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October 27, 2016

Obituary: William J. “Doc” Doyle

William DoyleWilliam J. “Doc” Doyle — called a giant in his field by colleagues in the School of Medicine’s Department of Otolaryngology — died Oct. 21, 2016. He was 64.

“I realized immediately he was a genius,” said Charles Bluestone, distinguished professor emeritus of otolaryngology, recalling his 1974 meeting with Doyle, then a PhD candidate in anthropology at Pitt.

Doyle’s training allowed him to follow his early passion for research on the middle ear, especially the Eustachian tube, where damage or disease was causing greater deafness in Native American groups. Doyle’s PhD thesis proved that their skull shape made them more susceptible to middle-ear problems.

Bluestone also found Doyle to be a perfect match for the department’s ear, nose and throat (ENT) research lab.

“He wrote paper after paper,” said Bluestone. “He was running our research program for 40 years,” and secured funding from the National Institutes of Health for related research projects from 1978 to his current $7 million NIH grant.

“We are devastated by his loss, because he was our main brain behind the laboratory,” Bluestone said. “He was instrumental in driving that.

“We were fortunate enough that he groomed a successor, and he has left a legacy that is unmatched in the world. He is the world’s authority on middle-ear physiology and pathophysiology. No one is his peer.”

Bluestone said Doyle’s “magnum opus” on gas exchange in the middle ear is about to appear in print. “When it is published online from a prestigious journal in Europe, it will be a standard,” he said.

Born on Jan. 26, 1952, Doyle earned all his degrees at Pitt: a BS in biology and anthropology in 1973, an MA in anthropology in 1975 and his PhD in 1975. He also did post-graduate work in genetics and statistics in the Graduate School of Public Health.

Doyle spent his entire career at Pitt as well, beginning as a research assistant at Children’s Hospital, then joining the anthropology department in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences as an instructor in 1977, and finally the otolaryngology department of the School of Medicine as an assistant professor in 1980. He was a professor in that department at his death, and had been director of the ENT lab at Children’s Hospital since 1986.

Eugene Myers, distinguished professor emeritus of otolaryngology and emeritus chair of the department, recalls Doyle as “at it right up until the end,” working in the department’s walk-in hyperbaric pressure chamber in the Oakland Medical Building on his current NIH project. “He certainly was a leader in his field and a very valuable member of our department for decades.”

Myers was one of several colleagues who described Doyle as “a very colorful character.”

“He had ups and downs,” recalled Cuneyt Alper, faculty member in otolaryngology and clinical and translational science, noting his colleague’s multiple medical issues.

“He took a lot of risks in his life,” Alper said. “He would live his life to its limits in every way.

“But he was a dedicated worker,” Alper added, “dedicated to the program, and would do what was best for the research programs. He would sit down in front of a computer and work on a topic, a grant, for 18 hours a day.”

Even though Doyle was only five years older than Alper, “he was like a father to me,” Alper said. “He helped build my career and have my skills incorporated to the research program. I wasn’t the only person who had the benefit” of Doyle’s tutelage. There were, he said, “a large number of people” whom Doyle mentored: “He took care of his people and his staff to a great extent. He looked to new grants and new funding” — both to advance the science to which he had dedicated his life, Alper said, and to figure out “how could he keep the jobs of research people going.”

He is survived by his wife, Ronna; daughter Allison Gremba; sons Sean and Brendan; father William; sister Susan Kemp; and brothers Timothy, Patrick and Colin.

Donations may be made to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (

—Marty Levine 

Filed under: Feature,Volume 49 Issue 5

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