Samuel Putnam


By Gloria Negri, Globe Staff  | October 12, 2005

Dr. Samuel Putnam, 67; forged bond with patients

Samuel Morse Putnam came from a distinguished Yankee and Quaker family. He attended private schools and earned both his undergraduate and medical degrees from Harvard University. Yet, when the time came, he shied away from a more lucrative private practice, pursuing a career in rural and city neighborhood health centers.

''Sam Putnam always put his heart into what he was doing. He led with his heart, not his hand," said Dr. John Noble, director of the Center for Primary Care at Boston University School of Medicine, and a friend since boyhood.

Dr. Putnam, who was on the faculty of Boston University School of Medicine and practicing at Boston Medical Center, died Oct. 4 at his Cambridge home of a degenerative disease of the nervous system, Noble said. He was 67.

From 1992 until last year, Dr. Putnam worked at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center where he was known not only for his expertise in internal medicine but for his rapport with his patients. Colleagues said he became a national leader in the development of courses to train physicians on how to improve their ability to communicate effectively with their patients.

''Sam's great passion was that physicians should be effective listeners and be able to understand what was really going on with their patients," Dr. James Taylor, chief medical officer of the health center, said. ''He was a warm, caring, and compassionate physician who was an inspiring example to all of us."

In his 1995 book, ''My Name is Virgilio," Vincent Buonopane of East Boston, a former patient of Dr. Putnam, likened him to ''the doctor my family had in the 1920s and 1930s. He does his best to take care of all your problems. He is easy to talk to and makes you feel like a friend."

Dr. Putnam was a mentor to other doctors, as well. In a letter to him, Dr. Danru Lee of BU Medical Center told him he taught her to be ''passionate about my work, to love my patients, and to become a physician who cares."

Because he did care, Dr. Putnam joined with Dr. Mack Lipkin to found the American Academy on Physician and Patient, based in St. Louis, to train physicians in the art of listening and communicating with their patients. Over the last four years, Noble said, Dr. Putnam gave workshops and presentations in Europe on the subject.

Dr. Putnam was born in Cambridge to John and Susan (Morse) Putnam. He graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H., and from Harvard College in 1960.

At Harvard, he was on the crew team. That summer of graduation, he went with his college roommate, Michael Rockefeller, on a Peabody Museum expedition to New Guinea to document the traditions of the Dani Tribe living in the Babein Valley. Dr. Putnam took some of the photographs of the expedition that appeared in Life Magazine, Noble said.

''This experience kindled Sam's interest in community life and its impact on health," he said. v In 1962, Dr. Putnam married Elizabeth Warriner. They had two daughters and were divorced in 1983. After graduating from Harvard Medical School in 1964 and doing two years of medical residency in Seattle, Dr. Putnam served in the US Public Health Service in its malaria eradication program, two of the three years in Ethiopia. He earned his master's degree in public health from Harvard in 1970 and spent 13 years as a staff physician at the University of North Carolina. While there, he was medical director of the Haywood-Moncure Neighborhood Health Center, and with his team of physicians, nurse practitioners, and community health workers, he made house calls in surrounding rural communities.

In 1984, Dr. Putnam was recruited to serve as chief of general medicine and director of the residency training program at St. Mary's Hospital and the University of Rochester School of Medicine, where he trained more than 50 residents in the next four years. In 1988, he was recruited to BU's School of Medicine. For a time, Dr. Putnam was medical director of the homeless veterans rehabilitation program in Bedford.

In 1991, Dr. Putnam married Danka Rodakowska, an artist and sculptor. ''He was a special man with a great heart," she said.

Last year, BU recognized Dr. Putnam with its Excellence in Teaching Award as the outstanding teacher among its 100 community-based teachers. ''Sam lived life as though every person and moment mattered," said Boston Medical Center social worker Carol Mostow, in an e-mail. ''And, in the end, in his humble, often self-effacing way, he mattered so much to each of us."

Besides his wife, Dr. Putnam leaves two daughters, Laura of San Francisco and Elicia of Bend, Ore., and two sisters.

A service is planned in Memorial Church at Harvard University, December 2nd at 2:30pm. 


Harvard Varsity Club - News and Views - Oct. 26, 2005

We are saddened to report the death of Dr. Samuel Putnam Œ60. Putnam, a former member of the lightweigh crew team, also graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1964 and earned a masteršs in public health in 1970.

He shied away from a more lucrative private practice, pursuing instead a career in rural and city neighborhood health centers. Upon graduation in 1970 he spent the next 13 years as a staff physician at the University of North Carolina. While there he was a medical director of the Haywood-Moncure Neighborhood Health Center where he made house calls in the surrounding rural communities.

From 1992 until 2004 he worked at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center where he was known not only for his expertise in internal medicine, but for his rapport with his patients. Last year Boston University recognized Dr. Putnam with its Excellence in Teaching Award as the outstanding teacher among its 100 community-based teachers.