Passing of a Legend: Robert Bond Welch, MD
At 6-foot-6, Dr. Welch was an imposing figure, but it was his incredible intellect and expertise that made him a giant in the medical field for decades. In 2015, he was named one of GBMC’s inaugural Physician Titans of Care in recognition of his outstanding career and years of dedicated service. His affiliation with GBMC dated back to his service on the Board of the Presbyterian Eye Research Foundation in 1959. He remained a member of the Presbyterian Eye, Ear and Throat Charity Hospital (PEETCH) Board until his death.
The Welch family had lived in Anne Arundel County since the 1600s when ancestor, John Welch, a major in the colonial militia, emigrated from Great Britain. Today, GBMC’s Wilkinson-Welch-Hoover Chair in Ophthalmology bears his name, along with those of his former colleagues Drs. Pat Wilkinson and Richard E. Hoover.
Dr. Welch was around the medical field and ophthalmology all his life. His father, a physician who specialized in ophthalmology and otolaryngology, ran his practice out of the home where young Bob Welch grew up with his parents and older sister. Their home was located across State Circle from the Maryland State House, one block from the governor’s mansion. Dr. Welch recalled fond memories of his childhood including playing hide-and-seek with his cat, “Boots,” and attending sporting events at the Naval Academy with his father. He remembered when Annapolis was a small town with just 8,500 residents. The state capital was his playground.
“I used to build model airplanes out of balsa wood with rubber band motors,” he said. “I had fun flying them around the neighborhood.”
After graduating from Annapolis High, Dr. Welch began his studies at Princeton. In 1944, he left college after his freshman year to join the Navy and serve as a pharmacist’s mate during World War II. He was stationed at Bethesda National Naval Medical Center, now known as Walter Reed. He graduated from Princeton, after the war, and then from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, where he earned his M.D. in 1953.
He completed an internship in Internal Medicine at Duke University and returned to Johns Hopkins in 1954 where he eventually served as chief resident. During his Duke internship, Dr. Welch decided on the direction of his career.
“I was all set to be an internist, but I had so many patients die during that year that I thought there must be something that will make me happier and where there will be a better outcome,” he said. “I decided to follow in my father’s footsteps and give ophthalmology a try.”
Later, Dr. Welch went on to Baylor University where he served as chief resident and then spent a year as a Retina Fellow at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston.
It was a chief resident post at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute that lured Dr. Welch back to Baltimore in 1959. He worked as the co-director of the Retina Service for the next 25 years.
Dr. Welch also maintained a private practice with offices in Baltimore and in his childhood home in Annapolis. Throughout his 42-year career, he served as a retinal consultant at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C.
He said, “It was a rewarding time for me teaching promising residents, and because of all the people I met: First Lady Barbara Bush, Senator Bob Dole, and other distinguished people from around the world like the Prime Minister of Jamaica.”
When speaking about his career, Dr. Welch mentioned his favorite type of work, “I was always very interested in both the surgical and medical aspects of retina work. This is a diagnostic area in ophthalmology, because so many illnesses show up in the retina. I always liked the diagnostic challenge – that was fun!”
Dr. Welch was predeceased by his beloved wife, the former Elizabeth “Betty” Truslow. The couple met racing sailboats in Annapolis in 1950 and traveled extensively, including to their favorite destination: Hawaii. He is survived by his sister, Sarah Bond Welch Geary, of Alexandria, VA and an uncle, John Welch Geary, of Annapolis.
Dr. and Mrs. Welch are perpetual members of GBMC’s Elizabeth Duncan Yaggy Society and Joseph S. Keelty Society.