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A lifelong love of Yale

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2009 - Winter


The relationship between Nicholas P.R. Spinelli, M.D. ’44, and Yale began in 1937, when he entered Yale College as a freshman. This early acquaintance blossomed through his years at the School of Medicine; in his career as a physician and educator; in his role as a leader of alumni; and in his later years, in philanthropy.

Those who knew him say the same thing: No one loved the Yale School of Medicine more than Nick Spinelli. That love was expressed in many ways, most recently with a $4.5 million bequest that will support a professorship in neurology and a scholarship fund for medical students.

Spinelli, who died in November 2007 at the age of 86, endowed the faculty position in the name of Harry M. Zimmerman, M.D., a neuropathologist during Spinelli’s student days who became the founding director of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, N.Y. Spinelli funded the scholarships in keeping with his long practice of helping medical students. “He used to worry about how much it cost students to become a doctor, and said he didn’t know how they did it,” said his sister, Viola J. Spinelli, M.P.H. ’65.

Spinelli graduated from Yale College in 1941, began medical school later that year and, along with his classmates, was inducted into the Army. Upon his graduation in 1944, Spinelli served as an Army physician in Germany. In 1968 a heart condition forced Spinelli to give up his career as an internist, but he continued working as director of medical education at Bridgeport Hospital. He retired at age 65 and served as alumni director at the School of Medicine from 1985 to 1990.

He received numerous awards, including the Yale Medal, the university’s highest honor, and both the Distinguished Alumni Service Award and the Peter Parker Medal from the School of Medicine. But no award could match the satisfaction Spinelli received from his interactions with students and residents, said his sister Viola.