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  • Robert J.T. Joy (1929–2019)
  • Justin Barr

In 1954, Robert Joy attended his first meeting of the American Association of the History of Medicine (AAHM) to accept the Osler Award for an essay on the Sweet Family of Bonesetters; in 2012, he attended his last AAHM conference to accept the organization's Lifetime Achievement Award. In the intervening six decades, Bob became a living legend in the community, established the academic legitimacy of military medical history, and touched the hearts – and scholarship – of dozens of historians. He died on 30 April 2019 and is survived by his son Robert Jr. and daughter Lisa.

Born 5 April 1929 in Rhode Island to a family of hoteliers, Robert John Thomas Joy spent his childhood travelling between Rhode Island and Florida in a seasonal quest to capture the tourist market. He earned his bachelor's degree in history at the University of Rhode Island before matriculating to medical school at Yale University on an ROTC scholarship. Already enraptured by history, he spent long afternoons in Cushing Library, actively participating in the Nathan Smith Club and attending lectures of the Beaumont Society while receiving gentle scoldings by legendary librarian Madeline Stanton for napping with his feet on the furniture. Commissioned into the Army following graduation, then-Lt. Joy completed an internship at Walter Reed before assuming a variety of posts in military medicine. Throughout his military career, he focused his attention on physiology research and had started a PhD in the subject at Harvard when the Vietnam War broke out. Given the option of completing his degree or assuming command of the Field Research Team in Vietnam, then-Lt. Col. Joy chose the latter. Spending 1965-1966 in Vietnam, Bob shepherded the deployment of new antimalarial prophylaxis while leading studies examining the physiology of combat stress in what he later called one of the most useful and enjoyable years of his life. Returning to the United States, he eventually came to command the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, directing investigative efforts for the entire US Army Medical Department. In 1976, Dr. Joy helped found the Uniformed Services University for the Health Sciences (USU), serving as the inaugural Commandant to the Corps of students and Chair of Military Medicine. In these roles, he shaped both the culture and curriculum [End Page 133] of the new institution to feature cross-disciplinary and inter-service integration. After retiring from the Army in 1981 at the rank of Colonel, he became the founding chair of the Department of Military Medical History at USU, where his lectures quickly became the most popular at the school. He delivered his last talk in 2005 to an audience of mostly former students, now Generals and Admirals in their respective service branches who had returned to celebrate their favorite professor.

Throughout his long career, he remained closely involved with the AAHM and the field of medical history. His conference presentations – requiring two and sometimes three slide carousels – quickly became legendary in an era when most historians simply read their papers. He became the reference on military medical history for a generation, with a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of field. Dr. Joy's expertise was recognized world-wide, and he delivered over 80 invited lectures to audiences in 6 continents and published over 140 articles and book reviews. He strongly supported the AAHM, serving multiple terms on Council and in various leadership positions while hosting the annual meeting at USU in 1982. In the late 1970s, he met Janet Berk, then the medical librarian at the University of Rochester, at an AAHM meeting. After courting over years of conferences, they married in 1988; she predeceased him by a year. He was the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the History of Medicine from 1983 to 1987, helping lead it through a tumultuous time when traditional and social histories of medicine clashed. Dr. Joy was always excited to help younger scholars (though never shy in offering constructive criticism), and his Bethesda home became a veritable rotating salon for historians visiting the National Archives during the day and sharing pipesmoke-filled quiche dinners with him and Janet until late into the night. He spent...


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