William H. Sweet, professor of surgery emeritus, Harvard Medical School, and former chief of the neurosurgical service, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), died of complications of Parkinson’s disease on Jan. 22 at his home in Brookline, Mass. He was 90.
Sweet was born in Kerriston, Wash. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1930 and then entered Harvard Medical School. In his second medical school year he was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship. After two years at Oxford, he returned to Harvard to finish his M.D. degree in 1936.
Following World War II service with the British Emergency Medical Services, he resumed his career in academic neurosurgery at MGH and the Medical School. During more than 60 years of service to these institutions, Sweet made significant contributions in both basic research and clinical care in the field of neurosurgery. His bibliography of 538 publications reflects his broad range of interests.
His many new basic and clinical studies improved the care of patients with chronic pain, disorders of the cerebral vascular system, epilepsy, problems with cerebrospinal fluid, and brain tumors. Sweet was one of the first academic neurosurgeons to stress the importance of basic research in a clinical neurosurgical department, and he maintained a lifelong interest in the neurosciences.
Not only did his patients benefit from his superb surgical skills, but Sweet taught these skills to neurosurgical residents who are now practicing throughout the country. He also provided an active fellowship program to help the improvement of neurosurgical care in other countries. In special recognition of this program’s contribution to the development and progress of neurosurgery in Japan, he received the Emperor of Japan’s Order of the Rising Sun.
In this country, Sweet received the highest awards given in his field, including: Honored Guest of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, the Cushing Medal of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, and the Distinguished Service Award of the Society of Neurological Surgeons.
He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth; three children from a former marriage: David, Gwendolyn, and Paula; and eight grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held on Sunday, March 25, at 2 p.m. at the House of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, 136 Irving St., Cambridge (use 200 Beacon St. entrance).
Memorial gifts may be made to the William Sweet Professorship c/o Office of Resource Development, Harvard Medical School, 25 Shattuck St., Boston, MA 02115.