Jack P. Whisnant

Jack P. Whisnant, MD
Member Since 1962
Date of Death: May 22, 2015

Jack Page Whisnant died Friday, May 22, 2015 at Short Term Rehabilitation Center, Charter House, in Rochester, Minnesota.

Jack was born in Little Rock, Arkansas on October 26, 1924, the second of three children of John Clifton Whisnant and Zula Page Whisnant.  His primary and secondary education was in the Little Rock public schools and he graduated from Little Rock High School in January 1942.  For one year, he attended Little Rock Junior College, and in November 1942, at age 18 years, he enlisted in the United States Army Aviation Cadet Corps to train as a pilot.   He received his commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the Army Air Corps and his "wings" in March 1944.   His high school sweetheart, Patricia Anne Rimmey was then working in New York City.  She traveled to California and they were married in the chapel at Mather Field, California on May 12, 1944. He was assigned to be a pilot in an A-20 ("Havoc") airplane in the 417th Bomb Group. He flew 55 combat missions in New Guinea and the Philippines. The missions were completed in June 1945 before he was 21 years old.           

After discharge from the Army Air Force in 1945, he completed his undergraduate and medical education at the University of Arkansas.  Public Law 346 ("the G.I. Bill" ) was a major factor in his being able to obtain a medical education.  His wife, Pat, was also working at the time for the U. S. Veteran's Administration.  After an internship at Baltimore City Hospital, he started residency training in Internal Medicine at the Mayo Clinic.  After nearly two years he switched his training to Neurology and on completing training he was appointed to the staff of the Mayo Clinic in the Sections of Neurology in July 1955.

As a young staff person he started a research program in experimental neuropathology of cerebral vascular disease.  For these studies he was awarded the first research grant to Mayo from the National Institutes of Health, in 1958, after the Mayo Board of Governors decided that Mayo investigators could receive NIH grants.  He later focused on clinical research.  With the epidemiological data resource, the Rochester Project, he developed a research program in stroke epidemiology with funds provided by the National Institutes of Health starting in 1966.  He became the director and principal investigator of the Mayo Cerebral Vascular Research Center in 1975.  This program resulted in the training of many young investigators who became leaders in the field in this country and abroad.

His scientific publications numbered over 300, many of which were population based epidemiologic studies of stroke.   Some of these studies contributed to the understanding of the concept of evidence based medicine and to the application of these principles to the practice of neurological medicine.

During his research career he chaired or served on several National Institutes of Health research review committees and also served a four year term on the National Advisory Council for the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health.

During his career in Neurology at Mayo, he became Head of a section of Neurology in 1963 and was later named Chair of the Department of Neurology, serving from 1971 until 1981.  Because of his collaborative interest in epidemiologic research, he was asked to be Chair of the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology in 1987. He used the opportunity to re-organize the department as the Department of Health Sciences Research which included sections of Biostatistics, Clinical Epidemiology, Health Services Evaluation, and Medical Informatics.  He served as Chair of the department until 1993.

His academic appointments were successive ones in Neurology, becoming professor in 1969.  In 1981, he was appointed to the named professorship, Roy E. and Merle Meyer Professor of Neuroscience in Mayo Medical School.

In 1960 he was a co-founder of the Central Society for Neurological Research (CSNR) and was president in 1963.  He served as President of the American Neurological Association in 1982, having served as Vice-President in 1975.  He then served two terms as a director on the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and as president of the Board in 1989.  In 1991 he was elected as President-Elect of the American Academy of Neurology and served as President from 1993-1995.

Among the professional honors that came to him, three were particularly notable. He was named "Distinguished Alumnus" from the University of Arkansas  College of Medicine in 1979 and in 2003 he was named "Mayo Foundation Distinguished Alumnus".  In 1994, he received an honorary doctoral degree from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland with a citation noting his "ability to merge successfully the clinical discipline of Neurology with the quantitative science of Epidemiology".

n the community, he was active in the First Presbyterian Church, serving on the Session for two different terms, one in the 70's and one in the 90's.  He was also active in the Rochester YMCA, serving on its Board and then as President of the Board in 1977.   He also enjoyed playing racquetball after it was introduced at the YMCA in 1964 and he continued playing several times each week until 2002.

His partner, confidante and friend throughout his career was his wife, Patricia Rimmey Whisnant (Pat).  They were married when they were each age 19 while he was in the Army Air Force.   Pat worked in several U.S. federal government administrative positions while Jack completed undergraduate studies, medical school and residency training.

Jack and Pat have three children, Elizabeth (Betsy), who lives with her husband, Peter, in Wheaton, IL, John, who lives with his wife, Susie in Houston, TX, and James (Jamey) who lives with his wife, Carol in Eagan, MN.  Their grandsons are Daniel Whisnant, in Austin, TX and Paul Whisnant, in Eagan, MN. 
A memorial service with refreshments will be held for Jack at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Mayo Clinic Foundation or your favorite charity .

Published in The Post-Bulletin on May 25, 2015