Jesse Talbot Littleton III, M.D., Emeritus Professor of Radiology, University of South Alabama, passed away May 22, 2011, at his home in Theodore, Alabama at the age of 94, after a losing battle with cancer. He was a world renowned radiologist, a compassionate physician, teacher, author, investigator, consultant, and developer of new x-ray devices. Dr. Littleton was born in Corning, New York, April 27, 1917, the son of Dr. Jesse Talbot Littleton, Jr. and Bessie Cook Littleton. His father was Vice-President and Director of Research at Corning Glass Works (now Corning, Inc.) and was one of three scientists who developed Pyrex. His mother...
Jesse Talbot Littleton III, M.D., Emeritus Professor of Radiology, University of South Alabama, passed away May 22, 2011, at his home in Theodore, Alabama at the age of 94, after a losing battle with cancer. He was a world renowned radiologist, a compassionate physician, teacher, author, investigator, consultant, and developer of new x-ray devices. Dr. Littleton was born in Corning, New York, April 27, 1917, the son of Dr. Jesse Talbot Littleton, Jr. and Bessie Cook Littleton. His father was Vice-President and Director of Research at Corning Glass Works (now Corning, Inc.) and was one of three scientists who developed Pyrex. His mother was the first person to cook in glass. She was the daughter of Joseph Anderson Cook, first President of the University of Southern Mississippi at Hattiesburg.
Dr. Littleton received his early education in Corning, attended Emory and Henry College, Emory, Virginia, and completed his pre-medical education at Johns Hopkins University. He earned his medical degree from Syracuse University, where he graduated cum laude in March, 1943. He was a member of Beta Theta Pi and Phi Chi social fraternities and Alpha Omega Alpha, honorary medical fraternity. He married Martha Morrow April 17, 1943, the devoted mother of their five children.
One day after completing a medical internship at Buffalo General Hospital, Buffalo, New York, he was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the US Army Medical Corps, January 1, 1944. After a short tour of duty stateside, he was transferred to the 363rd Medical Laboratory in the Philippine Islands where he saw duty in Leyte and Manila. He received an honorable discharge as Captain in June 1946.
Upon leaving military service, Littleton completed a one year residency in both medicine and surgery followed by a three year residency in radiology, all at the Guthrie Clinic, Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pennsylvania. He was certified by the American Board of Radiology, September 1951, and made a Fellow in the American College of Radiology (FACR) in 1960. The practice of radiology became his lifelong, highly successful, and totally satisfying career. His passion and enthusiasm for the practice of radiology never wavered.
Littleton was appointed chairman of the radiology department at the Guthrie Clinic, Robert Packer Hospital in 1953, and remained in that capacity for 24 years. He also held hospital staff appointments at nearby hospitals in Blossburg and Towanda, Pennsylvania. From 1955 – 1977, he was first a Clinical Professor and later a full Professor of Radiology at Hahnemann Medical School, Philadelphia, which was affiliated with the Packer Hospital. Littleton was director of the Donald Guthrie Foundation for Medical Research in Sayre from 1972 to 1977. After accepting a position as tenured Professor of Radiology at the University of South Alabama, College of Medicine, in 1977, he and his wife Martha moved to Mobile, Alabama. Upon retirement in 1997, he was appointed Emeritus Professor of Radiology at the University of South Alabama, a title he held until his death.
Of the many accomplishments to Littleton's credit, foremost was his reputation for being the leading pioneer in this country in the field of pluridirectional tomography, a type of x-ray body section imaging. Pluridirectional tomography exams produced sharply focused detail of one section or layer of a body part being examined while excluding all structures above and below the designated section.
Littleton said, "This procedure was a new development in diagnostic radiology that provided an aid to the radiologist which could not be equaled by any other roentgen method of that day. For example, new structures like the bones of the middle ear, small bone tumors, fractures not visible on routine x-rays, small early chest tumors and other diagnoses could be seen for the first time." Pluridirectional tomography was the precursor to computed tomography (CT), which utilizes computers to develop and display radiographic body section images. For the next three plus decades, he conducted many types of studies to tap the full potential of what this type of tomography could do.
He was a consultant to all of the major x-ray companies on the design, manufacture and implementation of tomographic equipment during the era when this modality was at the technological forefront of radiology. His telephone rang constantly with queries from radiologist around the country asking advice about which tomographic unit to buy and how to operate it. In 1976, Littleton authored the only definitive textbook on pluridirectional tomography.
After the demise of pluridirectional tomography, Littleton's longtime friend and
colleague, Dr. Gil Brogdon, commented, "Jess, pluridirectional tomography was a victim of high–tech 'progress'. However, you should not be saddened by the turn of events. Your impact on the field of diagnostic radiology with more than three decades of tomography is imprinted in the history of our specialty and will not be eroded by the sands of time."
The transportation of injured patients, and the problems of x-raying them was another one of his interests. In 1956, he patented a stretcher with a removable top to enable transfer of patients from one surface to another, for patients who were unable to move themselves. His hands-on efforts and written studies of transportation of the acutely injured evolved into placement of the first backboards in ambulances. Studies concentrating on transportation of trauma patients and methods for triage and handling mass casualty accidents continued until his retirement. He also designed a dedicated x-ray device called the "Traumex," in 1979. This machine was primarily for x-ray examination of trauma patients. It allowed an injured patient to be x-rayed from any angle without moving the patient. The units sold well in the states and abroad before the advent of emergency CT examinations.
Among his other scientific innovations were: a plastic, wire and bone test object called the "Littleton 3M Phantom". This allowed radiologists and technologists to do maintenance testing of their tomographic equipment; he had special glasses made to protect the eyes of patients undergoing middle ear tomography from excessive radiation; he developed test objects of unembalmed frozen cadavers that simulated real patients and could be x-rayed any number of times for various research studies with no concern for radiation dose exposures.
Littleton was the first radiologist to show that cancerous lung masses would enhance when a patient was injected with a contrast media (commonly called a dye) whereas a benign lesion would not. This study was published and was also presented in exhibit form.
A major project was the writing of a comprehensive book on anatomy of the chest published in 1994. For this "Chest Atlas", human unembalmed frozen cadavers were used as specimens to maintain true body color and organ shapes. Thin anatomic sections, each from a different angle, were labeled and compared side-by-side with corresponding images of pluridirectional tomography, computed tomography (CT), and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). The mechanics of working with frozen material required design and fabrication of a number of innovative ideas.
Littleton authored 95 publications in radiology journals, wrote four books, and eight chapters in books, developed 15 exhibits for scientific meetings, and gave approximately 200 presentations to scientific and lay groups. He served 33 visiting professorships in medical centers in the US, Canada, Europe and Australia. He held memberships in a long list of professional societies here and abroad and was on numerous radiology committees. He held two government appointments, being the first consultant from radiology to the Food and Drug Administration, and serving on President Johnson's Committee for Traffic Safety. From this latter committee came the recommendation requiring seat belts as standard equipment in automobiles (prior to that seat belts were in automobiles only by special order of the customer). In addition to medical articles, he wrote for the Police Journal, Golf Digest Journal, and several Sportsmen's Journals. He was a Past President of Bradford County Pennsylvania Radiological Society and a Past President of the Pennsylvania State Radiological Society.
After his first wife Martha died, in 1995 he married Mary Lou Durizch who had been his radiologic technologist, research associate and co-author for many years, and later was Assistant Professor of Radiology, University of South Alabama, College of Medicine. When he wasn't working, Dr Littleton's greatest passions were hunting, fishing, and golf. These pastimes he enjoyed with his family, his wife Mary Lou and her family, long time very special friends, and sometimes new friends. As a boy, Jesse learned great love and respect of the outdoors and nature from hunting and fishing with his father.
He fished the Indian River and coast of Florida, the rice paddies and ocean near Manila, salt waters off the coasts of Texas and Alabama, fresh water lakes and trout streams in New York and Pennsylvania, and salmon rivers in New Brunswick. For almost two decades he traveled with his brother Joe and friends to a camp in Labrador, Canada to fish for Atlantic Salmon. Jesse tied his own flies and made some of his own rods, including the first prototype fiber glass spinning rod, now in the Catskill Fly Fishing Center & Museum (CFFCM), Livingston Manor, New York.
Littleton hunted the lower United States and Alaska, Canada, Russia, Mongolia, and Argentina. He heavily supported wildlife causes, associations and conservation programs. He was well read on all outdoor issues, including nutrition requirements of birds, deer and big horn sheep. Jesse told people, "The game mounts in my trophy room are preserved for posterity." Though in later years, Jesse no longer hunted mountain sheep and big game, he spent many active years in hunting clubs near his Alabama home. At the time of his death he belonged to the Ravenwood Plantation Hunting Club on Slade Property in Washington County, Alabama.
Bird hunting was also a favorite pastime. In earlier years he shot, pheasant, ruffed grouse, woodcock, dove, quail, turkey, geese and ducks all over the country, and as the saying goes, "You can say something bad about my wife or family, but you better not say anything bad about my bird dogs." Jesse had English Setters all of his life and also Labrador Retrievers after he moved to Mobile. In more recent years his bird hunting was confined to local dove and quail. Up until March of 2011 he ran a dove club with John Cannon called the Bellingrath Dove Club.
He was an enthusiastic golfer and after retirement hit the links two or three times a week. While his game was not what it used to be, at 91 he shot his age. Jess developed a close camaraderie with his fellow golfers at the Country Club of Mobile. Sometimes he enjoyed the friendship of his golfing buddies more than the game. He also spent time golfing with neighbors and numerous family members.
Jesse was the patriarch in every sense of the word to a large family clan, involving his children in the outdoor activities he loved-a love he wanted to pass on to them. As adults, the children look back and marvel at his patience in mentoring and staying by them through and beyond their growing-up years. Not only for the children of Jesse and his wife Martha, but also for those of Jesse's and Mary Lou's blended family, his enduring love could not be questioned. He never doubted in any of his children.
Jesse's wife, Mary Lou, was his ever constant companion in his hunting, fishing, and sometimes golf endeavors. She comments, "As Jesse roamed the land to hunt, he loved every meadow, woods, hill, and mountain he ever walked or climbed." Lou and Jesse supported each other throughout their years together, finding joy in each other and in their common interests. They read each other like a book. Some of his medical publications were the result of their joint research and clinical efforts. One need be around them for only a short time to see their devotion to one another.
Littleton was a well-mannered, agreeable man, honest to a fault, with a positive attitude. He loved a good story, of which he had an abundance. He had many friends from all walks of life in this country and abroad and especially enjoyed mentoring the many radiology residents he trained. He was an eternal optimist and toward the end said, "My long, full life should leave no cause for grief."
He was preceded in death by his parents; his first wife Martha Morrow Littleton; sister, Dr. Martha Littleton Kelly; brother; Joseph Cook Littleton, former Vice-President, Corning, Inc. He is survived by his wife, Mary Lou Goble Durizch Littleton; five children, Dr. Christine (Tom) Littleton Ilgen, Claremont, CA, Joanne Littleton Baker, Medfield, MS, James (Sally) Littleton, Eatonton, GA, Robert (Alice Cheng) Littleton, Brooklyn, NY, and Denise (Barry Thompson) Littleton, Mobile, AL; one stepson, John (Nelle) Durizch, Pittsboro, NC; eleven grandchildren; six step-grandchildren; eight great grandchildren; one step-great grandchild; brother, glass artist, Harvey Littleton; brother-in-law, John Goble; two sisters-in-law, Barbara Gunnell Littleton, and Jean Goble Durrand; numerous nieces, nephews, cousins, other relatives and friends.
A memorial service will be held from the chapel of Radney Funeral Home on Saturday, June 4, 2011, at 3:00 p.m. with Rev. Jeff Spiller officiating and eulogy by Dr. Gil Brogdon. The family will receive friends from 1:00 p.m. until service time at the funeral home. A light buffet and gathering will follow the service at Radney Funeral Home. Private interment of his ashes will be in Mobile Memorial Gardens with arrangements by Radney Funeral Home and in Tioga Point Cemetery, Athens, Pennsylvania with arrangements being handled by Jay Lowery Funeral Home. In lieu of flowers the family suggests that donations be made to: Saint Jude Children's Research Hospital, Tribute Program, P. O. Box 1000, Dept. 142, Memphis, TN 38148, or Fred and Harriet Memorial Library, P. O. Box 395, Hammondsport, NY, 14840. Condolences may be offered at www.radneyfuneralhome-mobile.com.