In Memoriam: John M. "Jack" Pellock, M.D. (1943-2016)

When Dr. John  M. "Jack" Pellock recently died surrounded by family and close friends after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, we lost a colleague, mentor and friend whose contributions will long be remembered. Jack Pellock was a leading figure in pediatric epilepsy, a passionate advocate for children with epilepsy, and a mentor and friend to several generations of child neurologists. He will be sorely missed but his memory and contributions will be with us for years to come.

Jack was born in Passaic, New Jersey on December 25, 1943. He grew up in New Jersey, and even after decades in Virginia, there were definite traces of his New Jersey roots that were easily detected. He went to college at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he received a BA in 1965. After completing a Master's degree in biology from Fairleigh Dickinson State University in New Jersey, he went to medical school at St. Louis University in Missouri, graduating with his M.D. degree in 1971. As is the case with most child neurologists in the United States, he was trained in both pediatrics and neurology. His pediatric internship and residency were done at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, Virginia, and his child neurology training at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York. After completing his training, Jack returned to VCU where he remained an active faculty member until his death.

Academically, Jack had a distinguished career at VCU where he rapidly rose to the rank of Professor of Neurology, Pediatrics and Pharmacy and Therapeutics. In 1995 he became Chair of the Division of Child Neurology, a title he held with distinction until 2014. Over time he became increasingly involved with medical education and in 2013 was appointed as the Senior Associate Dean for Professional Education, a title he held until his death. He remained active until the end.

Jack made numerous contributions to the field of epilepsy. His most noteworthy contribution were in the area of bringing new drugs into the clinical arena. He was involved with practically every new antiepileptic drug that was approved or that was in development over the past 25 years. This includes working with the companies and the FDA on drug development and clinical trial design as well as being an active participant in drug trials. He was involved as an investigator in over 100 drug trials in both children and adults. When not actively part of a trial, he was often the medical safety officer for the trial. Particular areas of interest and expertise were rare but severe pediatric epilepsies and acute repetitive seizures.
Jack recognized the difficulty in getting new drugs approved for children. He assembled a group of experts from various disciplines and from industry and the FDA. The argument was made that while children are not little adults, in terms of efficacy, all drugs effective in localization related epilepsy in adults were also effective in children four years of age or older. Therefore, only safety needed to be tested separately. This initiative, called Pediatric Epilepsy Academic Consortium on Extrapolation (PEACE), took several years of intensive work and resulted in a recent change of FDA policy that will make obtaining a pediatric label easier in the future. PEACE is a noteworthy accomplishment and one which will directly benefit children with epilepsy. It was also a reflection of Jack’s unique ability to get a very diverse group together to achieve consensus on an important topic.

Jack was a prolific author with over 200 journal articles and numerous chapters and reviews. His best known work is his textbook on pediatric epilepsy. Pellock’s Pediatric Epilepsy was first published in 1993 and has been the authoritative textbook in pediatric epilepsy since the first edition. The book has been revised on several occasions. The 4th edition, which will be shortly published, was completed just before his death. He was heavily involved until the end offering critical insights reflecting his broad knowledge of the field.

Jack was a wonderful teacher and a highly sought after lecturer. He was able to combine his love of travel with an extensive lecturing schedule. Keeping track of where Jack was could be a full time job but he was always available to answer questions and help out regardless of where his travels took him. As part of his devotion to teaching, he procured funding for an established Child Neurology Pediatric Epilepsy Course that took place just prior to the annual Child Neurology Society Meeting since 1995. This course provided intensive training for hundreds of child neurology residents over the years and, for many of the participants and faculty, was one of the highlights of the annual Child Neurology Society meeting. The Child Neurology Society will now take over this course which will continue and has been named in Jack’s honor.

Jack was active in a variety of both professional and advocacy groups. On the professional side, he was active in the American Epilepsy Society, Child Neurology Society, and the American Academy of Neurology. He was in a leadership position in the American Epilepsy Society for many years and was a past president of the society. On the advocacy side, he was not only active in the Epilepsy Foundation but was a founder of the Epilepsy Foundation of Virginia- Central Virginia Chapter. Through this group of volunteers, thousands of people with epilepsy and their families have been helped though education programs around the state, medication assistance, travel assistance, and monthly support groups. This work was supported by the Annual Jack Pellock Golf Fundraiser.

Over the years, Jack received many awards and honors. He was proudest of the American Epilepsy Society Penry Award for Excellence in Epilepsy Care, which he received in 2004, as it reflected his passionate commitment to the care of patients with epilepsy. Towards the end of his life, he was recognized by multiple societies for his lifelong accomplishments and contributions. These included the American Epilepsy Society's John M. Pellock Pediatric Travel Award to support early career investigators. The Child Neurology Society at the 2015 meeting held a Child Neuro Nightcap: A Tribute to Jack Pellock. In 2015, the national Epilepsy Foundation honored him with The Champion of Epilepsy Award which celebrates individuals whose work has had a positive impact on epilepsy advocacy and awareness.

Over the years, Jack was a mentor to many colleagues at various stages of their careers. He always gave advice with a smile, and his wise counsel, often delivered with a timely joke, was much sought after. His well-chosen remarks would frequently defuse any tension at a meeting and his ability to achieve consensus among an often fractious group of strong minded people was legendary. In addition to being highly respected, Jack was also a beloved figure. Comments posted on the American Epilepsy website by his colleagues include, “Jack Pellock made people around him better," “Jack’s smile was always the first one you saw in the room," “His cheerful disposition would often elevate the mood in every setting he was in," and "Always a gentleman – not to mention funny." He never hid his illness and remained positive and committed throughout.

Finally, Jack was a devoted family man. He was married for over 45 years to Mary Lee Pellock. When his children Katye and Mike were growing up, he coached their sports teams, often working his work calendar so he would not miss their games. He was the proud grandfather of Reed and loved taking him to his VCU RAMS basketball games and playing golf with him.
Following his death, Virginia Commonwealth University announced the establishment of John (Jack) Pellock Endowed Professorship in Pediatric Neurology at Virginia Commonwealth University to continue the superb legacy of clinical care, teaching, and scholarly work that Jack so well exemplified. Jack Pellock will be missed by his family, many friends and colleagues as well as his patients and their families. His memory will live on in the hearts and minds of all who had the privilege of knowing him.

Shlomo Shinnar, M.D., Ph.D.
Professor of Neurology, Pediatrics and Epidemiology and Population Health
Hyman Climenko Professor of Neuroscience Research
Director, Comprehensive Epilepsy Management Center
Montefiore Medical Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Bronx, New York USA

Kathryn A. O’Hara, RN
Epilepsy Nurse Clinician
Virginia Commonwealth University
Richmond, Virginia USA

 Published June 2016