December 13, 1909 – December 13, 1992
Walter Fredrick Lever was born in Erfurt, Germany, the older of a set of non-identical twins. His father, a practicing dermatologist, wanted Walter to become a urologist and preferred that his brother become a dermatologist. At the age of twelve, Walter informed his parents that he wished to become an “academic” dermatologist, the reason being that he was impressed by the physicians who could compose the articles in medical journals that his father brought home to read.
Both brothers began his medical studies in Heidelberg, Germany in 1928. After about 2 years he left Heidelberg and attended four additional medical schools: Vienna, Zurich, Hamburg, and Leipzig. He graduated from Leipzig in 1934. Sensing the turmoil of the “new” Germany, he sought and received a dermatology residency position at Harvard under Dr. C. Guy Lane. It was at Harvard that he got his first intense exposure to bullous disease and, after completing his residency, he accepted a research fellowship with John H Talbott to study pemphigus.
Being German in the United States during WWII closed some doors but when one closed in dermatology, another was opened in the pathology department at Massachusetts General Hospital. It was at this time that Lever’s interest in appendage tumors of the skin came to the forefront. After the war, he returned to biochemical research and was one of the first dermatologists to receive a research grant from the NIH.
Even though he was working in biochemistry, he had not forgotten about pathology and clinical dermatology and taught courses in dermatopathology. Since there was not textbook available, he wrote one and the first edition came out in 1949. Still published today it became the predominant dermatopathology textbook, was translated into numerous foreign languages, and was a constant companion to several generations of dermatologists and dermatopathologists.
Dr. Lever eventually became the chairman of Dermatology at Tufts Medical Center where he had many research fellows who went on to have brilliant careers of their own.
Besides his work on appendageal tumors and publishing the premier dermatopathology text of his era, Professor Lever is remembered for the first (initial) description of bullous pemphigoid and differentiation of this condition from pemphigus. As with many discoveries, this clarity was only recognized many years later by all of dermatology after immunofluorescent studies in the early 1970s clearly distinguished the conditions.
Dr. Lever enjoyed opera, classical music and mountain climbing, having summited the Matterhorn in his early life. He passed away in Germany at the age of 83 on December 13, 1992 after a lengthy illness.