Dr. Ralph Gilman, MD, served as the University of Connecticut’s first student health service physician and local family doctor. In addition, he served on the committee that guided the university in the establishment of the School of Nursing.
Here are excerpts of remarks about their father and mother (a nurse) prepared by his children.
Dr. Ralph Gilman was hired in December of 1930 as the first physician at the University of Connecticut (known then as the Connecticut Agricultural College), setting up practice at the beginning of 1931 in a dual role of school physician at the University and town doctor after hours. He served as the Director of the Division of Health Services from 1931-1949. He was the physician to the people of Storrs and many neighboring communities for 51 years.
In preparing for medical training, Dr. Gilman studied organic chemistry at Harvard and graduated to Harvard Medical School in 1925. Completing medical school in 1929, he entered internship at Hartford Hospital and before finishing, met his soon-to-be wife Ruby Weaver of Torrington and head nurse at the hospital. Upon being offered the position at the University, he was told by University President Charles McCracken that because he would be examining co-eds, he had to be married when he arrived. So in ten days, he and Ruby were married. At that time, having a full-time job was important and getting married was not going to stand in the way. They spent the next 56 years together.
As school physician, Dr. Gilman took special delight in watching over the varsity teams. Many of the football fans who cheered his quick sprints onto Dow Field (with son James sometimes carrying his bag) to attend to an injury saying, “Give him a pill, Doc,” were unaware that he himself had been a quarterback, centerfielder, and runner at Boston’s Roxbury Latin School. As both the school and the town physician, Dr. Gilman was allowed to have private patients and his office was located in what used to be the infirmary on campus – a small, long brick building on the west side of the pond across from Church row. The Gilman children distinctly remember going there for their shots. When the university grew and needed a bigger infirmary and medical staff, he was instrumental in designing the new student health building that was built in 1948.
Shortly thereafter, in 1949, Dr. Gilman stepped out of his dual role after having been told by then University President Jorgenson that he would have to choose between the two. With the oldest son Donald about to start college, he felt that he would have no choice but to leave UConn and have a full time private practice at the age of 48. Unfortunately, he was too young to take a pension and he was only able to take out as much as he put in. He used this money to build his office on Dog Lane, behind a small shopping center that was there at the time.
Almost immediately after settling in to his full-time practice, Dr. Gilman was asked to become Mansfield’s medical examiner, taking on 20 years of sudden night-time summons by his friends in the state and local police. House calls to bedridden patients, day and night, remained Dr. Gilman’s repertoire through all the years he worked. There were daily rounds at the Windham Community Memorial Hospital in Willimantic where he had joined the staff at its founding in 1933 and later served as chief of medical services. During his career Dr. Gilman also worked with many colleagues around the state in the governing affairs of his profession. He was a founding member of the Windham County Medical Society and the Connecticut State Medical Society, was elected to the House of Delegates of the American Medical Association, and later to a term as president of the State Medical Society. He was also a life member of the American College of Physicians.
Dr. and Mrs. Gilman ran their medical office together during World War II and the first postwar years, and raised four children – Donald, James, Peter, and Priscilla in the family home that they built in 1937 on Willowbrook Road, across from the UConn campus. They knew the Dean of the Nursing School, Laddie Widmer, quite well and she was, for many years, one of Dr. Gilman’s patients. Mrs. Gilman was very active in health affairs in Mansfield, founding the visiting nurse service, and running many blood drives in the old armory building on campus. Son Peter remembers one of them being a ‘triple’ drive, during which 525 pints were collected in one day. Mrs. Gilman eventually gave up working in the office to attend to their growing family and in addition to nursing, was a well-known local artist.
Following the death of their father, the children of Ralph and Ruby Gilman started a scholarship fund at the School of Nursing in honor of the Gilman’s’ 51 years of dedication and service to the Mansfield, Storrs and University communities. The Ralph and Ruby Gilman Scholarship is awarded to a student of the School of Nursing to be applied toward tuition and fees.
The School of Nursing honors Dr. Gilman as one of its godparents who served on the original committee advising the university in the founding of the school.