Philip Joseph Ferris

Philip Joseph Ferris

Dr. Philip J. Ferris, former longtime chairman of the department of surgery at Franklin Square Medical Center, died Nov. 8 of cardiac arrest at his Lutherville home. He was 79.

"He was just a great man. He was down-to-earth and fun, but at the same time he was the utmost surgeon who had both a passion for perfection and teaching," said Michael R. Merson, former president of Franklin Square Medical Center, who is now chairman of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield.

"In all the years I worked with him, if something went wrong, he was the kind of surgeon you wanted to take care of you," said Mr. Merson.

"Phil was absolutely confident but never arrogant. He was compassionate and took time explaining to patients what they were facing, even if it was a minor procedure," he said.

Dr. Louis C. Breschi, a Baltimore urologist, met Dr. Ferris when he was a resident at then-University Hospital.

"He was chief resident and that was my first encounter with him. We remained friends and later when I went into the practice of urology, I always called him when I had complicated surgical cases," said Dr. Breschi.

"He was just a take-charge guy who knew exactly what had to be done whenever he entered the operating room. He was a man of amazing instincts," he said.

The son of a businessman and a homemaker, Philip Joseph Ferris was born and raised in New Brunswick, N.J., where he graduated from New Brunswick High School in 1951.

Dr. Ferris was awarded a full scholarship to the Johns Hopkins University, where he earned his bachelor's degree in 1954. After graduating from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1958, he did graduate surgical training and an internship and residency at Duke Hospital.

From 1960 to 1962, he was a clinical and research associate at the National Institutes of Health, and completed a surgical residency at what is now the University of Maryland Medical Center in 1965.

Before joining the staff of what was then Franklin Square Hospital in 1969, Dr. Ferris was an attending surgeon in general and vascular surgery at Washington Hospital Center.

He was also co-director of the Surgical Tumor Clinic, member of the tumor board and an instructor in surgery at George Washington University Medical School.

Dr. Ferris also held staff appointments at Children's, Holy Cross, Sibley, Doctors', Suburban and Prince George's County hospitals, and the Washington Sanitarium.

When Dr. Ferris came to Baltimore, Franklin Square was planning to move at the end of 1969 to its new home in eastern Baltimore County near Rossville.

"We were completing the opening of a new hospital in eastern Baltimore County, and Phil was one of the first to join the new leadership group," recalled Mr. Merson. "When he joined, it gave the department of surgery a fresh start in a new hospital."

He said that Dr. Ferris was a "very caring man who had good values. He was just a regular guy."

"Because of where the hospital is, it serves the people of Essex, Middle River, Rosedale and Dundalk, the everyday working people," said Mr. Merson.

"He identified with them and took care of them and treated them as if they were a Saudi Arabian prince," he said. "He never discriminated because of economic differences. Everyone got the same first-class treatment."

"He was very logically based and approached everything from both sides of an issue and then making the ultimate decision that was in the best interest of the patient," said Dr. Breschi. "He was deliberate and focused in his evaluation. And he was seldom wrong. People admired him because he was such a very caring physician."

Dr. Ferris was a member of numerous professional organizations, some of which included the American College of Surgeons, Maryland Board of Medical Examiners, Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland, Baltimore Academy of Surgery, Johns Hopkins Medical and Surgical Society and Baltimore Ostomy Association.

Dr. Ferris, who was an expert in hypothermia, was an avid waterfowl and deer hunter, which on one occasion nearly resulted in the doctor becoming the patient.

He and a friend had been duck hunting on a small island when a sudden storm hit. Their guide was afraid to cross over stormy waters in a boat, which meant the men had to endure three hours of a soaking rain and chilly winds.

Once they reached their cabin, they stripped off their clothes and stood by the fire.

"I knew how far hypothermia progressed when my friend burned his flesh against the fire without being aware of it," he told The Baltimore Sun in 1974, in an article about the dangers from hypothermia.

Dr. Ferris enjoyed taking family and friends on hunting trips at his Kennedyville farm in Kent County. He also was a golfer and a longtime member of the Sparrows Point Country Club.

He was also a world traveler and liked spending summers in Ocean City. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, he traveled to Russia to a breast surgery symposium to advance methods of treating the disease.

A memorial service celebrating Dr. Ferris' life will be held from 1 p.m to 4 p.m. Dec. 2 in the Lindsey Room of the Sheraton North Hotel, 903 Dulaney Valley Road, Towson.

Dr. Ferris is survived by his wife of 55 years, the former Mary Louise Schwing; two sons, Dr. P. Jeffrey Ferris of Towson and Dr. James V. Ferris of Pittsburgh; and seven grandchildren. His daughter, Jori Ferris, died in 2010.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com