An Earnest Love

In the spring of 1969, when Dr.Walter A. Stultz, Professor of Anatomy, was 65, he reflected on his 32 years of service at the University of Vermont and looked ahead:

I should like to keep on elsewhere for a few more years, and to that end I applied to the new University of California School of Medicine in San Diego. They are just now planning their first course in Anatomy, and since they would like some assistance from a person with experience, they have asked me to come out for an interview.  I trust that this will turn out favorably, and that I may be able to help again with modernizing a course in Gross Anatomy.

His interest in teaching clinically oriented anatomy, integrated into a Core Curriculum, capped a long history of excellence in teaching. The gratification he felt teaching Gross Anatomy, Pathology and Histology at UCSD’s School of Medicine was evident in his remarks when he was awarded “Teacher of the Year” by the class of 1973: “ I can honestly say that I have enjoyed the past four years as among the happiest, most productive and satisfying periods of my professional career.” At UCSD he practiced educational methods that fused clinical and theoretical knowledge in an immediate manner.  Though Dr. Stultz was among the older faculty at UCSD, where, in the words of Dr. Charles F. Bridgman’s son, Dan, “everyone seemed youthful and rather history-less,” his vitality made his age irrelevant. His appointment at UCSD, welcoming him to join a brilliant community of scholars, represents UCSD School of Medicine’s acknowledgement that the innate qualities of creative reform are ageless.

Dr. Stultz was inspired to apply to UCSD by his friend Dr. Charles F. Bridgman, Anatomist, and a founding faculty member committed to revolutionizing the field of Learning Resources.  At the same time Dr. Bridgman advocated for pioneering learning models, he understood the imperative for students to apply anatomical principles in the Gross Anatomy lab.  He and Dr. Stultz shared the philosophy that sound aspects of past practice should be carried on in concert with current advancements—an apparent paradox, yet the source of ongoing wisdom for proponents of both continuity and change, values exemplified by UCSD’s School of Medicine.

Walter Alva Stultz, (1904-1996) began teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in his native Havelock, New Brunswick, Canada in 1922. His long tenure as a teacher ended at Dartmouth Medical School in 1982.  During these 60 years, 50 of them spent teaching Gross Anatomy, Histology, Cytology, Pathology and Surface and Radiological Anatomy to medical students, he continually revised his approach to both his discipline and his pedagogy.  His flexibility of thought, readiness to create new instructional techniques, and a keen appreciation for each student’s aptitudes, made him a responsive, sensitive professor. The first tenet of his teaching practice was to respect his students. They returned his respect, earned through the directness of his instruction, his exuberant sense of humor, his delight in and depth of knowledge of his discipline and the discernment with which he perceived every student’s strengths and weaknesses. With patience, kindness and perseverance he adjusted his instruction to meet each person. The ideals of innovation and inclusivity that have impelled and shaped USCD’s School of Medicine for fifty years were realized in his naturally holistic regard for both students and subject.  He was ever concerned with the dignity of all human beings, and intuitively recognized the subtle, delicate interconnections among them and the whole of nature.

Dr. Stultz spent much of his childhood on a small family farm. He graduated from secondary school at 17, enrolled in teacher training for one year, spent the years from 1922-1924 teaching in public schools, matriculated at Acadia University in Nova Scotia in 1924, graduated in 1927, and entered graduate school at Yale in that same year. His parents were fierce advocates for higher education, and during the years he was an undergraduate, helped to support five of their six children at Acadia; in summer the family produced a cash crop of potatoes to fund tuition. His acceptance into the graduate program in Zoology and Anatomy at Yale marked the beginning of his long professional career, the fundamentals of which sprang from his early experiences of unstinting cooperative work, and the melding of a naturalist’s bent with a humanist’s love of culture and language.

Two figures at Yale molded Dr. Stultz’ concept of an ideal academic. Lorande Loss Woodruff (1879-1947), Biologist, was a gifted teacher and writer with whom Stultz worked as Teaching Assistant; Professor Ross G. Harrison. M.D., Ph.D. (1870-1959), an outstanding experimental embryologist, mentored Stultz’ dissertation on a phase of the developmental mechanics of vertebrates through the study of limb bud regeneration in embryonic salamanders. Woodruff and Harrison bestowed on him the belief that teachers should willingly offer up their store of knowledge in an egalitarian and unpretentious way.  For Walter Stultz a natural interchange between student and teacher was vitally enriching.

His enduring esteem for the abiding qualities of great scholars was never swayed by celebrity; UCSD SOM’s remarkable founding faculty was unshakably down-to-earth, accessible, forward thinking and genuine. His most treasured collegial relationships at UCSD mirrored his early Yale influences: Nicholas Halasz, M.D., Head of Surgery and the Division of Anatomy, Averill A. Liebow, M.D. and Colin Bloor, M.D., of the Department of Pathology, were all Yale graduates, and all were dedicated instructors. The fellowship Dr. Stultz built with them, as well as with Dr. Doris Wilson, Anatomist, and John Sykes, Anatomical Preparer and Laboratory Technician, revealed an unerring seriousness of purpose and a cherished mutual respect among disciples of a science grounded in both empirical and spiritual knowledge of women and men.

Walter freely gave his wide-reaching sympathies to his beloved family; his care nurtured us all. For his five children, the earliest memories of his teaching style begin at home in Vermont, in its pastures, barns, and out in search of vernal pools where the spotted salamander laid its eggs.  Snatches of Shakespeare, John Greenleaf Whittier and Edwin Markham colored his speech. When we went out together to “mend fence,” he recited much of Frost’s Mending Wall. He savored maxims, aphorisms, and riddles.  He invented mnemonics to help his students recall elements of anatomical systems. He spontaneously improvised models of muscles and bones out of paper towels as he lectured, but with exacting care he constructed artful and precise anatomical models. He expressed his love for his subject with gusto, joy and delight; his sturdy vigor enlivened every lecture. Students from all eras of his teaching career remember his ribald mirth tuned by rugged laughter, his passion for puns. These playful, connecting forces spilled over into all aspects of his life and work. He lived wholly with and within his vocation.

Walter’s tolerant, accepting nature and congenial curiosity fueled his professional life; the years between 1969 and 1977 in La Jolla revitalized him.  He loved Black’s Beach, the eucalyptus groves on campus, and even his windowless quarters in the old Basic Science Building.  In his cubicle he had many handwritten quotes hung on the bulletin board above his desk, cues and exhortations to himself. He eagerly hearkened to the voices of educational reform that characterized the late 1960s and early 1970s: one note read “Make All Learning Relevant.”  In 1972, a talk by Margaret Mead at UCSD affirmed some of his most cherished ideas about humanity’s promise. His optimism, hope and compassion infused his teaching presence with light. For young women and men who are called to heal, these qualities engender honorable aspirations, admirable standards.

In Vermont’s hot swift summer Walter loved to hand mow meadows and the margins of fields. Wielding his scythe, swinging along in overalls and a straw hat, still wiry and lithe in his eighties, speaking an old graceful rhythm his body could not forget, he stops now and again to take the whetstone from his pocket to sharpen the blade. Frost’s sonnet, Mowing, holds these lines: Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak/ to the earnest love that laid the swale in rows,…The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows. In the long run of Walter Stultz’ teaching life, he knew, deep down, a simple dream of fact: it is earnest love that drives a true calling.

–Melanie Stultz-Backus, Muir ’74