Michael Justin Noetzel M.D. was born on April 3, 1951, and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. He died on February 20, 2022, just six weeks before his 71st birthday, and just over 4 months from his intended date of retirement from Washington University School of Medicine which would have also marked the 45th anniversary of his arrival in St. Louis. Over those 70+ years, Michael lived a remarkable life of generosity and service to others.
Michael graduated in 1969 from St. Ignatius High School, in the Ohio City neighborhood of Cleveland. While at St. Ignatius, he was a standout scholar athlete lettering in football and baseball. He went on to attend Yale University where he was also a standout scholar athlete, lettering in football and baseball, and excelling in the former. As a freshman safety, he helped the 1969 Yale Bulldogs tie for first place in the Ivy League; he was named a member of the All-Ivy 1st Team in 1972. He was awarded the Woody Knapp Memorial Trophy, which is “given to that outstanding member of the football team who best typifies the cheerful dispositional, leadership qualities and unselfish devotion to others” – qualities that would characterize Michael throughout his life.
After graduating cum laude from Yale, Michael attended the University of Virginia School of Medicine, graduating in 1977, whereupon he moved to St. Louis for residency training in Pediatrics and Pediatric Neurology training. Upon completing his training, he was appointed to the faculty of the Washington University School of Medicine in 1982, joining a Department of Pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine Chaired by Philip Dodge and a Division of Pediatric Neurology directed by Arthur Prensky. Others members of the Division at that time included Ed Dodson, Ruthmary Deuel, and Joe Volpe. Michael would go on to spend his entire 45-year career at Washington University and St Louis Children’s Hospital. He was a pediatric neurologist who was a true “quintuple threat” – clinician, researcher, teacher, administrator, and role model. He had unparalleled personal qualities that allowed him to excel in all of those roles, while also maintaining his persona of a down-to-earth, “regular guy”.
He was the Director of the Division of Pediatric and Developmental Neurology from 2007-2014 and the founder and Medical Director of the Neurorehabilitation Program and Therapy Services at St Louis Children’s Hospital from 1990-2020. Although he planned to officially retire in July 2022, he was unwilling to retire his reflex hammer and was already on the schedule to teach as an Emeritus Professor in residents’ clinic in the fall.
Michael’s scientific accomplishments were as vast as the variety of conditions managed by child neurologists, and reflected his recognition of the power of collaborative, multicenter research. He received a Clinical Investigator Development Award from the NIH in 1984. He went on to play an important role in several major NIH-funded trials including the Diabetes Control and Complication Trial and Silent Cerebral Infarct Multi-Center Clinical Trial focusing on sickle cell disease. Both studies resulted in landmark publications in the New England Journal of Medicine and guide the management of these diseases today. Recently chosen to serve a 5-year term on the International Pediatric Stroke Study Publications Committee, Michael was looking forward to influencing the field even during retirement.
Michael received numerous awards for his research and teaching, including the 2013 Distinguished Clinician Award from Washington University and the 2020 John Doronzo Memorial Award for Clinical Excellence from the Brain Injury Association of Missouri. He was selected to receive the 2022 Roger and Mary Brumback Lifetime Achievement Award from the Child Neurology Society, a highly prestigious award that will now be presented posthumously at the 2022 Annual Meeting. Although he was overjoyed by the congratulatory notes sent by colleagues and former trainees, it is bittersweet that he will not be present to officially receive the award and to hear what is certain to be a flood of fond memories of a cherished colleague.
Throughout his career, he became known as an outstanding educator to hundreds of medical students, residents, and fellows. His generosity of spirit and time was extraordinary as he exemplified the mentor whose door was always open. His humble demeanor belied the wisdom he delivered, often with a chuckle and a twinkle in his eye. He was deeply invested in building the careers and success of all those around him. Michael had an understated way of making us all better physicians and, frankly, better human beings.
From playing softball in Forest Park men’s league, ski trips with family to coaching his daughter’s grade school basketball teams where he was known to wear the same “lucky” vest every game (even though they rarely won), and playing slip n’ slide with his grandkids in the backyard, Michael enjoyed a life rich with love, service, and purpose.
Michael is survived by his wife (Mary), children (Evan, Justin, Katie, and Anna), and 8 grandchildren. His impact on Washington University, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, the discipline of child neurology, his students and trainees, and the lives of his countless patients will be measured in generations. His generous spirit and kindness will be sorely missed by all who had the opportunity to know him.
Written by colleagues:
Christina A. Gurnett, MD, PhD
A. Ernest and Jane G. Stein Professor of Developmental Neurology
Professor of Neurology, Pediatrics, and Orthopaedic Surgery
Head, Division of Pediatric and Developmental Neurology
Washington University School of Medicine
Neurologist-in-Chief, St Louis Children’s Hospital
Bradley L. Schlaggar MD, PhD
President & CEO
Zanvyl Krieger Endowed Chair
Kennedy Krieger Institute
Professor of Neurology and Pediatrics
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Jonathan W. Mink, MD, PhD
Frederick A. Horner, M.D. Distinguished Professor in Pediatric Neurology
Professor of Neurology, Neuroscience, and Pediatrics
Chief, Division of Child Neurology
Vice Chair, Department of Neurology
Director, University of Rochester Batten Center
University of Rochester Medical Center