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Thomas Holcomb, MD

Monday, November 25, 2013 - 00:00

As an official examiner of the American Board of Pediatrics (ABP) for 17 years, Dr. Thomas Holcomb launched questions at young doctors who hoped to become certified pediatricians in the United States. He was one of only 205 pediatricians who presided over ABP's oral exams from 1935 until 1989, when the oral portion of the exam was discontinued.

Dr. Thomas Holcomb

Dr. Holcomb died Oct. 3, 2013, at his home in Ocean Pines, Md. He was 88.

"We remember Dr. Holcomb fondly as one of the leading lights among oral examiners for the ABP and as a wonderful teacher and mentor to a generation of young pediatricians," said Dr. David G. Nichols, ABP President and CEO.

Dr. Holcomb and other examiners traveled across the country, meeting in hotels, hospitals and medical offices to ensure that everyone practicing pediatric medicine knew what they were doing. These examiners were some of the most well-known physicians in their fields, often authors of the textbooks that candidates for certification had studied in medical school. Tales abound within ABP history of candidates who fought nerves (and nausea) before exams, asked examiners for autographs, and even fainted upon being introduced to their examiners.

The examiners, from all parts of the country, had one important thing in common - they cared about the competence of pediatricians. They also respected and cared about each other.

"Tom was a great guy, and I will miss him," said Dr. R. Rodney Howell, Professor of Pediatrics and Chair Emeritus, Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami, and an ABP oral examiner from 1983-89. "Perhaps the biggest loss from discontinuing the oral exams...was the great fellowship of the oral examiners, as we spent a lot of time together in various cities giving the oral exams. And my late wife, Sally (who was a child psychiatrist, boarded in both), and I had the great good fortune to hold the oral exams in Houston when I was Chair of Pediatrics at the University of Texas, and it was a great experience."

A U.S. Air Force veteran, Dr. Holcomb was Chief of Pediatrics at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama (1954-58) and Department Chair of Pediatrics at Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio (1959-68).

He was a graduate of St. Michael's College in Vermont and the University of Vermont School of Medicine. He also earned a master's degree from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

When ABP's oral examinations were discontinued, Dr. Holcomb continued to serve the board as a member of the Program for Renewal of Certification Pilot-Testing Committee and the Written Examination Objectives Committee. He served with the ABP until his retirement in 1994.

He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Eleanor Nolan Holcomb, a son, Thomas N. Holcomb of Chapel Hill, N.C., and daughters Mary Busch and her husband, Paul, of Bowie, Md., Melanie Ann Lynch and her husband, Peter, of Honolulu, Hawaii, and Frances Rosinski and her husband, John, of Ocean Pines.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Franklin Square Hospital, Dept. of Pediatrics, 900 Franklin Square Dr., Baltimore, MD 21237 or the Carmelite Monastery, 1318 Dulaney Valley Rd., Baltimore, MD 21286.

We remember his legacy and invite you to do the same.