American Society of Hematology

C. Lockard "Lock" Conley, MD (1915-2010)

Edward J. Benz Jr., MD
George Dover, MD
Chi V. Dang, MD, PhD

Published on: April 27, 2010

Each day we witness the passing of another member of the “Greatest Generation” that guided us through the dark days of World War II. In much the same way, this decade is relentlessly taking from us the architects of the “greatest generation” of academic hematology. These remarkable scholars transformed hematology during the 1950s through 1970s from a largely descriptive field to a discipline where advances in clinical care were driven by scientific discoveries. Sadly, we have now lost another true giant of this generation, C. Lockard “Lock” Conley, who succumbed to Parkinson’s disease at the age of 94 on January 30 at his home in Maryland. Throughout his life and career, Lock Conley was one of those rare individuals who inspired awe and respect for his brilliance and incredible accomplishments and admiration, affection, and gratitude for his caring ways; his gentle mentorship; and his teaching of generations of physicians and hematologists. He will be missed as much for who he was as for what he accomplished.

Lock Conley was born in Baltimore and received his bachelor’s degree in 1935 from Johns Hopkins and his medical degree from Columbia University in 1940. He served during World War II at the Air Corps’ Maxwell Field General Hospital in Alabama and after the war returned to Johns Hopkins, joining the faculty in 1946. He was named the first director of the Division of Hematology in 1947. At the time, an inviolate rule at Hopkins was that only heads of departments would be elevated to the rank of full professor. Because of his brilliance as an investigator, clinician, and educator, Lock was the first person for whom that rule was altered: He was made a full professor in the School of Medicine in 1956 while still a division chief. Lock was named the University Distinguished Professor of Medicine in 1976. The long list of honors and distinctions he received do not capture fully the character or the distinct mix of clinical and laboratory scholarship underpinning his extraordinary contributions to the field. Of the 70 fellows Lock supervised during his 33 years as head of hematology, a dozen became hematology division heads or medicine department chairs.

During his quarter-century tenure as chief, Lock kept his Division at the absolute leading edge of the most exciting period in the development of the field of academic hematology. During that time, hematology became a very broad yet highly focused and scientifically based discipline, evolving into many highly specialized and technical sub-disciplines. Many areas were advanced by landmark contributions by Lock or his protégés. These include establishing that clotting factors were plasma proteins, the association of thrombosis with the lupus anticoagulant, the description of homozygous hereditary persistence of fetal hemoglobin and its interaction with sickle cell anemia, and crucial contributions to the use of vitamin B12 in pernicious anemia.

A common feature of all of Lock’s contributions was the matching of precise and rigorous descriptions of the clinical condition (now popularly called “phenotyping”) with elegant application of the most up-to-date laboratory technologies. This invariably produced important insights about the molecular or cellular abnormalities responsible for those conditions. Lock articulated many ideas about the pathophysiology of blood disorders. Many of these approaches remain in place today, buttressed by decades of even more precise molecular and cellular analysis.

People point to the development of protein electrophoresis, first applied to the study of hemoglobin disorders, by Linus Pauling in 1947 as the beginning of the era of “molecular medicine.” It was Lock and a young associate, Ernest W. Smith, however, who developed a simple device that could accomplish almost equivalent separation of hemoglobin variants. While Pauling showed how it could be done, it was Lock and Smith who devised a way that hundreds of laboratories could actually study millions of patients and open the field of hemoglobinopathy research.

Around the world, Lock was known as an extraordinary hematologist and internist. At Johns Hopkins, he will also be remembered as a gentle and caring educator, mentor, and caregiver and for his unique combination of personal traits, brilliance, and dedication. He was a role model for many students and trainees, influencing generations extending even beyond the 70 highly accomplished graduates of the hematology fellowship program that he led. In a recent remembrance in the Johns Hopkins University Gazette, colleagues and friends captured Lock’s unique combination of personal traits, brilliance, and dedication.1

Dr. Conley was predeceased by his wife of 61 years, Edith, who died in 2004. He is survived by two daughters, Anne Weaver, a pediatrician in Amherst, MA, and Jean Alexander, a horticulturist in Silver Spring, MD, two grandchildren, and four great grandchildren.

We note his passing with sadness but also with gratitude, both for his enormous contributions to the understanding and treatment of hematologic disorders and for his nurturing of so many hematologists who will carry the work forward.

  1. Grauer NA, The JHU Gazette, February 8, 2010.

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