Thomas F. Newcomb, M.D.

Mon, 09/30/2019 - 9:00am

Thomas Finley Newcomb, M.D. died in hospice Sept. 23, 2019 at the Duke Hock Family Pavilion in Durham, North Carolina.

Thomas was born June 22, 1927 in Buffalo and grew-up in Pittsburgh where his father, Thomas Higgs Newcomb, served as a Presbyterian minister. His mother, Naomi Finley Newcomb raised Tommy and his sister, Margaret Jane. Peggy recently celebrated her 96th birthday with her almost 97-year-old husband, the Rev. Dr. Paul Musser.

While on a double date with the Pitt Homecoming Queen, Tom pulled down the scented visor in his car and exclaimed; “Ahh, Maine!” Rev. Dr. Newcomb vacationed with his family every summer on Capitol Island, often at the same time the woman in the backseat, Anne Pennoyer, was with her family in their cottage by the ocean on West Boothbay Harbor. Tom and Anne were married in 1950. Many of Tom’s favorite memories were of family vacations in Maine beginning with his parents and continuing with his own family driving to Boothbay every summer when they lived in Florida.

Tom loved the outdoors. When stressed he would squat down and knead a handful of soil taking him back to days he spent on his cousin’s farm near the childhood home of his father in Garnett, Kansas. As an avid sailor and boater he loved being on the waters of the Maine, Florida, Virginia and North Carolina.

Tom put off college to join the Navy during World War II. He served as a pharmacist’s mate 3rd class from 1945-1947. Despite being a physician and serving twice as a V.A. hospital chief of staff he often bragged about being a Navy corpsman to garner better credibility with his veteran patients.

Tom matriculated at the University of Pittsburgh and was graduated magna cum laude. He was as a research fellow in hematology in Seattle at the University of Washington in Seattle and in 1955 began two years of research as a Fulbright Scholar in Norway. His first son, John Finley, was born in Oslo and his second son, Charles Raymond, in Boston where Dr. Newcomb worked at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and as an investigator at Howard Hughes Medical Institute. From 1958-1959 he taught medicine at Harvard Medical School and served as the associate director of the Richard C. Curtis Hematology Laboratory at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital.

Dr. Newcomb moved to Florida in 1959 to become a professor of medicine and head of hematology and later biochemistry for the University of Florida. He began his federal service in 1968 as the associate chief of staff for research and education at the nascent Gainesville Veterans Administration Hospital. Tom’s third son, William Christopher, was born in 1964; but later preceded him in death at the age of 29 due to a brain hemorrhage while living in New York City where Chris started his career with NBC’s “Today” show. Dr. Newcomb established the William Christopher Newcomb Memorial Fund for HIV Research at the Durham V.A. Medical Center on Nov. 18, 1996.

Dr. Newcomb accepted a position at the V.A. Central Office in Washington, D.C., in 1972 as the director, medical research service. He remained until 1978 responsible for numerous changes during a period of turmoil largely due to a totally decentralized budgeting process. While in Washington, Dr. Newcomb also served as a clinical professor of medicine for the University of Florida. During his time in Washington he met and later married Carol Bielat, whom with her three children Noelle, Nancy and David joined the family.

Moving to Texas in 1978 he accepted a position as the chief of staff at the Audie L. Murphy Memorial V.A. Hospital in San Antonio. He was also a professor of medicine and associate dean for veterans affairs for the University of Texas.

In 1985 he settled in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He served as the chief of staff at the V.A. Medical Center Durham and as associate professor of medicine and associate vice chancellor health affairs for Duke University. For two years he was the acting director VAMC Durham and from 1988-1995 served as director, Regional Medical Education Center Durham.

Dr. Newcomb became associate professor emeritus of medicine at Duke in June 1998 and retired as Veterans Affairs Medical Center Durham CoS in 1999, but continued to serve veterans as “just a doc” performing exams at a V.A. Clinic until the age of 81 retiring from government service in 2008.

While in Washington and for years afterwards Dr. Newcomb testified numerous times before Congress advocating for hospital and research budgets targeted for veterans health care regardless of service connection. Board certified in four states in internal medicine, hematology and medical oncology, Dr. Newcomb practiced medicine for over 63 years. Following patients for decades he published over 25 medical research articles. His research and practice is now complete, but thanks to the Duke University Anatomical Gifts Program he will receive his final wish, self-prescribed in 2007, posthumously continuing to teach by donating his body for training the next generation of medical professionals.

Ultimately he will rest when interned at Arlington National Cemetery.