Dave Underwood died on Nov. 21, 2008, at his home in Bow, N.H. The cause was yet another recurrence of the intestinal cancer that struck him first when he was 17. He underwent oncological surgery six times more after that.
Dave was the most complete person I’ve ever known. He was hugely talented—academically, musically, socially and, before his first bout with cancer, athletically too. He was enthusiastic, adventuresome and passionate, but he was also at ease with everyone and particularly with himself. He was the gifted kid from Leominster with a central Massachusetts accent, but he was equally at ease at a nifty New York society party, on a mountain in Nepal, at the bar mitzvah of my son who was his godson, in a hospital in London or in the executive suite of a large insurance company.
Dave Lundeen tells me that during freshman year, before I transferred to Amherst, Phi Psi upperclassmen awakened the freshman pledges in the middle of a cool spring night and dropped them off in the remote countryside. It was Dave Underwood, I’m told, who figured out where they were and how to get back to Amherst. The country boy led the way.
Dave sang in the glee club and in the chapel choir, but what distinguished him was that he was a musician, not just a singer. He played the piano and every other instrument available, including the accordion that was his favorite during freshman year. He was also a bell toller—every Sunday from the top of Stearns Chapel. Another of his Amherst jobs was distributing packets of Chesterfield cigarettes. That was ironic because in the late 1960s it was Dave who designed the anti-smoking program for New Hampshire elementary schoolchildren.
Dave went on to Cornell medical school where he was again a star, finishing at the top of his class. He continued at New York Hospital as an intern, resident and chief resident and then was awarded a Fulbright to do research in gastroenterology in London. His work there on ulcers was published in The Lancet in 1962. While in England, he also studied English silver and mastered the code of hallmarking. We laughed about how his interests had matured.
Dave had his choice of the most sought-after private medical practices in New York, but he elected to leave New York for New Hampshire. His grandfather, the first David Underwood, was a country doctor in Bradford. Dave revered him and the medicine he practiced. It gave him huge pleasure when his early New Hampshire patients asked if he were related to “old Doctor Underwood.”
In 1975, Dave took charge of the emergency medicine program at Concord Hospital. It was right for him because it was a chance to participate in the development of a new medical specialty and because emergency medicine happened at a patient’s critical moments. It was also right because Dave was a skier and climber who became a leader in the new field of mountain medicine. Dave served as a trustee of the Concord Hospital and president of the hospital’s medical staff and of the New Hampshire association of emergency physicians. He was also on the faculty of the Dartmouth Medical School. The Concord Hospital opened a new emergency facility in 2007 and named it the Underwood Trauma Center.
When Dave stopped practicing medicine, he joined the Chubb life insurance company as the senior medical director and head of underwriting. He chaired the AIDS committee of the American Council of Life Insurance.
Throughout his life, Dave continued to sing with choral groups including the New Hampshire Musical Festival Symphonic Chorus. He was a director of the orchestra’s summer festival and hosted their pre-concert lecture series.
Dave’s wife, Ruth, survives him. So do his three sons, Geoff ’84, Derek and Chip and Ruth’s three daughters, Karen Murray, Linda Kolb and Jean Stewart.
We will miss our choregus. “Strangers once . . . ”
—Seth Dubin ’54