Human communication

Ralph F. Wetmore Jr., retired head and neck surgeon, professor emeritus and CHOP administrator, dies at 71

Ralph F. Wetmore Jr., 71, formerly of Doylestown, retired head and neck surgeon at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, former chief of CHOP’s otolaryngology division and chairman of the medical staff, professor emeritus, researcher, administrator and author, died Saturday, September 3, of Lewy body dementia at his home in Johns Island, SC

Dr. Wetmore began his famous 40-year career at CHOP immediately after graduating from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and completing his postgraduate training and fellowship in surgery at Penn.

He treated ear, nose and throat ailments in thousands of children, helped make CHOP a world leader in pediatric medicine, and served as the hospital’s endowed E. Mortimer Newlin Chair in Oto -paediatric rhino-laryngology and human communication from 2008 until his retirement in 2020. .

“He had a wonderful spirit,” said his son, Rick. “He was a scientist first and foremost.”

Dr. Wetmore has trained hundreds of medical students, residents, and fellows at CHOP and Penn; author or co-author of more than 100 scientific articles on voice disorders, respiratory anomalies and other conditions in children; and won the 1993 Edmund Prince Fowler Award from the Triological Society for his pioneering research into Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Known to colleagues and friends for his “no frills teaching style and patience” and his “charismatic smile with a wit to match”, Dr. Wetmore easily and repeatedly forged lifelong personal connections and friendships. He saved a smothered dinner at a restaurant one night and cared for the victims of a car accident he ran into.

A friend said in an online tribute: “Ralph embodied the best of all of us.”

He was on the editorial board of the World Journal of Otorhinolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery and past president of the American Society of Pediatric Otolaryngology and the Society for Ear Nose and Throat Advancement in Children. In a 2017 article published in the World Journal of Otorhinolaryngology, he wrote, “While tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy have become much safer over the past 50 years, postoperative complications still exist but can be minimized by careful history, good surgical technique and excellent attention to detail after the operation.

In an online tribute, a friend called him “an incredibly accomplished and brilliant doctor with a heart of gold and the warmest of personalities.” Another friend said: ‘I’ve never really seen him angry or heard him raise his voice with anyone. His favorite saying was, “Don’t sting the skunks.”

Born November 23, 1950, in Allentown, Ralph Frederick Wetmore Jr. graduated from Franklin and Marshall College in 1972 with a bachelor’s degree in geology and received his medical degree from Penn in 1976.

He married Mary Cantalupo in 1976, and they had son Rick and daughter Alicia. After a divorce, he met Melinda DeMoss at CHOP and they married in 2009. He lived in Secane, Wayne, Haverford and Doylestown before moving to Johns Island after retirement.

Dr. Wetmore was an avid reader who wrote unpublished science fiction and historical novels. Passionate about cinema, one of his favorites was Dating of the Third Kind, and he wrote movie reviews for CHOP’s operating room newsletter for years. Staff at a nearby movie theater knew him by sight.

He binge-watched the Weather Channel, cheered on the team and constantly wore his green Eagles hoodie, enthusiastically attended concerts by James Taylor, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga, and adopted dogs from rescue shelters. He enjoyed discussing life’s issues with his family and lovingly signed each card in person that his florist sent along with the flowers he bought for his wife.

“My father was incomparable in many ways,” his son said. “He treated everyone, no matter who they were in the world, with great respect and dignity. …His vibrant and loving spirit will live in all of us forever.

In addition to his wife, children and ex-wife, Dr. Wetmore is survived by two grandsons, a sister and other relatives.

Services were September 13.

Donations in his name can be made to Penn’s Digital Neuropathology Lab. Address checks to the Neurology Trustees at the University of Pennsylvania. Write “In memory of Dr. Ralph Wetmore” on the comment line and mail to Paige O’Malley, 3535 Market St., Suite 750, Philadelphia, PA 19104.