Brigham and Women’s Hospital mourns the loss of Martin A. Samuels, MD, founding chair emeritus of the Department of Neurology and the Miriam Sydney Joseph Distinguished Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, who died June 6. He was 77.

A member of the Brigham community for more than 40 years, Dr. Samuels was recruited from the West Roxbury Veterans Administration Medical Center, where he started the neurology service in 1988, to build a new Division of Neurology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. In 1994, this division was elevated to department status, and he formally became its founding chair. Over the next three decades, Dr. Samuels transformed what was once a small division within the Department of Medicine and catapulted it into one of the world’s premier clinical, research, and teaching programs in academic neurology.

“Marty was the founder of the department and its soul. He absolutely loved being a neurologist and was passionate about teaching the next generation, making sure we all knew the history of the department, honoring all his previous teachers and mentors, and attracting the most amazing, brilliant faculty and residents,” said longtime colleague Barbara Dworetzky, MD, chief of the Division of Epilepsy. “He was Brigham blue and loved carefully crafting the department. He was very proud of that.”

Dr. Samuels gained international acclaim as a masterful teacher-clinician and diagnostician, often credited with elevating the neurological examination to an art form by using the patient history and exam instead of lab tests and imaging — something he recently demonstrated before a live audience with consenting patients during his “Bench-Bedside-Bench” presentations.

“None of us wanted to give a lecture after Marty did because he was such a hard act to follow,” said Kirk Daffner, MD, chief of the Division of Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology.

A leading authority on the interface between neurology and general medicine, Dr. Samuels was also remembered for his skill at identifying and treating some of neurology’s most complex cases. His major field of expertise was the borderland of neurology and medicine: neurocardiology, neurohematology, neurogastroenterology, neurohepatology and neuronephrology.

A member of Harvard Medical School (HMS) faculty since 1977, he became a full professor of neurology in 1993 and was the first recipient of the HMS faculty prize for Excellence in Teaching. In 2013, he received an endowed professorship at HMS for his many accomplishments — choosing to have this prestigious title honor the memory of his parents, Miriam Joseph and Sydney Samuels.

He was also remembered for his affection for his beloved alma mater, Williams College.

“One of my most cherished memories is a weekend a couple of years ago when he and I were able to go to a Williams College women’s ice hockey game my daughter played in,” said Tracy Batchelor, MD, chair of the Department of Neurology. “Over that weekend, I could see in his eyes how much he adored the place. He used to say, ‘You don’t go to Williams for four years. You go to Williams for life.’”

As an academic, Dr. Samuels had an endless capacity to learn and embraced unconventional corners of neurology — studying “Voodoo death,” or death caused by fright or intense emotion. He created, led and taught in more courses at the American Academy of Neurology than anyone in recent history.

Colleagues emphasized, however, that he was far more interested in caring for others than amplifying his own successes. His most memorable trait was empathy, loved ones said. He cared most of all about relieving a patient’s suffering, whether it was emotional, psychological or physical.

“He taught us kindness was not a weakness. He taught us how to find joy and fulfillment in being a physician and that neurology is a privilege for the practitioner,” said Galen Henderson, MD, chief diversity and inclusion officer at the Brigham and a member of the Division of Neurocritical Care. “He created a sense of belonging. He taught us so many lessons about how to make people feel comfortable — that they belong and that they matter.”

Henderson recalled encountering Dr. Samuels as a medical student shortly after he had matched into what was then the Harvard-Longwood Neurology Training Program. Henderson attended a large educational conference in Washington, D.C., where Dr. Samuels had presented before an audience of 20,000 people.

“After the lecture, people rushed to the podium to take pictures with him. I was patient and waited because I just wanted to talk to him,” Henderson said. “When he was walking out, he happened to see me and call me out. He had only met me for my interview, but he remembered my name. That shocked me. I said to myself, this is a special person.”

Sashank Prasad, MD, program director of the MGB Neurology Residency, added, “Regardless of what the case was, Marty could find stories and lessons to add to the anthology of all that we learned from him.”

For many, he was more than a colleague and mentor.

“Marty was, first and foremost, the most stalwart friend an individual could have,” said Allan Ropper, MD, former executive vice chair of Neurology. “He was my brother.”

Vikram Khurana, MD, PhD, chief of the Division of Movement Disorders, shared similar reflections.

“In a town where brilliance and material achievement are sometimes valued above all else, Marty reminded us that magnanimity, kindness, generosity, and warmth really matter more than anything else,” Khurana said. “He gets to live through us. He will remind us that our greatest professional achievement will be through the legacy of the people we trained and touched.”

Dr. Samuels leaves behind not only a remarkable career practicing in a clinical and academic setting, but also a collection of publications including the book he first edited as a resident, Samuels’s Manual of Neurologic Therapeutics, as well as The Office Practice of Neurology, Hospitalist Neurology and several editions of Adams and Victor’s Principles of Neurology.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from Williams College and his medical degree from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. He completed his internal medicine residency at Boston City Hospital, where he was chief resident, and neurology residency at Massachusetts General Hospital.  He was board-certified in neurology and internal medicine.

Dr. Samuels is survived by his wife, Susan Pioli; a sister, Carole Bilger; two children, Marilyn Sommers and Charles Samuels; three grandchildren; and many more family members and loved ones.

Burial services for Dr. Samuels will be private. The family is planning a celebration of life at a later date and thanks everyone for their support during this time.

24 Responses to “In Memoriam: Martin A. Samuels, MD, Department of Neurology”

  1. Steven Ringer MD PhD

    A real mensch, Marty was one of my favorite people at BWH- A consummate teacher and clinician and even more a spectacular colleague and friend.

  2. Barnett George Mennen, MD

    I was a classmate of Marty’s in medical school. Speaking for his classmates for a moment, I can tell you he was universally loved and respected by all. This hit us all hard–partly because it was so unexpected. Over the years he helped me with some puzzling (to me) neurologic patients and always was immediately correct in the Dx or gave me the direction to go in for Dx. As Dr Ringer said above, a real mensch. The unique thing about him was that even with all his accolades and accomplishments, he never lost his humility and down-to-Earth qualities.

  3. Kathy Chuang

    His knowledge, his stories, his humanity – his love for neurology and teaching – I was forever changed by him. I know that his legacy will continue to spread far and wide and will never be forgotten.

  4. Albert M. Galaburda, MD., Emily Fisher Landau Professor of Neurology, emeritus, Harvard Medical School

    Marty and I were interns and medicine residents together at Boston City Hospital and remained in touch all these years. I was the first person he met when he arrived in Boston in 1971. He was a unique person then and now. I feel a great personal loss with his passing.

    • Donald Ricci

      Marty was chief resident when I was a senior at Boston City. He was a remarkable teacher even then, with a great sense of humour and a flair for life. I reconnected with him virtually recently at his monthly webinars. What a tremendous guy.

  5. Robert Friedlander

    What a huge loss. Marty was phenomenal human and a gifted teacher and neurologist.

  6. Sergi Martinez-Ramirez

    Marty is irreplaceable. He touched and forged generations of neurologists and I feel so privileged to have learnt from him. He will be dearly missed.

  7. Jaime Imitola, MD

    During his packed morning reports, we learned from his inspiring mind, Marty often spoke about legendary neurologists and their teachings. There in the Tyler Library, we learned about Boston City, C. S Kubik, Adams, and Tyler, among others. Now, he has become a true legend in modern academic neurology. We all learned how to learn and love neurology from him and strive to become the best physicians in neurological medicine. RIP.

  8. Jerry Wacks

    I had heard him lecture to a large meeting of psychiatrists,the years passed..Late in 2022 at an advanced age I needed a. Neurology eval, Marty was recommended strongly by a close Neurologist friend. I was fortunate I got to meet him on Jan. 10 th 2023. AtBWH’. Then he was gone. Jerry Wacks

  9. Kathleen McCarthy

    Nurses and Nurse Practitioners were inspired by Dr Samuels, too. . I can never forget all wonderful lectures and fun he provided at the Primary Medicine Conferences. I will never forget him and it is gratifying to know his legacy will live on.

  10. Rodica Elena Petrea

    My heart aches at the news. I am deeply saddened and cannot hold tears. I only knew Dr. Samuels from attending his premier lectures that inspired inquisitive minds to pursue the quest for truth in diagnosing the most amazing and interesting mystery cases, true conundrums, and making teaching medicine a true art. I owe him the love for complicating cases and am proud to have transmitted some to my residents as a faculty member at Creighton University. And when we can prove it, we know “It’s not all in your head” – N Engl J Med 2011; 365:1329-1334. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMcps0900533. I cannot forget the cardiac voodoo, the brilliant incursion into folic and folinic acid metabolism and the numerous challenging neurological cases that he shared over the years at conferences. He is a tremendous loss that will live forever in the hearts of those who knew to listen to him, who learnt from him and will continue to praise his clinical cases, Samuel’s Manual of Neurological Therapeutics, Adams and Victor’s chapter, The Office Practice of Neurology and The Hospitalist Neurology. God have him in Peace and heartfelt condolences to Dr. Samuel’s family. It is hard to accept such a loss, for sure too early, too soon. Rodica Elena Petrea, MD

    • Peter Sarafan

      My chief resident as an intern at Boston City Hospital. The best teacher I have ever known.

  11. Stelios Smirnakis

    I had the pleasure of first meeting Marty during a captivating presentation he delivered to a gathering of aspiring neurology students at Harvard Medical School, myself included. His infectious enthusiasm and deep passion for the field of neurology left, as always, an indelible mark on all present. A cherished mentor for myself and numerous others, Marty went always above and beyond, offering not only a sympathetic ear and invaluable guidance but also taking tangible actions to propel our professional journeys forward. Marty stands out as a true giant of clinical neurology, whose unwavering commitment to others always extended far beyond mere professional obligations. The void left by his absence is already felt deeply by all who were fortunate enough to know him.

  12. Murray Tobin

    I knew Marty from our high school days at Cleveland Heights High School. We were both in the marching band and I had dreams of being a drum major. Marty was taller than me, and while I was disappointed that I wasn’t selected, I recognized that he deserved it. I also remember that Marty was the narrator for the concert band when we performed selections from Richard Rogers’ score of the TV series, “Victory at Sea.” We lived across the street from each other when I lived on Traymore and Marty lived on either Faversham or Saybrook (it was a 3-way intersection). So sorry to learn of his passing. He was a gentleman and a class act all the way.

  13. Marcia H. Clark

    The hearts of his Cleveland Heights High classmates are weeping too. Marty was a beloved leader even in high school. Take care, Marty! ❤️🎶
    Marcia Hileman Clark
    Heights High Orchestra

  14. Eric Garver MD

    Marty was one of my closest friends in high school. We were in a car pool for something, maybe Temple but we used to ride in my 57 Chevy convertible with the top down singing rock and roll songs, none of us could sing. Recently I have had a need for a neurologist. The first name I thought of was Marty, he is a close loss to me and many others, he will be missed,

  15. Art Goldstein

    I am Marty’s first cousin and my late mom was his aunt (his father’s sister). I took my mom to a very well known orthopedic specialist at University Hospitals in Cleveland for an evaluation (when she was in her late eighties). My mom was reading his various certificates on the wall and proudly mentioned that she had a nephew who was also doctor in Boston. The doctor was interested to know who it was. When she told him it was Marty he stopped in his tracks as if star struck. It turned out this physician was a resident at the Brigham and took a neurology course from Marty. He reflected upon Marty’s unforgettable ability to teach and relate to his students. He said Marty was one of the best teachers he had ever had.

    Needless to say, Marty’s passing has hit me very hard. He is a huge loss.

  16. Easwar Sundaram Jr

    His presentation and lecture on the difficulties of diagnosing the causes of dizziness was a classic. We were rolling in laughter and in the end he made it such an easy task for us to tackle in the future.

  17. Kathryn J. Swoboda MD

    Marty, affectionately known forever to myself and fellow graduates of the Harvard Longwood Neurology class of 1994 as Dr. “Smarty Manuels” will be forever known quite simply as the preeminent clinical neuro diagnostician and clinician-educator of his generation. He elevated the art of medicine daily, and inspired me to embrace a joyful career unraveling the mysteries of rare inherited neurologic diseases – one story at a time.

  18. Gerardo Maradiaga

    As a primary care physician I always attended to his talks at the ACP. I also attended to his course Neurologist for the non neurologist in Maine. In my humble opinion he was the best teacher that I ever met in my life. His last talk at the ACP in April this year was magnificent . He finished with something I will never forget. That the worse in a physician is Hubris. His passing is a terrible loss to humanity.

  19. Mark F. Poster, MD

    I worked with Marty at BCH and the VA. He was best medical speaker I have ever heard. On top of that, he had patient-centered values and was not pretentious (if anything, a bit iconoclastic) and funny. A great loss.

  20. Eva Grudin

    Speechless to hear of this gigantic vacuum in the world – Marty, a friend, well-remembered, legendary is more like it, from Cleveland Heights High School days – a lanky drum major, a popular class leader, debate team champ, all around fun to be with. We were connected again through Williams College (where he recently received an honorary degree), when his daughter Marilyn was a student in my art history course. Marty and I spoke often over the years, and he would look after my friends who needed neurological evaluations, treat them with great sympathy and care. “Death” and “Marty Samuels” don’t compute. His goodness and vitality graced the world, and we, all who knew him, are better human beings for it.

  21. Dan Kirschner PhD

    Totally shocked & saddened to learn moments ago of Marty’s death. His exceptional persona, menschlichkeit, & stellar (student) career at Cleveland Heights School is succinctly & eloquently described by Eva Grudin (above). Over 35 years ago, Marty & I would bump into each other periodically on Longwood Ave, when my lab was at Children’s Hospital. I always reminded him about the “true” story he told in Miss Carnes’ (speech?) class, describing how the Senrac Eskimos died out: when they fished in winter, they rotated their bodies in a perfect circle as they sawed through the ice around them… It was all the students could do to NOT break up laughing as Marty acted out the sawing & sequel … (Marty’s humorous prank had been related to me years earlier by Linda Nozik (z”l), Marty’s classmate & my ex-wife).
    May our memories of Marty always be for a blessing.

  22. Richard Allen

    I still watch his cranial nerve exam i learned so much from his explanations and i am not a med student Now I understand why is done in a complete psychical exam .


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