July 30, 2021
Melvin passed away on July 28, 2021, a few days after his 91st birthday. He did his undergraduate studies at the University of California at Los Angeles, receiving a Bachelor of Arts and a Master’s degree before finishing with an MD from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1960. After internship and medical residency, Melvin completed a fellowship in gastroenterology before starting a well-respected private practice in his hometown of Encino, California. Other than his wife, Barbara, Mel had many loves in his life: wine, movies, theater and travel. Two of his three sons became prominent in the motion picture industry. The world was knit together by Melvin’s travels across the globe, where he lectured extensively while going to plays in the evenings and making friends in every country and in every continent. He formed a company to make educational endoscopic videos; he visited and taped every major endoscopist in their own units from New York to Hong Kong. He was gregarious and loved meeting people whom he often invited to his home in Encino or to his vacation spot on the Catalina island, off the coast of California. During summers, he often hosted the young sons of gastroenterologists from different countries to spend weeks with him and Barbara, usually on the island and involving them in the Fourth of July parades wearing special movie-themed costumes and they usually won first prize for their entry.
Professionally, Mel was an organizer. On the way to becoming the President of the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, he was chairperson of several committees where he set up criteria for minutes, for scheduling, for planning, for future activities and for just about everything. He would appear at committee meetings with notebooks, one for each member (and labelled with names) with an outline of goals, schedules and suggestions for discussion during those sessions. He enjoyed teaching and became a Professor of Medicine at UCLA, his alma mater. He established a successful course on “Gastroenterology for nurses/assistants” and served on the FDA Drug Advisory Committee. He started the Southern California Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy. Because of his contributions to gastrointestinal endoscopy, he was presented with the Rudolf V. Schindler award, the highest honor of the ASGE. From 2009 to 2013, he was the Secretary General of the World Endoscopy Organization.
His greatest accomplishment was in bringing the World Congress of Gastroenterology to the United States and becoming its President. Prior to 1986, absolutely nobody in the USA paid much attention to the World Congresses but apathy was not the only problem. There was also a negative vibe about the World Congress since the USA had the world’s most prominent gastrointestinal meeting which was DDW always held annually in May. Melvin saw an opportunity to heighten the prestige of American Gastroenterology by showcasing the breadth of advances in this specialty. The WCOG meetings were held every 4 years in different parts of the world with the next site being announced at the previous conference. So, 8 years before the 1994 World Congress, Mel began to float the idea of the USA being the site of the 40th anniversary of the first World Congress which was planned and originated in the US. Mel personally went to the Governing Board meetings of the American GI Societies (over and over again) and pitched the positive worldwide scientific aspects of such a Congress and asked for seed money from each of them to get started on an international one-man campaign to bring the WCOG to America. Needless to say, at first, they considered him somewhat crazy but his persistence and demonstration of what the Congress would bring to the world convinced even the biggest opponents to come around. A major stumbling block was the time of the year to hold a conference in LA. It looked like October was the most auspicious but one of the major GI Societies, the American College of Gastroenterology, always has their annual meeting in the fall. In 1994, their meeting was already planned, and it was to be held in San Francisco, California. Mel went to their Gov Bd meeting and suggested that they actually combine their annual meeting with the WCOC and that it would increase their attendance and that the ACG would gain a profit by melding which they did. The Los Angeles WCOG was an outstanding scientific success. His appointments of committee chairs were political genius. Needless to say, the introduction ceremony, the staging and the organization was pure Hollywood. There has not been a meeting to match that one.
Melvin was indeed a self-made man. He was the first person in his extended family to go to college, and he never forgot his roots. His energy, his foresight, his warmth and friendliness will be missed throughout the world.