More than 60 years ago, a beautiful friendship began with a life-changing second opinion.
Dr. Ralph “Tip” Warburton, an internist from Ohio, was told by a local doctor that he had prostate cancer. In the late 1950s, this was devastating news. Prostate cancer was commonly detected at a later stage than it is today, and treatment was
not great. Radiation was not yet powerful enough to cure the disease, and surgery – before Patrick Walsh, M.D., developed the anatomical “nerve-sparing” radical prostatectomy – was brutal, leaving every man impotent and incontinent. Not a diagnosis any man wanted to receive.
Warburton and his wife, Esther, came to the Brady for a second opinion, and what a good thing they did! Distinguished urologist, Hugh Judge Jewett, M.D., one of the pioneers of urologic oncology, determined that Dr. Warburton did not have prostate cancer at all; instead, he had an infection. “My father and mother were there for about a week,” says Phil Warburton, Ralph and Esther’s son. “That’s how it all started.”
The two doctors and Esther, who had been Ralph’s first nurse, “soon found that they shared a passion for excellence in medicine,” says Walsh, “and this formed the foundation of their deep and lasting friendship.” Walsh, who was then the new Brady Director, met the Warburtons in 1975; when Jewett retired, Walsh became Ralph’s urologist. They became great friends, as well,” says Phil. “My father sent patients to Dr. Walsh because he respected him so much.”
“If we were all that way, the world would be a better place.” In his own practice in North Canton, Ohio, Ralph Warburton was beloved. Five thousand people came to the reception when he retired, says Phil. At one point during the event, Ralph was sitting down and one of his patients came to talk to him. “She was kneeling in front of him, her hands in his, tears coming down her cheeks because she wouldn’t have him to talk to anymore.” That was the relationship he had with his patients: they loved him, and he loved the patients. He would call them on Sunday afternoons and visit them in hospitals and nursing homes, even when he was retired. “He was dedicated to the practice of medicine. Love was a big part of his life – love for people. If we were all that way, the world would be a better place.”
The Warburton family has a long history of giving back, particularly to initiatives that inspire and nurture compassionate medical care. In the 1970s, Ralph founded the nonprofit North Canton Medical Foundation to provide high-quality, accessible care. In 1999, Ralph and Phil formed The Esther Lewis Warburton Patient Education Initiative to help patients become advocates for themselves and their families. When Ralph died in 2010, the Warburton Family Foundation, led by Phil, his wife, Sally, and their two daughters, Carrie Warburton Montalto and Betsy Warburton Downs, honored his legacy at Johns Hopkins, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the Mayo Clinic. In addition, with Victor Montori, M.D., Phil founded The Patient Revolution, a global organization to foster careful and kind care.
In 2011, a major gift from the Jewett estate and Warburton Family Foundation established the Warburton-Jewett Fellowship in Urologic Oncology at the Brady. The two-year fellowship program includes a year of extensive academic research, specializing in urologic oncology, and a year of clinical learning, including surgical practice. The Fellowship’s mission is to inspire young doctors to practice exceptional, compassionate care after the examples set by Drs. Warburton, Jewett and Walsh. In 2023, the Warburton family added to this gift.
“Quite a Life”
Ralph Warburton “had quite a life,” says Phil. His beginnings were humble, says Betsy Warburton Downs. “One Christmas, his best gift was an orange. They didn’t have much.” But the family said that Ralph had a rabbit’s foot – “he always had luck and hard work on his side,” and he built a successful practice. “That’s part of why we reached out to Johns Hopkins. He wanted to give back from what he had achieved, to support the things that meant something to him. He came from nothing, and never forgot it. He loved giving back and giving to others and being able to share in his success.”
Downs remembers that her grandfather always wore a suit, was cheerful, and “whistled everywhere he went.” Carrie Warburton Montalto notes that when Ralph Warburton walked around town, he always stopped to talk to people. “Everyone knew him. Connecting with people, caring for one another, and loving your neighbor. That’s how he lived his life and how he built his career.”
Montalto continues: “My grandfather’s relationship with Dr. Walsh was really important.” Both were from nearby towns in Ohio: Canton and Akron. Both were paperboys, and both were graduates of the same medical school – Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. In addition, “my grandfather really valued the excellence that Dr. Walsh brought to his practice, and he wanted specifically to give to Johns Hopkins because of that friendship.”
Often, adds Montalto, people give “not so much because of the institution, but because of the people in the institution who create the relationship. We’re doing this because of Dr. Walsh and the esteem my grandfather had for him, both as a doctor and as a friend.”