Melvin A. Roblee

Melvin A. Roblee


Melvin Roblee was a kind, unassuming man who devoted his entire professional career to clinical research, clinical teaching, and patient care at Washington University Medical Center in St. Louis. His patience, concern, and competence touched the lives of many patients and many young physicians in training at that institution.

Mel graduated from Washington University and received his MD degree from that institution in 1925. He did his internship and residency training in Obstetrics and Gynecology at St. Louis Maternity Hospital, which was then the teaching hospital of Washington University for Obstetrics and Gynecology (later taken over by Barnes Hospital). In 1928, upon completion of training, he received an appointment as Assistant in Obstetrics and Gynecology and over the years advanced to Professor of Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology in 1965. It should be remembered that the rank of Clinical Professor at Washington University was given only to those who displayed unusual devotion and capabilities in clinical research and teaching.

Mel was bright and energetic. During his early years on the faculty, he actively interfaced with William Dieckman, John Hobbs, Axel Arneson, and the Crossens. Although he had an extensive private practice, he devoted (without compensation) a great deal of time to teaching and clinical research. While he has published on several topics, his major area of interest was the cervix. From 1930 to 1955, he ran the "Cervicitis Clinic" at Maternity Hospital (and later at Barnes Hospital). He pioneered the use of electroconization of the cervix as superior to the Sturmdorf procedure. Working two decades before the advent of the Papanicolaou smear, he always carefully performed multiple biopsies of any cervical lesions before cauterization and demonstrated that although electroconization improved the appearance of the cervix it did not prevent the subsequent appearance of cervical carcinoma. According to Alfie Sherman who collaborated with him, he really believed that some of the lesions diagnosed as "cervicitis" were of a dysplastic nature and were precancerous, and that in time they would progress to definitive cervical carcinoma. He tried to collect sufficient case material to prove this hypothesis, but because the biopsies (in those days only "undirected" or "partially directed") did not pick up all cancer, he was unable to do so.

In addition to his academic work Mel had a successful and active private practice in St. Louis. He was a founding fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and served as president of the St. Louis Gynecological Society. He presented a 25-year review of his work in the Cervical Clinic at the 66th annual meeting of the American Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in 1955 and was elected to membership that year. In 1968 as he ended his active practice, Dr. Willard Allen, then department head, nominated him as Professor Emeritus and the Executive Faculty gave their approval.

I knew Melvin Roblee well from 1971 (the year of my arrival in St. Louis) until 1977, when he moved to Richmond, Virginia. He was a regular attendant at Grand Rounds, participated actively, and made many valuable contributions. He was a good-humored gentleman and I never heard him speak ill of another. I had the opportunity to see a few of his former patients and they always spoke of his concern for their well-being.

Mel was active in the Presbyterian Church. In 1977 he moved to Richmond and then to Westminister Canterbury House. He died September 28, 1995. He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, his daughter, Elizabeth Roblee Smylie, his son, Reverend Melvin B. Roblee, and by 15 grandchildren and great grandchildren. He is also survived by a large group of grateful patients and a cadre of Obstetricians-Gynecologists who trained in St. Louis, all of whom profited by their contact with him.

Submitted by James C. Warren, MD

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