John M. Daly, MD '65, the dean of Temple University’s School of Medicine, died Friday at home after a long career as a surgeon that included nearly two decades as a transformative leader in Philadelphia.
Credited by colleagues with advancing the Lewis Katz School of Medicine in multiple ways, Dr. Daly served as dean from 2002 to 2011 and was named to the post again just a month ago, after acting as interim dean since October 2019.
During his first tenure in the position, Dr. Daly oversaw the construction of a new medical school building and recruited faculty to boost the school’s ranking. More recently, he had expanded the school’s research capacity, built a postdoctoral program, and led a restructuring in the medical school, said Temple University president Richard M. Englert. “He was always laser focused on his students, their education and enhancing the school of medicine’s reputation,” Englert said in a statement Saturday announcing Dr. Daly’s death. “He had a clear vision for the future of medical education and especially its obligations to communities in need.”
Dr. Daly was also credited with bringing in support from alumni and donors, increasing communication with students, expanding the school’s clinical affiliations, and working across Temple’s health system and university to create initiatives for outreach in the North Philadelphia community.
“As a leader, as a skilled surgeon, as a researcher, as a teacher, I would say without a doubt that few people in the history of Temple University have had the kind of impact on our Lewis Katz School of Medicine” that Dr. Daly had, Englert said in an interview. “Just everybody is devastated by this loss. We’re truly heartbroken.”
Senior Associate Dean Steven Houser, who was on the search committee that brought Dr. Daly to Temple in 2002, said the school saw a “meteoric rise” thanks to his work. “John will be remembered as just a person who wanted Temple to be the best Temple could be, and he wanted all of his faculty, students, and staff to be the best they could be,” Houser said, “and he really loved us and we loved him.”
Dr. Daly is a graduate of the Class of 1965 and went on to earn a bachelor's degree from La Salle University. He graduated from Temple University Medical School in 1973.
Colleagues said that as dean, he was a driven leader who got things done. When the university had to test students and faculty for COVID-19 last fall, Dr. Daly spearheaded an effort to build a lab at the school of medicine that could run up to 20,000 tests a week and deliver results in less than two days and at a lower cost to the university.
Dr. Daly was also passionate about ensuring that Temple served the North Philadelphia community. He was concerned, too, about issues of racial equity within the school, said Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor of sociology and medicine; she said her next scheduled meeting with him was to discuss the topic. “He really cared. It really, really showed,” Goldrick-Rab said. “I’ve never had a dean like that, and he set a tone.”
Last year, Dr. Daly was instrumental in moving her Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice from the college of education to the school of medicine, allowing it to stay at Temple, she said. She described him as an extraordinary leader of a type not often seen in academia, someone who went out of his way to have her cell phone number and call her to check in.
According to Temple, he worked at the MD Anderson Cancer Center and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center before returning to Philadelphia to teach and head the surgical oncology division at the University of Pennsylvania. He went back to New York in 1993 to be chief of surgery at New York Hospital and a professor at Weill-Cornell Medical College.
After nearly a decade there, he returned to Philadelphia for good to take the role of dean at Temple. After stepping down as dean in 2011, he continued teaching and cared for patients at the Fox Chase Cancer Center.
Dr. Daly led multiple medical associations throughout his career, including serving as the vice president of the American College of Surgeons, and was described by the university as an internationally renowned surgeon and educator.
He often said his decades caring for cancer patients had made him “not only a better physician, a better surgeon, but a better man,” according to the university.
Dr. Daly is survived by his wife, Palma, six children, and several grandchildren. He was devoted to his family, had a great sense of humor, and was engaging to all, from students to colleagues to anyone seeking medical advice, colleagues said.
In recent days, Dr. Daly had frequently tweeted his praise for the school’s 2021 graduates, writing that he was very proud of the students. He also touted Temple’s work to vaccinate people against the coronavirus, tweeting encouragement.
“Please stay vigilant because the fight isn’t over, but there’s much more light at the end of this very long tunnel!” he tweeted when the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was authorized for emergency use in the U.S.
In 2002, when he was named as dean, Dr. Daly told The Philadelphia Inquirer that he hoped “to bring Temple back to the first tier of medical centers throughout the U.S.”
“He did it,” Englert said Saturday. “And he has provided leadership, mentorship, friendship, and colleagueship throughout.” Added Englert, “I guess the comforting thing is he built a legacy that will endure for decades upon decades to come.”
- Alumni News