalo (as it was called then) merged with the State University of New York system. With Calkins’ arrival and the incorporation of UB into the SUNY system, the two heads of medicine began working to develop a universitywide department.
In 1968, after a national search, Calkins was selected to become the first chair of the universitywide department. He worked diligently to combine the departments of medicine at three separate hospitals — Buffalo General Hospital, Edward J. Meyer Memorial Hospital and the Buffalo VA Medical Center — into a single universitywide department.
“For 17 years, my job was to build up the department,” Calkins once recalled. “We started with about 15 faculty members and recruited over 90 more. At that time, there were very few subspecialty divisions, such as cardiology, nephrology or endocrinology. And there was very little in the field of geriatrics.”
James P. Nolan, MD, liver disease expert and former chair of the Department of Medicine — a longtime colleague and friend of Calkins — emphasizes that “Evan Calkins was a truly remarkable man who, through his tireless efforts, built a nationally prominent department on what he called the Niagara Frontier.“
“He was truly beloved by his faculty and tireless in their support,” says Nolan. “I well remember how he recruited new faculty — bringing them to Buffalo as consultants and then persuading them to join our ranks.”
“He monitored departmental activities an an emeritus … his bright light continues to light our way, and we will continue to maintain the high standard that he gave us,” Nolan says. “He will always be ‘my leader,’ and I have great comfort in that relationship.”
Anne B. Curtis, MD, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Charles and Mary Bauer Professor and chair of medicine, notes: “I had the privilege of knowing Evan Calkins personally, and I have also become friends with other members of his extended and highly accomplished family.”
“Evan always took great interest in the activities of the UB Department of Medicine. In fact, it was usually the first question he posed to me whenever we got together socially,” she says.
Calkins stepped down as chair in December 1977 and in 1978 he founded the University at Buffalo’s Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology, the seventh such division in the country.
He established UB’s fellowship in geriatric medicine, which became the largest program of its kind in the country.
By the time Calkins retired 12 years later, the program had trained 10 percent of all fellowship-trained geriatricians in the country.
Calkins recognized that optimal care for elderly patients requires the input of many disciplines in addition to medicine, including nursing, pharmacy, physical therapy, dental medicine, social work, psychiatry and surgery. He realized it was necessary to enhance the effectiveness of teams of these specialists and to bring interdisciplinary care into community institutions such as hospitals, nursing homes, clinics — and even into patients’ homes.
Thus, Calkins collaborated with leaders throughout the community committed to enhancing care for older people, and in 1981 the Network in Aging of Western New York Inc. was formed. Calkins was elected president for a two-year term and then rotated onto the board for several years.
Calkins was a member of the National Advisory Council of the National Institute on Aging and served as consultant to a number of other universities interested in developing geriatrics and gerontology programs.
Additionally, Calkins maintained a private practice of geriatrics and rheumatology in Hamburg, N.Y. for two decades. He saw patients until he was 93.
“Throughout his career, Dr. Calkins was a catalyst for change and an avid champion for our students, faculty and patients. I learned from Evan during every one of our encounters,” says Michael E. Cain, MD, vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Calkins has long been a supporter of education for students, residents and fellows. The Evan Calkins, MD, and Virginia Calkins, MD, Primary Care Achievement Award recognizes a student for exceptional performance in primary care and outstanding personal characteristics including compassion, integrity, judgment and leadership. Calkins took special pride in knowing all about each recipient and making the presentation.
In 2013, Calkins founded the Evan Calkins, MD, Fellowship for Community-Based Research award to improve the health of the community surrounding the school. The award provides funding for community-based research or Quality Improvement projects conducted by residents or junior faculty.
For 12 years, Calkins served as director of medicine of what is now Erie County Medical Center, and during that time, the clear but unmet needs of the community — especially in poor and medically underserved areas — made a strong impression on him. Calkins believed medical institutions have an obligation to improve the quality of, and access to, health care throughout the community, and the Calkins fellowship is a product of this conviction.
He closely monitored the process, applicant pool and award recipients to ensure the vision was fulfilled.
Calkins — who graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1945 and trained at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital — authored or co-authored 86 scientific articles in peer-reviewed medical journals as well as 42 chapters and four books.
He was a member of organizations including the American Society for Clinical Investigation, the American Clinical and Climatological Association, and the Association of American Physicians.
He was appointed by Gov. Mario Cuomo as a member of the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law in 1985, and he served for 10 years. As a member of the task force, he assisted the state in developing public policy on issues related to medicine, law and ethics.
He was an active member of the Jacobs School’s Medical Emeritus Faculty Society, which provides a forum for medical emeritus faculty and retired alumni to enjoy intellectual and social interests.
Calkins was also a longtime member of the Gross Medical Club, an organization that aimed to bring academic and community physicians together for case discussions, lectures and socialization.
Calkins received numerous honors throughout his career, including the Geriatric Medicine Academic Award from the National Institute on Aging in 1980; the Private Sector Initiative Award issued by President Ronald Regan in 1983, which he received for founding the Network in Aging of Western New York Inc.; and the second annual Milo D. Leavitt Award for leadership in geriatric education from the American Geriatrics Society in 1986.
He was recognized as a Master of the American College of Rheumatology in 1987 and as a Master of the American College of Physicians in 1988.
The university recognized him with honors including the Dean’s Award in 1984 and the Walter P. Cooke Award in 1989.
UB alumni value the training, knowledge, skills and support they received from Calkins. In 2017, during its 50th reunion, the Class of 1967 presented Calkins with the Most Inspirational and Influential Faculty Member Award for his dedication and exceptional teaching.
Surviving Calkins are his wife of 73 years, Virginia; four daughters, Sarah, Lucy, Joan and Ellen; five sons, Stephen, Ben, Hugh, Geoffrey and Tim; a sister, Patricia; 30 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
A memorial celebration will be held Saturday, Feb. 29 at Hamburg Presbyterian Church.