Richard Jobe

Dr. Richard Jobe - Stanford professor, plastic surgeon - dies at 82

Kevin Fagan, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, November 2, 2007

In 1993, after decades of dramatically improving lives in impoverished countries through his face-saving skills with a scalpel, renowned Stanford professor and plastic surgeon Dr. Richard Jobe struck upon the invention he reckoned would transform the world.

It was a bizarrely constructed condom that he said could stamp out AIDS. The device came with a special spermicidal sponge attached outside the tip and an attaching strap he called "the Keep." He intended it for use in countries where contraception was an unfamiliar concept.

The world snored in response and his invention tanked.

Dr. Jobe's wife, however, got so many laughs out of it she is giggling to this day - even as she recalls, through her tears, the memory of Dr. Jobe, who lived in Scotts Valley (Santa Cruz County) and died Oct. 20 at the age of 82 after a yearlong fight with cancer.

"That condom was such a stitch, and when Herb Caen (the late Chronicle columnist) wrote that it 'adds inches' to your length, Richard laughed so hard he thought his life was complete," said Andi Jobe, a ground-breaking speech therapist.

The invention may not have ended the scourge of AIDS, but that didn't mean Dr. Jobe didn't leave his mark on the world. He did - indelibly.

Through most of a career spanning half of the last century, Dr. Jobe spent at least one month a year traveling the world with charitable groups to perform surgery, frequently on children, to repair cleft lips and palates.

He visited 68 nations and was an early organizer and president of Interplast, the first volunteer surgical foundation to provide free reconstructive surgery in developing nations.

A longtime clinical professor of plastic surgery at Stanford University Medical Center, Dr. Jobe also invented a device that allows people with facial palsy to close and open their eyelids by attaching a sliver of gold to the inside of the lid.

After his retirement from Stanford and private practice in 2000, he and his wife founded the organization Earthspeak.

The nonprofit agency teaches parents in poor countries to administer speech therapy to their children after cleft lips or palates have been repaired. Dubbed "Corrective Babbling" by Andi Jobe, who invented the technique, it's a crucial skill for preventing the ostracism that accompanies speech impediments in undeveloped nations.

Earthspeak has programs in seven countries, including Honduras, India and Ecuador.

"Richard was unique," said fellow doctor Mark Gorney, who traveled with Dr. Jobe on many of his mercy expeditions. "He had this rare quality of being on the surface very cynical, a very out-of-the-box thinker, but inside he was a real softie. When one of our colleagues died, I saw him crying like a baby.

"I think it was that softness that helped him do the work we did."

Dr. Jobe was born in Berkeley to Henry and Lucy Jobe. He was an Eagle Scout, and after graduating from high school at age 16, he attended Stanford. After earning his medical degree, he served as an Army surgeon in a MASH unit in Korea.

Following his honorable discharge, he trained at the University of Pittsburgh in plastic surgery before setting up a practice in Mountain View. He became a clinical professor at Stanford in 1966 and maintained his private practice for 40 years. He lived in Los Altos Hills and had three children with his first wife, Sara Lee Jobe.

He married Andi Jobe in 1984. After Dr. Jobe's retirement in 2000, the couple moved to Scotts Valley, but barely slowed down - they started their organization together, and continued to do international charity expeditions until the time Dr. Jobe became ill.

"Life with Richard was like riding with the wind in your hair all the time," Andi Jobe said.

She accompanied her husband on his overseas trips and recalled how once in the late 1980s the king of Thailand asked Dr. Jobe to operate at a poorly equipped clinic on a man with a huge facial blood tumor.

"The tumor had taken over this poor man's eye and his lips, and it looked like gelatinous jelly hanging onto the side of his face," Andi Jobe said.

"Because it was a blood tumor, nobody would tackle it. They were afraid he could bleed to death. Richard, though, improvised a device that could electrify a needle so he could cauterize the tumor as he was shaving it off."

As the surgery began, she said, everyone in the clinic retreated from the operating room in fear, refusing to watch. By the end of the procedure, "they all came back to watch and marvel."

"That was Richard's biggest message: Never be afraid of trying 'the different.' "

Dr. James Chang, program director of Stanford University Medical Center's Plastic Surgery Residency Program, called Dr. Jobe "an incredibly talented surgeon and innovator" who trained nearly 100 plastic and reconstructive surgeons. "He was loved by all - patients, staff, colleagues and students."

Among many leadership positions during his career, Dr. Jobe served as president of the California Society of Plastic Surgeons, board member of the American Cleft Palate Association, president of Interplast and member of the Los Altos School Board. He received the Outstanding Medical Achievement Award in 2000 from the San Jose Surgical Society.

Dr. Jobe is survived by his wife; the six children he and his wife brought to their marriage, Keith Jobe of Hillsborough, Gregg Young and Scott Young, both of Scotts Valley, Hilary Freeman of Soquel, Meg Brede of Bellingham, Wash., and Allen Young of Capitola; and seven grandchildren.

A public celebration of Dr. Jobe's life will be held Nov. 15, from 6 to 8 p.m., at the Faculty Club at Stanford University. Donations can be made to Earthspeak, 100 Lockewood Lane, No. 318, Scotts Valley, CA 95066.

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