The Ohio State University Alumni Association

Letters home give former Ohio State physician basis for his memoir.

If it weren’t for his brother’s penchant for holding onto stuff, Dr. Richard Leighton might not have become an author.

Leighton completed his residency and fellowship in cardiology at Ohio State from 1959 to 1964 and then served on the College of Medicine faculty until 1974, when he left for what today is the University of Toledo Medical College. He served there for 23 years before retiring to Savannah, Georgia, where he teaches at Mercer University.

Leighton’s book Dear Folks: A Memoir from 500 Letters is a collection of correspondence written to his parents from the 1940s until his mother’s death in the 1980s. She held onto the letters, which eventually were passed to his brother, Herbert, and then uncovered by Leighton’s nephew.

He said reading through the letters prompted him to write 34 new ones to people with whom he shared experiences, including these to Dr. Douglas Mooney, who worked with Leighton at Ohio State in the early ’60s. Here are a few excerpts from the book, due out soon.


​Remember that one-door car?

While in Columbus, Dr. Richard Leighton drove an Isetta, a popular car with one door at the front of the vehicle. Here, his children scrape snow and ice off the vehicle in 1964.

We had a station wagon, but we needed a second car. ... One day I saw an ad indicating that a downtown [Columbus] dealership had received a shipment of … Isetta cars designed in Italy but manufactured by BMW in Germany. They were powered by a single cylinder motorcycle engine, which delivered really good gas mileage — better than 50 miles per gallon. … When I arrived at the dealership, the Isettas were being assembled in the basement of the building, and as soon as one was driven up to street level, it was sold for the asking price of $600. I nabbed a bright red one, signed the papers and drove off.

The Isetta looked like it had three wheels because … the smaller two back wheels were located very close to each other under the car’s frame, giving the appearance of a single back wheel. Driving the car was fine most of the year. In the winter, however, it didn’t handle well on ice or snow.

Starting the car at subzero temperatures also was difficult. You may remember seeing me carrying the car’s battery. Since the battery was located under the seat and easy to access, when I reached work … I would disconnect it, carry it into the hospital and store it in the residents’ room until it was time to leave.


Serving in the TB hospital 

The Ohio Tuberculosis Hospital, a four-story building, was adjacent to the main hospital and six weeks of residents’ rotations were spent there. Patients with TB stayed … for six months to a year. They were re-evaluated with chest X-rays and sputum studies every two months, so time passed very slowly for them.

As the need for TB inpatient beds subsided, the building’s mission and name changed. It was designated as Means Hall, named after Dr. William Means, a former medicine college dean, and it housed faculty offices and more general patient care. … With growth of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, the building was demolished in 2009.


Running into Woody 

When we arrived at Ohio State, Woody Hayes was in his eighth year as head football coach. ... On weekends, I took my family to the faculty clubhouse at the OSU Golf Course for brunch, and we would occasionally see Woody there with his players. I also saw Woody in University Hospital, as I’m sure you did. Remember how in February (National Heart Month), he would go from room to room delivering a rose to each patient’s bedside?


 “Why doesn’t somebody open the door?”

One day I entered an elevator in University Hospital packed with surgical staff. … With the door closed, one of the staff pressed the button to take us to the next floor, [but it got] stuck between floors. Dr. Robert M. Zollinger, chairman of the surgery department, was in the back of the elevator. After a few minutes, he asked in a shrill voice, “Why doesn’t someone open the door?” One of the surgical staff in the front part of the elevator replied, “We’re stuck between floors, Dr. Zollinger, and we’ve put in a call for help.”

After another few minutes of silence, he raised the same question and received the same answer. Another pause and another exchange of words, as before. [Finally] one of the staff reached out and opened the door. The elevator had stopped about a foot above the floor, so we all walked out. The renowned surgeon taught me something in that elevator: When confronted with a problem, always seek a simple solution first.


Many of the cardiology faculty at Ohio State in 1972 are still affiliated with the university. Standing from left to right are Drs. Stephen Schaal, John Robinson, Richard Leighton, Charles Arthur Bush and Mary Beth Fontana. Seated are, from left, Drs. Joseph Ryan, Richard Lewis and Charles Wooley.

Big university, small department

I know you recall how small Ohio State’s Department of Medicine was in those days, when we probably had fewer than a dozen full-time faculty members. “Full-time” was a bit of a misnomer, meaning those faculty had offices in University Hospital, received a small stipend from … their teaching efforts but made most of their income from seeing patients. … In the Division of Cardiology, the part of the department that interested you and me the most, there were three full-time faculty members. By contrast, today there are more than 65 full-time cardiology faculty.