Bringing CNS Members Together to Make Children’s Lives Better


Joseph Farrell Pasternak, MD

(Died in 2006)

Written by: Joseph Mantovani, MD

Joseph Farrell Pasternak, MD

Joseph Farrell Pasternak, Head of the Division of Pediatric Neurology at Evanston Northwestern Hospital and Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Neurology at Northwestern University Medical School died at home on December 5, 2006 at age 57 after a five year battle with pancreatic cancer. He is survived by his wife and clinical and research partner, Barbara Trommer, M.D. and two daughters, Emily and Rebecca.

A native of Des Moines, Iowa, Joe received his undergraduate degree in mathematics from the University of Iowa in 1971 and his M.D. from Washington University School of Medicine in 1975 where he won virtually all of the academic awards. Due to an unexpected vacancy and Joe’s remarkable academic and clinical abilities, he entered our internship group at St Louis Children’s Hospital in April of 1975, three months ahead of his scheduled medical school graduation. He completed his residencies in pediatrics and neurology and fellowship in child neurology as a “Golden Boy” in the Dodge/Prensky training program at Washington University (personal communication, Walter Allan, M.D.). During his training, he was an influential collaborator with Dr Joseph Volpe in the early days of neonatal neurology and published other important clinical observations.

In his last year of fellowship in St. Louis, Joe met Barbara, who was interviewing for a child neurology position. With characteristic directness, the two of them pursued a long- distance courtship, married, and in 1979 moved to Wilmette, Illinois where Joe became the first Head of Child Neurology at Evanston Hospital (now Evanston- Northwestern Medical Center [ENH]), and Barbara completed her three-year fellowship in child neurology at Children’s Memorial in Chicago before joining Joe at ENH. The two of them worked side-by-side until his final days to build and sustain a premiere child neurology division with commitments to clinical care, neurological education and basic neuroscience research resulting in over 50 publications.

In Wilmette, Becky and Emily followed apace, and the Pasternak-Trommer household blossomed into a close-knit, child-centered haven for all of them. As a frequent visitor

I always felt genuine warmth and hospitality, but couldn’t escape the sense that Joe was happiest when it was just the four of them. He was a devoted father who doted on his girls and their accomplishments, and he and Barbara had a wonderful partnership including a life-long love affair, complementary professional interests and a shared affection for the arts, literature and the luxury of good conversation around the dinner table.

From the time I met him in St Louis, Joe was recognized for his extraordinary intellectual acuity and range of medical knowledge. Always analytical and self-critical, his views on child neurology practice never failed to entertain and enlighten. He believed that caring for children was important work but understood the foibles and contradictions intrinsic to that enterprise better than most. Although Joe will be justifiably remembered for his seminal contributions to the clinical and scientific understanding of neurology, it was his understated style and gentle skepticism, his genuine humility informed by a wry and worldly perspective, and his native kindness and generosity that made him a wonderful husband and father, an exemplary physician and an inspiring friend. We will miss him greatly.