February 6, 1917 – January 30th, 2009
Walter Shelley grew up in northern Minnesota as the adopted and only child of a railroad switch operator and his wife. An uncle, who was a physician, was instrumental in influencing his occupational choice. Dr. Shelley overcame early adversity. He did not talk until age 4 and was also asked to repeat the second grade. He eventually became one of the most thoughtful, intelligent, productive, and enduring dermatologists of his time. At 6’4”, Walter Shelley was a tall man who left a high bar for those who were to come after him.
Shelley received many honors over the years, serving as President of five major dermatologic organizations: The American Academy of Dermatology, the Society for Investigative Dermatology, the American Dermatologic Association, the American Board of Dermatology, and the Association of Professors of Dermatology. He received the Gold Medal from the AAD and the Rothman medal from the SID.
After earning PhD and MD degrees at the University of Minnesota he eventually settled at the University of Pennsylvania, first as a resident and later as faculty. At U Penn he was surrounded by all-star colleagues, saw patients with Donald Pillsbury for 25 years, and chaired the dermatology department for 15 years. Splitting his time equally between research and practice, Walter Shelley made important contributions to our knowledge of itching, sweating, and a myriad of other dermatologic conditions. It should be remembered that he coined the word “keratinocyte” and introduced it to dermatology in 1956.
A move to Ohio was precipitated by his marriage to Ellen Dorinda Loeffel, herself an accomplished dermatologist and department chair. There he continued his curiosity of all thing’s dermatologic. A prolific writer, his love of journalism and wordcraft is obvious in everything he has written. He died at home in Grand Rapids, Ohio at age 92 of viral gastroenteritis that complicated colorectal cancer.