Dr. Robert Masland Jr., 89, mentored medical students

After given a one-year contract at Children’s Hospital, Dr. Masland remained for 55 years, taking care of adolescents. After given a one-year contract at Children’s Hospital, Dr. Masland remained for 55 years, taking care of adolescents. (David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/File 1988)
By Gloria Negri
Globe Staff / April 8, 2010

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When Dr. Robert P. Masland Jr. arrived at Children’s Hospital Boston in 1954 to join its new division of adolescent medicine, he planned to stay for just a year.

“I thought I’d see what this adolescent medicine was all about,’’ he told the hospital’s NewsOnline publication last year, on his retirement. “A lot of doctors didn’t like caring for adolescents. They thought they had too many problems and were too complicated. But I kind of like being with a group that nobody wanted to take care of.’’

Dr. Masland, who remained at Children’s for 55 years, taking care of adolescent patients and mentoring generations of Harvard Medical School students, interns, and residents, died Mar. 27 at his Needham home of cardiovascular disease. He was 89.

After 13 years working with adolescent medicine, Dr. Masland was chief of the division for 25 years. During that period, he made the division “much more inclusive of young women and underprivileged adolescents,’’ according to NewsOnline. “. . . He addressed teens’ changing lifestyles in the ‘60s and ‘70s.’’

Dr. Frederick H. Lovejoy Jr., associate physician in chief and deputy chairman of the department of medicine at Children’s, said Dr. Masland helped to establish a culture in which adolescents could be seen by their doctor without their parents present.

“This was in the ’60s; he cared for adolescents as far as sexually transmitted diseases and substance abuse were involved,’’ said Lovejoy, who arrived at Children’s in 1957 and was one of Dr. Masland’s residents. “He established a culture where the focus was on the boy and girl, rather than their disease.’’

Dr. Masland had a talent for connecting with young patients, Lovejoy said. “He didn’t lecture them, he listened to them. He loved kids.’’

His young patients loved him, too. Dr. Masland had an impish smile and a twinkle in his eyes, friends said. He also had a propensity for colorful neckties, most of which were purchased at Charlie Davidson’s Andover Shop in Cambridge. He went there so often that he and Davidson became close friends.

“Bob was such a gentleman,’’ Davidson said. “He was very particular in his taste for clothes. He was very conservative and very elegant. We had many mutual friends and would, with a sense of humor, see things in the shop that would suit them.’’

During his tenure as chief of adolescent medicine, Dr. Masland started training young doctors in that field, Lovejoy said. “He sent them throughout the United States and beyond to set up their own divisions. He made adolescent medicine a highly respected area. He was a pioneer.’’

It was not just young adolescents whom Dr. Masland enchanted. “What made him special was his ability to relate to every age group,’’ said Dr. Norman Spack, who has been at Children’s 38 years. “Most of us wouldn’t make a major career decision without discussing it with him first.’’

After Dr. Masland stepped down as chief of adolescent medicine, he was involved in Children’s highly competitive intern-selection program and advised prospective students at Harvard Medical School about their future, Lovejoy said.

Sonali Talsania of Chappaqua, N.Y., echoed many students he interviewed, saying Dr. Masland was the reason she went to Harvard Medical School.

“We met during the interview process, which I had generally found overwhelming, as a not-so-outgoing person,’’ Talsania wrote in a tribute. “But, with Dr. Masland, the interview was like chatting with an old friend. It felt completely natural that we talked about how I chose my interview suit instead of MCAT scores. . . . For once, I didn’t want an interview to end.’’

Dr. Masland was born in Philadelphia, where his father had a carpet manufacturing business. After the family moved to Carlisle, Pa., he graduated from Carlisle High School. He took a postgraduate course at Peddie School in Hightstown, N.J., and graduated from Yale University in 1942 with a major in English.

“He was a humanist,’’ said his son, Robert P. III of Hingham.

He joined the Army Medical Training Corps as a student at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons and earned his medical degree there in 1945.

He served in Newfoundland for two years with the US Army Air Corps. Out of the service, he did his residency in pathology at Chicago’s Passavant Hospital. There, in 1948 on his 28th birthday, a nurse, Jean Margaret Kruthaupt, baked him a chocolate cake. They married four months later.

In 1951, his son said, the Army redrafted him for military service in Korea, but he was exempted by serving two years at a hospital in Yankton, S.D.

He was then given a one-year contract at the new adolescent unit in Children’s and never left.

His son said Dr. Masland’s “two most favorite days of the year were the White Coat Ceremony, when new medical students arrived at Harvard Medical, and match day, when they’re assigned to their first residency.’’

“He’s like everyone’s favorite uncle,’’ Spack told NewsOnline when Dr. Masland retired. “He’s the best listener I’ve met and has such a broad view of human nature and such positivity.’’

In addition to his wife and son Robert, Dr. Masland leaves another son, Lawrence of Concord, and four grandchildren.

A service will be held at Christ Episcopal Church in Needham at 10 a.m. today. Funeral home staff will be given Dr. Masland’s ties to wear. Burial services with military honors will be private.