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Thomas Richards Johns papers

Identifier: MS-83

Scope and Contents

The collection consists largely of the professional correspondence of T.R. Johns; his correspondents included H. Houston Merrit, Bernard J. Alpers, the Lynchburg Training School and Hospital, and Nobel Laureate Ferid Murad. Other materials represented in the collection include Johns' committee work, office files, grant proposals, and research subject files. Topics among the collection include potential departmental hires, work for the School of Medicine Committee on Governance (Chaired by Johns), a proposed cancer center at UVA, stroke program, training grants, neurology research committee, and development of neurology curriculum.


  • Creation: 1956 - 1977

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is currently restricted. If you have questions about viewing any materials from the collection, please contact a member of Historical Collections & Services.

Conditions Governing Use

Contents are restricted pending review.

Biographical / Historical

Thomas Richards Johns II, A.B., M.D., 1924-1988, known as "T.R." Johns, helped to found the Department of Neurology at the UVA School of Medicine and became its first Chair in 1967. He also served as Neurologist-in-Chief at the University of Virginia Hospital. T.R. Johns first joined the faculty of the University of Virginia School of Medicine in 1956 after trainig under H. Houston Merritt at the New York Neurological Institute at Columbia University. He remained Chairman of the Department of Neurology until his death in 1988. Johns also served as Director of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology from 1975 to 1982.

During in his time at UVA, Johns helped to recruit several notable faculty members to the University of Virginia School of Medicine, including Fritz "Fred" Dreifuss. Dreifuss joined the Neurology faculty in 1959 and established a series of field clinics specializing in epilepsy and child neurology, with a mission to provide neurological care for underserved patients in Appalachia. The work of Dreifuss and the UVA Department of Neurology was integral to the development of Comprehensive Epilepsy programs.

"Thomas Richards Johns II, 1924-1988," Obituary published in Annuals of Neurology, Volume 24: Issue 3, September 1988, p. 462-463, American Neurological Association:

"Thomas Richards Johns II died on February 11, 1788, in the 64th year of his age while working at his desk. T. R. had troublesome heart disease for several years with refractory arrhythmias more recently, all of which he bore bravely. During this time he gave the same devotion to the department which he had built from the ground and which meant so much to him. His illness did riot make this easy.

T. R. was born in Fairmont, West Virginia, and at- tended Morgantown High School, West Virginia University, Harvard College, and Harvard Medical School from which he received his MD degree in 1948. He interned at the Faulkner Hospital in Boston and had his first neurological experience with Dr. Bernard Alpers at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia. After completing his Navy duties he continued his training with H. Houston Merritt at the Neurological Institute of New York-Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. While he was in the middle of his final year as Chief Resident he was called to Charlottesville to assist with a Division of Neurology that was having difficulty. There were many tasks that needed urgent attention. Within six months T.R., an Assistant Professor and only recently arrived, was made Chairman of the Division. In 1967, the Division was elevated to Department status-and he was its first Chairman.

T.R. belonged to many committees and organizations ranging from the large neurological societies to the Council of Academic Societies of the Association of American Medical Colleges to other committees representing specific neurological illnesses. He was an officer, director, and leader of many organizations. The most important one of these to him was the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation. In addition to his recognition for committee work he received many honors, including election to Phi Beta Kappa and Alpha Omega Alpha, and he was named a John and Mary Markle Scholar. He was recognized by various honors and testimonials at the University of Virginia for excellence in teaching. His main academic interests were in neuromuscular disease, which he extended during a sabbatical leave in Sweden in the laboratory of Dr. Stephen Thesleff. Later this interest formed the basis for expansion of neuromuscular research at the University of Virginia, culminating in the establishment of the Jerry Lewis Neuromuscular Center in 1982.

He published, often with junior colleagues, on a wide variety of syndromes and phenomena. His major interest remained in the neuromuscular area, particularly myasthenia gravis. He indicated (in listing his interests in a CV) that his main interests were teaching, general neurology, and disorders of the motor unit, particularly neuromuscular and myasthenia problems. He was most absorbed by the drive for excellence for his department.

While his contributions to research on myasthenia gravis will long be remembered, his influence ranged far beyond that because of the department he created and the example he set for numerous students, trainees, and faculty members from the time he arrived in Charlottesville in 1956, his influence affected scores of people in neurology and many other related disciplines. T.R. was considered a formal person. With his intimates he was full of good fellowship, and he loved the company of others. However, there was a private side that few people came to know. He was as self-disciplined about his privacy as he was about his manners, which were unfailingly good. I never heard him curse even when he was in the midst of a heated conversation with friends. Some misconstrued his formality and courtly manners to mean he had been raised in Europe and wondered if he had had part of his education in Great Britain. He admired the National Hospital at Queen Square, and one of his greatest successes with that institution was to recruit Dr. Fred Dreyfuss all the way from New Zealand. He had never met Dr. Dreyfuss but learned a great deal about him from the staff at Queen Square.

T.R. was a diplomat, but he was a stubborn one. He held out for his principles, even when he might lose. His attempts to make changes in some of the priorities and processes of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) were defeats or setbacks and are well known to his colleagues. Many of the objectives he advocated for ABPN have been embraced since his term expired. He was very skillful at bringing about consensus and effecting compromise that did not diminish the stature of those who might have held opposing views.

T.R. was a great sportsman. While never a good athlete, he followed college football and basketball avidly. His ability to note strategies for defensive backfield and subtle changes at the line of scrimmage was very perceptive. His understanding of basketball transcended that of anyone I’ve every known. He could make sense of the strategy and the ebb and flow of the game when others were missing these subtleties. Because of his interest he was well known in basketball circles. He traveled frequently to see the University of Virginia teams play their Atlantic Coast Conference opponents.

When all of his life is reviewed, it is clear that T.R. took greatest joy in and was most dedicated to his family and to building and maintaining his department. He gave it all he had even when ill. His integrity, loyalty, and interest in traditions coupled with a willingness to change were well suited to Thomas Jefferson’s university. He was a student of history, a fan of Sherlock Holmes, and most supportive of those who had committed themselves for training under his supervision.

He is survived by his wife, Mary Dearing Johns, MD, and four children, Anne Elisabeth Johns Miller, MD, Rebecca Longridge Johns Gerritsen, Thomas Richards Johns III, and Sarah Dearing Johns."

Obituary written by Hartwell G. Thompson

Biographical / Historical

Early History of the Department of Neurology:

Neurology was first taught at the University of Virginia in the early 20th century by John Staige Davis II in the Department of Medicine. David C. Wilson became the first Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry in 1929. Wilson led neurological services throughout the 1930s and 1940s at the UVA Hospital. In 1939, UVA's first neuropsychiatric unit was established and named in honor of John Staige Davis II. Walter O. Klingman served as chair of the Neurology section of the Department of Medicine from 1947-1955, before a formal Neurology department was formed.

The Department of Neurology was founded at the University of Virginia in 1967. Its first chairman was T.R. Johns, who laid the groundwork for a nationally known neurology program. After his death, Johns was succeeded in 1989 by the appointment of G. Frederick Wooten, a recognized clinician and specialist in the treatment of Parkinson's disease. Under Wooten's leadership, the Department of Neurology continued to grow and expand into new subspecialties, such as stroke, neurocritical care, neuro-oncology, memory disorders, and neuroimmunology.


4 Linear Feet (8 boxes)

Language of Materials



The collection is organized into five series:

  • Series 1: Correspondence
  • Series 2: Committee work
  • Series 3: Department of Neurology office files
  • Series 4: Grants
  • Series 5: Subject Files

Custodial History

Materials in this collection were transferred to the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library from the University of Virginia School of Medicine Department of Neurology in 2019.

Thomas Richards Johns Papers
Historical Collections & Services, Claude Moore Health Sciences Library
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Repository Details

Part of the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library Repository

Claude Moore Health Sciences Library
1300 Jefferson Park Avenue
P.O. Box 800722
Charlottesville Virginia 22908-0722 United States