Bringing CNS Members Together to Make Children’s Lives Better


Ray Chun, MD

Ray Chun, MD

Ray Chun was born in 1926 in Hawaii, the last of seven children, to parents who had moved from China to Hawaii. His father, a plumber on a pineapple plantation, had many virtues including kindness, a sense of humor, practicality, and curiosity. He worked hard to provide the best possible education for his children. When the time came, the family found the resources to send their promising young son to “the mainland” to continue his education at St. Joseph’s Academy in Philadelphia. Though thriving intellectually, Ray wrestled with loneliness in that austere Jesuitical setting, prompting him to take up tennis, becoming the first-seed singles and doubles player within a year. Graduating in 1944, he was drafted into the army, trained as an artilleryman, and shipped overseas where he participated in the terrible battles on Okinawa at the end of WWII. As the war ended, he spent the rest of his enlistment singing in the Army Chorus and traveled widely until his discharge in 1947. Under the GI Bill he earned a BS degree at St. Joseph’s College in 1951 and an MD degree at Georgetown in 1955.

Having always enjoyed being around children, Dr. Chun became keenly interested in pediatrics. After a rotating internship at Philadelphia General Hospital he returned to Georgetown for pediatric residency. Doubtful of the intellectual rewards of spending a lifetime dealing with parental concerns about ear infections, he became interested in neurology. This transition was fostered by Georgetown’s distinguished neurologist and Dean of Medicine, Dr. Francis M. Forster. Dr. Chun rightly judged that he would find greater fulfillment in working together with children and their families in diagnosing and managing neurological conditions. Forster also awakened his interest in epilepsy and research and asked Dr. Chun to join him in moving to the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Although the young Hawaiian was quite content in Washington D.C. and had only a vague notion where Wisconsin was located, he could not bring himself to refuse Forster’s offer.

Dr. Chun trained in neurology at Wisconsin and in child neurology with Sid Carter at Columbia. Carter’s training program was just two years old. Only four trainees (Niels Low, Isabelle Rapin, John Menkes, and Beth Decker) had completed the program when Ray arrived in 1959. Dr. Carter’s exceptional knowledge, meticulous approach to clinical problems, and essential kindness had a formative impact on Dr. Chun and enriched his understanding of childhood epilepsy, complimenting the equally formative influence of another mentor at Columbia, Jim Hammel. Carter, Hammel, and Niels Low further encouraged Dr. Chun’s interest in research. John Menkes and fellow residents Mel Greer and Arnold Gold also exerted important influences. However, no one was to provide greater benefit for his future life than did Columbia’s Chair of Pediatrics, Dr. Rustin McIntosh. MacIntosh convinced an outstanding pediatric resident, Dr. Memee King, to accept a fellowship at Babies Hospital rather than one with cardiologist Helen Taussig at Johns Hopkins. Drs. King and Chun were introduced and soon married. They then agreed to see how things might work out for both “for just one year,” renewing the pact for each of the 45 ensuing years.

Memee Chun’s career as pediatrician would include establishment of what would become the developmental pediatrics program. Ray Chun established the child neurology service. They collaborated in producing a young family. Under the influence and support of Clinton Woolsey, Ray joined the Wang laboratory to carry out investigations in a cat model of brain galvanic responses in order to characterize the physiological aspects of conditioned reflexive epilepsy. Frequent clinical interruptions made it difficult to get on with the work, so Dr. Chun arranged for sabbatical time at the Brain Research Institute in Bern, Switzerland. The Chun’s were able to persuade Laura Ment, the teenaged daughter of a pediatrician with whom they had become close friends in New York, to accompany them as a companion for the children. Ray quickly concluded that Laura Ment was “awesome” and proved influential in her own ultimate decision to become a child neurologist.

The Chun’s returned to Madison to manage rapidly increasing clinical demands. Distressed that infants underwent painful pneumoencephalography to determine if there were surgically remediable causes of their large heads, Dr. Chun determined to improve and standardize the method of flashlight transillumination of skull pioneered by Philip Dodge. Together with biomechanical engineers he was able develop the “Chun Gun” whose projector bulb, lenses, filters, and vanes contributed to intensified light but diffused the associated heat. This simple instrument was extensively utilized prior to the introduction of EMI CT scanner in the mid-1970’s.

Ray also joined virologist/epidemiologist Wayne Thompson and pioneer child neuropsychologist Chuck Matthews in a comprehensive series of investigations of a form of encephalitis the cause of which had recently been isolated from the brain of a little girl who died in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. These studies would characterize with unprecedented thoroughness the ecology and natural history of the virus and the incidental human disease that it produced. These data provided information of considerable importance in the understanding of the entire family of arboviruses and their associated encephalitides. Venerable methods of reduction of vector and exposure were modified and applied cutting the yearly incidence of LaCrosse encephalitis by 20-30 fold. The symptomatic management of illness was improved. Clinicians were provided with a clear knowledge of the clinical course and outcome. Careful studies of intellectual and behavioral outcome of LaCrosse encephalitis dispelled a venerable theory that “minimal brain dysfunction” in children was due to mild childhood encephalitis.

Appointed full professor in 1971, Dr. Chun was forced to abandon his experimental studies of epilepsy in response to ever-growing clinical demands. He did, however, find time to train more than twenty individuals from the United States and other countries as child neurologists. The activities of Dr. Chun and pediatrician Harry Waisman at Wisconsin’s St. Coletta’s Training School attracted the attention of the Kennedy family; Rose and Joseph Kennedy’s daughter was among the patients. The Waisman Center was established at the University of Wisconsin as the third of the Kennedy Centers in the United States. With the untimely death of Dr. Waisman, Dr. Chun became the Medical Director of this facility dedicated to clinical and basic science and patient care, and remained productively in that position for decades. He still found time for his family and acquired a neighborhood family of children who would come to the door asking “Could Dr. Chun come out and play?” This often meant a spirited game of “King of the Mountain” on the Chun lawn. For day-to-day family management of the family, however, a considerable portion of the responsibilities were carried out by Memee Chun, who also worked very hard to manage the double demand of family and career.

Despite the excellent support of colleague George Wollcott, Dr. Chun felt professionally isolated and welcomed the invitation of Ken Swaiman to participate with six others in the LaCrosse Meeting that would spawn – under Swaiman’s dynamic leadership – first the Upper Midwest Child Neurology Society (UMWCNS) and then the Child Neurology Society (CNS). Dr. Chun hosted the first meeting of the UMWCNS in Madison in the spring of 1972 as well as the third CNS national meeting, which was held in Madison, in 1975. Dr. Chun served as Secretary-Treasurer of the CNS and was elected the eleventh President of the CNS in 1982. Dr. Chun also participated in the activities of the AAN, AAP, PCN, and the Central Society for Neurological Research. In 1978 Dr. Chun was named Acting Chairman of the Department of Neurology at Wisconsin. Although few child neurologists have achieved the distinction of chairing a Neurology department, for Dr. Chun it was simply a duty he performed admirably while keenly awaiting a successor to lift this unwanted burden from his shoulders.

Dr. Chun’s clinical excellence derived not only from broad knowledge, but as well from his keen powers of observation of play and his ability to set children at ease. To this he added a few pertinent questions and deft strokes of examination to reach accurate conclusions. He readily elicited the trust necessary to permit parents to ask their most searching questions, to which he provided honest answers, support, and an appropriate degree of hope. His superb clinical teaching resembled that of his teacher, Houston Merritt, in that it was distilled into a few highly pertinent words, offered entirely without showmanship. He usually implied that his listeners were equally aware of what he had concluded, though often they were not. Interruptions by impetuous colleagues were greeted with a shrug, as he awaited the opportunity to gently nudge the discussion back onto the right track. He has provided the same type of understated excellence as a teacher and player of tennis. His principle of tennis, “to be a good player you have to hit a lot of balls,” seemed to govern his view of training as an ongoing process that extended throughout one’s career. Occasionally Dr. Chun was found on the ward playing a game with a recovering child. Sometimes it was a hand or two of poker, which he universally lost throwing down his hand with a feigned accusation of cheating and then a grin. No such luck for the skilled medical professionals among whom he was the acknowledged master at monthly poker games.

Raymond Chun has published a total of sixty original contributions in peer-reviewed journals and more than fifteen chapters and reviews. In addition to encephalitis studies, his contributions include genetic studies in collaboration with colleagues John Opitz and David Smith. Papers concerning Sydenham and Huntington choreas marked the beginning of his particular interest in childhood movement disorders; his powers of observation made him uniquely expert. Chun and Louis Ptacek were among the first to report changes in serum immunoglobulins associated with ataxia telangiectasia, thus providing an important diagnostic test and a clue to pathogenesis of that illness. He contributed to the understanding of benign familial chorea syndrome, choreoathetosis as a very late effect of infantile hemiplegia, and a classic paper distinguishing familial and acquired paroxysmal dyskinesias. Dr. Chun participated in one of the best designed and executed studies disproving the putative relationship between hyperactivity and food additives and formally demonstrating the ineffectiveness of the Feingold diet in treatment of this condition.

The devotion of his patients and their unwillingness to leave him as they grew into adulthood were legendary; many continued to occupy chairs far too tiny for them in order to see “Ray.” He treated each individual as an individual, usually remembering some aspect or activity or achievement that was independent of the disease at hand. No minor problem was insignificant if it mattered to family and child. Concluding hugs were offered to child or parent as needed and invited. He radiated warmth and just the right degree of concern and he knew instinctively and unerringly how much should or should not be said and how to support and encourage. He applied the very same skills to students and residents and colleagues— sometimes including not a concluding hug, but a coach-like swat on the backside.

Scrupulously honest and uniformly constructive, Ray Chun tries hard to look for the good in people and seldom says a cross word or passes judgment on a colleague. As was true of his father, he is by nature very humble, despite his many extraordinary achievements. He is filled with valuable information as the result of curiosity and he is quintessentially kind. He has keen understanding of human nature, limitless compassion, and the good sense to known when he has done what he can do. His wife, Memee, is richly endowed with the same qualities. Since their retirements, they have found more time to travel. Ray Chun, twice the Wisconsin State Doubles Champion, found more time to teach children tennis and to do some fishing, poker, and fussing with his apple tree. Both have taken considerable pride and satisfaction in the achievements of their three exceptional children—neurologist, astronomer, and a small animal veterinarian, all with academic interests. And they have taken the greatest pleasure in their growing grandchildren.