Comstock dies after 12-year battle with prostate cancer

November 30, 1999|By Erin CUNNINGHAM


Smithsburg resident Dr. George W. Comstock, who dedicated his life to public health, died Sunday afternoon at his home after a 12-year battle with prostate cancer.

Comstock, who was 92, is known internationally for his tuberculosis research, and locally as the namesake of the George W. Comstock Center for Public Health Research and Prevention.

He was director of the facility, then known as the Johns Hopkins Training Center for Public Health Research in Hagerstown, for more than 40 years. The center on Pennsylvania Avenue was renamed for Comstock in 2005.


Late Sunday, Comstock's wife, Emma Lou Comstock, said her husband died at 1:20 p.m. with his family, including his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, by his side.

Comstock learned that his prostate cancer had spread to his bones about four years ago, and has been in the care of an oncologist at Johns Hopkins University.

Comstock retired in 2003, but he continued to write, was busy reviewing a number of medical journals and was teaching at Johns Hopkins University. He taught as recently as March.

"He has several textbook chapters coming out," she said. "Some haven't even come out yet."

While Comstock is internationally known for his work in tuberculosis, his wife said, he's also done work with cancer, heart disease and other illnesses, and has written hundreds of articles.

"He became one of the foremost authorities on tuberculosis in the world," she said.

While his list of professional accomplishments is long, Emma Lou Comstock said her husband was proudest of his family, which includes three children, two stepchildren, seven grandchildren and stepgrandchildren, and a great-granddaughter.

"He was always very proud of the fact that he has a wonderful family," she said. "And he was very proud of the fact that after we married, we were successful in uniting two families. We now have one large family."

The Comstocks were married in 2001.

Professionally, she said he was proud of work he did in Alaska with tuberculosis patients. After discovering that Alaska's rate of tuberculosis was the highest in the world, Comstock organized a study and treatment plan for residents. When he went back, he treated everyone again, with some patients being treated for one year and others for two, she said.

"Out of that came that the optimum for treating tuberculosis was nine months ... the fact that he did not leave a portion of the population untreated," Comstock said.

Her husband also was proud of eliminating the use of a tuberculosis vaccine called BCG, which is a weakened form of the tuberculosis bacterium.

"He felt it was unnecessary, and he's been proven right," Comstock said of her husband. "He single-handedly stopped this country from using (that vaccine). You'd always get a positive test afterward, and it was ineffective."

Comstock's colleagues are inclined to credit Comstock's success to commitment, determination and passion ? not to his idea that, "I've been lucky all my life."

Emma Lou Comstock said her husband was intelligent, accomplished and dedicated.

And in addition to his extensive career in medicine, which includes hundreds of published articles and "too many awards to mention," she said, her husband also was a musician.

"He played the bassoon beginning at 64 with the Frederick Symphony," Comstock said. "He loved it. He loved the sound."

He also was a member of a number of small musical groups, and played the flute and recorders for years before the bassoon.

Comstock said her husband was well-known and well-respected by his community and his colleagues.

"He had incredible admiration and respect from just about anybody who met him," she said. "He impacted a tremendous number of people."

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