Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Earl F. Rose of Iowa City, figure in JFK case, dies

by KYLE MUNSON / Des Moines Register

Earl Rose was the medical examiner in Dallas in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed there. This photo was taken in the mid-1960s. [Des Moines Register]

I just received word that retired forensic pathologist and University of Iowa professor Earl Rose of Iowa City, 85, whom I profiled a couple days ago in my column in the Des Moines Sunday Register, died at 3:15 a.m. today. He had received full-time care at Oaknoll retirement community in Iowa City, where his wife, Marilyn, who phoned me, also has lived for nearly three years.

Rose in 2005 was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and then developed dementia. His memory, conversational ability and overall quality of life steadily declined in recent years, and Marilyn said that her husband’s death today in many ways offered a “blessed release” from his suffering.

Marilyn called the timing of my column “uncanny,” and there’s also the matter that Rose has died on the same day Robert Caro publishes the fourth volume of his biography of President Lyndon Johnson, a book that includes an account of the late medical examiner’s actions in Dallas, Texas, in the wake of President Kennedy’s assassination. Rose on Nov. 22, 1963, argued (unsuccessfully) that by law Kennedy’s body should remain in Dallas for a complete and thorough autopsy to aid the investigation; history more or less proved that Rose had the correct view.

But there was much more to the man if you read my column or, even better, delve into Rose’s own wonderful writings in the University of Iowa’s archives.

Taking time in recent weeks to talk with Marilyn and to read through her husband’s work that she helped to compile and edit was an experience that reaffirmed the power of words for me. Rose took care in his retirement to set down his thoughts on paper, even as his mind eroded. He was clear, detailed and witty in prose and poetry alike. At times he even directly addressed his own mental decline.

Now those words represent a substantial lasting gift to his family, former medical colleagues, fellow Iowans.

Marilyn said that there will be no funeral, but a memorial service probably will be scheduled in early June in Iowa City to allow time for the couple’s five daughters, scattered across the nation, to convene. (Rose was preceded in death by his son in 2005.)

At one point during our recent conversations, Marilyn said that each daughter might end up reading a different excerpt of Rose’s writings at the eventual memorial service. That seems a fitting tribute.