Roswell Park IV loses 20 year battle with cancer

“He was truly one of a kind.”

Tim Wenger
April 08, 2020 - 9:43 pm
Roswell Park IV

Roswell Park

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Buffalo, N.Y. (WBEN) - Buffalo, and the world, quietly lost a champion for cancer research Wednesday.

Roswell Park IV, PhD, an ardent supporter of the Buffalo, New York, cancer center that was founded by and named for his great-grandfather, died Wednesday, April 8, after a 20-year battle with the disease. 

I had the honor of speaking with Roswell Park IV at a 2018 event celebrating the 120 year history of the comprehensive cancer center.

Roswell Park staff provided the following background on the life of Roswell Park IV.

Carrying on the work of his ancestor, he was among the original volunteers with the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation, which raises funds for cancer research and patient programs. As Chair of the Walk of Life program since its inception in 1997, he helped bring in more than one million dollars to support that mission.  

Roswell Park Trustee Anne D. Gioia, who created the Alliance Foundation, said Park’s dedication to the cancer center was highly personal. During the center’s annual memorial service, he read aloud the names of patients who had passed away during the previous year. “You could tell he knew who those people were. He cared about them, and he knew how much it meant to their families,” said Gioia. 

“He was the ideal person to be in that role. He understood cancer and loss.”

A member and past Commodore of the Buffalo Yacht Club, Park was out on his sailboat in 2000 when he noticed that he couldn’t tilt his head back far enough to look up at the wind vane on the mast. That observation led him to Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, where he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer that develops in plasma cells. Four months later, in May, he underwent a stem cell transplant using his own blood stem cells. He returned to work just a month after that, “and in August I sailed solo over to Canada and along the shore,” he recalled later. 

“I’m the direct beneficiary of not only my great-grandfather’s wisdom but also the wisdom of the superior staff at Roswell Park, on every level.”

At the time of his diagnosis, the life expectancy of multiple myeloma patients could be as short as five years, but Park stayed in remission for 13 years, undergoing a second transplant in 2014 after the disease recurred. He developed acute myeloid leukemia in October of 2018, and underwent a third transplant in January 2019 using the stem cells of an unrelated donor from Germany. The leukemia recurred last month.

Throughout his illness, his care was managed by the man he called “the saintly Dr. McCarthy” — Philip McCarthy, MD, Director of the Transplant & Cellular Therapy Center at Roswell Park. The two shared a love of literature, and McCarthy said talking about books together was a great joy for both of them. 

Ten days before Park died, McCarthy asked him how he was feeling. “I’m doing great,” Park told him. 

“Are you telling me the truth?” McCarthy asked. 

“Well, no, I don’t feel well,” Park replied.

“He never complained,” said McCarthy. “The glass was always three-quarters full. He was always great with the nursing staff, and he had a wonderful sense of humor.

“You could tell he and his wife really loved each other and were devoted to each other.”

Candace Johnson, PhD, President and CEO of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, said Park was “an important member of the Roswell Park community, loved by so many staff and volunteers alike. He will be deeply missed.”

Until his retirement in December of 2019, Park served as Director of Individualized Studies at Buffalo State College, where he had been a member of the faculty for more than 40 years. He was known as a student advocate, according to Amitra Wall, PhD, Associate Provost at Buffalo State, who said everyone at the college “knew how much he loved his students.” By creating customized curricula, he assisted many nontraditional students “who might not have been successful in a major program or who wanted to pursue a new area of study,” she explained. 

During his tenure at the college, Park also directed the Evening Student Assistance Office for 20 years. He was a specialist in medieval English literature (“If you ever need any Chaucer assistance, give me a call!”) and taught in the All-College Honors Program as well. He was the recipient of the State University of New York Chancellor’s Award for Professional Service (2007) and the Buffalo State College President’s Award for Excellence in Academic Advisement (1992) and served three terms on the College Senate. 

Park was a graduate of The Nichols School; Kenyon College, where he majored in English; and the University at Buffalo, where he earned a Ph.D. in English. 

Park and his wife, Debra, were married for nearly 30 years. She remembered that when he first learned of his diagnosis, “he was quiet for a few days, and then one day at breakfast, he said to me, ‘I will do everything I can to beat this, but I don’t want to live our lives as if I have cancer.’ And we never did. Even last week, he was planning vacations for us.

“He was truly one of a kind.”

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