James G. Zimmerly Colonel, United States Army

Courtesy of Duquesne University:

Advisory Board Member James G. Zimmerly Dies at 61

Discoverer of Meningitis Vaccine, Longtime Chief of Legal Medicine at AFIP

It is with great sadness that the Wecht Institute announces the sudden and untimely death of Advisory Board member James G. Zimmerly, M.D., J.D., M.P.H., LL.M.

Zimmerly suffered a sudden brain aneurysm and passed away at the age of 61 on Monday, September 23, 2002 at Washington County Hospital in Hagerstown, Maryland.

Despite his quiet and unassuming demeanor, Zimmerly’s ground-breaking career includes co-discovering the vaccine for meningitis and attaining degrees in law and medicine while on active duty in the U.S. Army. He initially tested the vaccine on himself when tests on animals failed. Zimmerly and his colleagues first reported the results of their extensive field trials with the vaccine in the New England Journal of Medicine. An editorial in the journal lauded the vaccine as another “Giant Leap for Mankind.” Zimmerly was one of the medical-legal authorities who represented the United States at the Second World Meeting on Medical Law held in 1970 in Washington, D.C. The vaccine has now been administered to every U.S. military recruit since 1970. In 1974, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration licensed the vaccine for use in civilians and it is often administered to civilians who travel abroad.

While serving in the U.S. Army, Zimmerly achieved the rank of Colonel by age 36, becoming the youngest full Colonel in the U.S. military. Zimmerly traveled throughout South Vietnam and Cambodia, serving two tours, where he was responsible for tracking infectious diseases and ensuring that troops were properly protected against diseases such as malaria, hepatitis, and tuberculosis. After serving in Vietnam, Zimmerly returned to the United States with meritorious military decorations including the National Defense Service Metal, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross, Joint Services Commendation Medal and Bronze Star Medal

Combining his medical and legal backgrounds, Zimmerly was hired in 1971 as the Chief of Legal Medicine at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, D.C. As chair of the department from 1971 to 1991, he worked on medical legal cases for any federal agency employing health care providers. In those 20 years, he reviewed or supervised more than 8,000 malpractice cases. His most recent position, as the medical director of Monumental Life Insurance in Baltimore, afforded him a similar opportunity to review medical underwriting and claims to see that people were treated fairly.

Zimmerly attained his M.D. in 1966 from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, his J.D. in 1969 from the University of Maryland School of Law, and his M.P.H. in 1969 from Johns Hopkins University. He also received an honorary LL.M. from Gannon University in 2000. For almost 20 years, Zimmerly, an emergency room physician, had split his evening and weekend time between two Maryland hospitals—the Washington County Hospital Trauma Center in Hagerstown and Dorcester General Hospital in Cambridge.

Since 1973, Zimmerly had taught at the Georgetown University Law Center and had been on the faculty in the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine at the University of Maryland since 1972. He had lectured in more than 40 states and 25 countries, served as the president and chair of the Baltimore RH Typing Laboratory, and was also a past president of the American College of Legal Medicine and a former editor of the Maryland Medical Journal. With a curriculum vitae spanning a modest 80 pages, Zimmerly’s accomplishments also include authoring dozens of articles in various medical and legal journals throughout the country.

Zimmerly was an accomplished sportsman as well, traveling across continents hunting big game with friends and fishing with family.

Born March 25, 1941, he was the son of the late George James and Irene Kohler Zimmerly.  James is survived by his wife Johanna of Boonsboro, Maryland, daughters Deborah Kuivila of Mentor, Ohio and Robin Zimmerly of Charlottesville, Virginia, sons Mark and Scott Zimmerly of Baltimore, stepdaughters Kristina Stotelmyer and Suzanne Lewis of Maryland, sister Janet Hubler of Erie, Pennsylvania, brothers Al and Bob Tennant of Michigan, grandsons David and Nathan Kuivila, granddaughter Shelby Stotelmyer, one niece and five nephews.

Viewing services will be held at —–Minnich Funeral Home (301-739-6800) on Thursday, September 26th and Friday, September 27th from 7-9 p.m. A public memorial for all family, friends and professional colleagues from around the world will be held in Baltimore on Monday evening, October 21st, at a facility yet to be determined. The burial and interment services will be held at Arlington National Cemetery at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, October 22nd.

The Zimmerly family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations honoring Jim be made to the Washington County Hospital Building Fund (call 301-790-8000 for information), or to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Checks should be made payable to RMEF and mailed to 11656 Mapleville Rd, Smithsburg, MD, 21783, Attn: Charlie Semler.


James G. Zimmerly
Birth:  March 25, 1941
Death:  September 23, 2002

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