It is with much regret that I inform you that Dr. Robert (Bob) Toohill passed away peacefully on December 29, 2013, at the age of 78, in his Elm Grove home surrounded by family. Dr. Toohill was inducted into the ALA as an Active Fellow in 1989 and achieved Emeritus status in 2007. Although he didn’t serve on the ALA Council, his contributions were invaluable to the Fellowship.
Born in 1935 as the second of 13 children of Lawrence Toohill and Mary (nee O’Rourke), Bob grew up in a large Irish farming family in central Illinois. after graduating from St. Ambrose College, he studied medicine at what was then Marquette University School of Medicine, now the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW). While there, he met Kathryn (Kay) Dennett, whom he married in January 1960 – the same year he received his medical degree. They moved to Chicago where he completed an internship and a year of general surgery at Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Hospital and a three-year otolaryngology residency at the University of Illinois. On completion of his residency, Bob fulfilled his military duty as a Lieutenant Commander at the Chelsea Naval Hospital outside of Boston, Massachusetts. It was there that he began to establish himself as a world-class surgeon by participating in the first-ever artificial voice box transplant on a GI who had been wounded by gunfire in Vietnam.
In 1967, after completing his military obligation, Bob, Kay, and their three children returned to Milwaukee to begin private practice in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. In addition to building a strong private practice, Bob was able to pursue his love of medical research by joining the staff of what is now the Medical College of Wisconsin as a part-time Clinical Instructor and was elevated to full-time status in 1978. In 1986, he became the second-ever Chief of the Otolaryngology Division at MCW where he is credited with the department becoming a leading center for ear, nose and throat medicine in the Midwest. When he stepped down as Chief 11 years later, the faculty had grown to 13 full time members, staff, and residency program. After “retiring” from a full-time position in 2000, Bob continued in a part-time capacity as a mentor to young residents and faculty members. He spearheaded many conferences and seminars and remained active in research.
Devoted to his professional passion of research and teaching, Dr. Toohill studies for more than 25 years the diagnosis and treatment of gastroesophageal reflux and was one of the first to discover that reflux of stomach acid into the esophagus can lead to vocal and sinus problems. His other research expertise was in nasal and sinus diseases, laryngeal and swallowing disorders, and head and neck cancer. Frequently invited as a speaker and presenter internationally, he was able to form research partnerships and collaborations with physicians in other countries. He authored and co-authored numerous professional articles and a book.
Dr. Toohill was an avid sports fan. He was a student of golf and could often be found on the course when not working or spending family time. Although he enjoyed and supported the Wisconsin teams, he was a true fan of the Chicago Bears. Among his greatest events was the BTO (Bob Toohill Open) that was a fun golf tourney he “sponsored” for many years at the Toohill Family Retreat on Eagle Springs Lake in Eagle, Wisconsin. He loved his Irish heritage and often exhibited that through song even to his colleagues and residents at work. And while Irish songs where always in the mix, he had many other favorites. Bob was a member of the Neville-Dunn Irish American Legion Post and was selected Irishman of the Year.
He is survived by the love of his life and wife of 53 years, Kathryn “Kay”; his children: Carol, Kathleen (David) Perlman; Robert Jr. (Jennifer); Andrew (Suzanne); and Patrick (Jill). He was the proud grandfather of nine. Nine siblings survived him, along with more than 40 nieces, nephews and cousins. He will also be missed by many dear friends and colleagues.
A Memorial Service was held at the Becker Ritter Funeral home on Friday, January 3, 2013. In lieu of flowers, memorials to Medical College of Wisconsin, the House of Peace or Family Unity International are requested. Condolences may be sent to the Toohill Family at 15245 Watertown Plank Rd, Elm Grove WI 53122
Robert H. Ossoff, DMD, MD