March 23, 1940 – Nov. 23, 2018
Dr. Ralph Riddle Dobelbower Jr., of East Aurora, a renowned cancer radiation scientist, died Nov. 23 in Buffalo General Medical Center after an extended illness. He was 78.
Recognized as a pioneer in the field of gastrointestinal cancer, he was noted for his work in developing innovative treatment for pancreatic cancer.
“For radiation medicine and the pancreas, he was one of the world’s foremost experts,” said his son, Dr. Michael C. “Chris,” also a radiation oncologist.
Founding chairman of the Department of Radiation Oncology at the Medical College of Ohio at Toledo, he authored or co-authored more than 70 books and 80 scientific abstracts, many of them used in teaching.
Born in Bellefonte, Pa., he was an Eagle Scout and valedictorian of his high school class. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Pennsylvania State University in 1962 and a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts the following year.
He enlisted in the Navy in 1965 while studying at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. After he received his medical degree in 1967, he became a Navy medical officer, serving an internship at Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego, Calif.
Deployed to Subic Bay in the Philippines, he served in the Vietnam War as a trauma surgeon treating wounded soldiers aboard the USS Sanctuary and received citations in two letters of appreciation from his commanding officers. He completed his tour of duty at Portsmouth, N.H., Naval Hospital.
Dr. Dobelbower then returned to Philadelphia to study radiation biology at Thomas Jefferson University under a legend in the field, Dr. Simon Kramer. He served a residency in radiation therapy and nuclear medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and was awarded a doctorate in 1975.
He continued treating patients and doing research there until the late 1970s, when he was recruited to establish the new Department of Radiation Oncology at the Medical College of Ohio at Toledo.
“He was one of the guys using high-dose radiation to treat pancreatic cancer,” his son said. “He did cure some folks.”
During this period, he was a three-time recipient of the American Medical Association’s Physician Achievement Award – in 1975, 1978 and 1981. He was named among the best cancer doctors in America by Good Housekeeping magazine.
Along with his duties in Toledo as a professor of radiation oncology and professor of neurosurgery, he treated patients and did laboratory and clinical research.
He installed a special suite for giving radiation treatment to patients while they were undergoing surgery and refined techniques for radiation treatment of breast cancer.
He was founding chairman of the Northwest Ohio Radiation Oncology Society and what now is the International Society for Intraoperative Radiation Therapy.
He was a fellow and gold medal recipient from the American College of Radiation Oncology, served as ACRO chancellor and was founder and director of the ACRO Practice Accreditation Committee. He was a founding vice president of ACRO’s Simon Kramer Society.
He was a diplomat and fellow of the American Board of Radiology and was regarded as one of its toughest board examiners.
He received honorary medals from medical schools at universities in Montpelier, France, and Rome, Italy.
In Ohio, he was a member of the board of directors in the Lucas County Chapter of the American Cancer Society.
A memorial fund is being established in his name at the Simon Kramer Cancer Institute in New Philadelphia, Pa.
Known familiarly as “Dobie,” he "was a small town guy,” his son said. “He wanted to go sailing. He wanted to go fishing. He wanted to sit down and chat and find out who you are.”
He held several leadership posts in the Maumee River Yacht Club in Toledo. Aboard his boat – which he named Grand Rounds – he sailed Lake Erie and Lake Huron.
He traveled throughout Europe, Asia and North and South America.
A resident of East Aurora since he retired in 2008, he was a member of East Aurora Post 362, American Legion.
His first marriage, to his childhood sweetheart Mary Dolores Sell, a music teacher, ended in divorce. He was remarried in 1983 to Mary Louise Glaser, who had been a research oncology nurse in Buffalo. She died in 2013. He and the former Carol Pack, former vice president of Lutheran Social Services of Northwest Ohio, were married in 2015.
Survivors also include another son, Ralph R. III; a daughter, Barbara D.; two step-sons, John J. Baldwin IV and Benjamin E. Pack; three step-daughters, Deborah A. Flynn, Bridget A. Mann and Molly B. Ciocca; and 12 grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, in Wood Funeral Home, 784 Main St., East Aurora.