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Neurosurgery’s Beloved Benefactor

Irving Sherman’s philanthropy has indelibly shaped brain science and surgery at Johns Hopkins.

Irving and Florence Sherman

At 100 years old, Irving J. Sherman ’40 shows no signs of slowing down his philanthropy. 

“I like to help people,” he says. “That’s what doctors are for.”

Sherman’s impact in the Department of Neurosurgery at The Johns Hopkins Hospital is as grand as his generosity. He and his wife, Florence, have helped fund seven endowed professorships and 50 traveling scholars.

“Nobody personifies fundamental respect for other people and civility more than Mrs. Sherman and Dr. Sherman,” says Henry Brem, the Harvey Cushing Professor and director of neurosurgery. “So much of what we’ve achieved in the last 16 years at Johns Hopkins in neurosurgery has been through their very quiet and very often behind-the-scenes support. I wouldn’t know where to begin to express how much gratitude I have for their friendship and mentorship.”

Irving’s love for Johns Hopkins spans eight decades. After earning his bachelor’s degree from the school of arts and sciences in 1936, he completed his medical degree at Johns Hopkins in 1940, then stayed on for his surgery and neurosurgery residencies at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, the latter under legendary neurosurgeon Walter Dandy. In the ensuing decades, Sherman enjoyed a long career practicing in Staten Island, New York, and Bridgeport, Connecticut, among other places.

In 2002, the Shermans established the Irving J. Sherman, M.D. Research Professorship in Neurosurgery. That same year, Irving endowed the Sherman Traveling Fellow Fund, which has enabled more than 50 faculty members in the Department of Neurosurgery to travel all over the world for educational purposes, bringing valuable techniques and treatments back to Baltimore.

One of those faculty members was Gary Gallia, associate professor of neurosurgery. In 2007, he traveled to Australia for a fellowship in minimally invasive neurosurgical techniques. Through the fellowship, he mastered a technique involving minimally invasive skull base surgery, which led to the establishment of the Johns Hopkins Skull Base Center and has saved countless lives here.

“The kind of philanthropy that Dr. and Mrs. Sherman provide for the neurosciences is really critical because it allows us to take risks,” says Justin McArthur, director of the Department of Neurology. “It’s the kind of high-risk research that may lead to the next treatment or the next transformation. Unfortunately, that kind of research is no longer being funded by the National Institutes of Health, so it’s really critical that we have access to philanthropic funds that allow for flexibility in research.”

In 2004, the Shermans’ generous support and matching grant helped make possible the Walter E. Dandy, M.D. Professorship in Neurosurgery. The couple was also one of the lead donors to the Henry Brem Professorship in Neurosurgery, established in 2014.

“When my wife, Rachel, the development team, and volunteers were raising funds to help establish the Henry Brem Professorship, the Shermans, together with Josh and Genine Fidler, made it possible by giving the final lead gifts,” says Brem. He says the professorship inspires him and his colleagues to make Johns Hopkins neurosurgery the best clinical center in the world and to “change the way neurosurgery is carried out”—through transformative research and training “of the next generation of great surgeons and scholars.”

At press time, Irving was set to celebrate his 101st birthday on Feb. 4, 2017.

“We’re doing some good things,” says Irving, “and I’m glad we can.”