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Moossy legacy lives on

By Staff | Mar 11, 2013

On Feb. 2, at 103 West Washington St., Joanie Moossy and her closest friends in the area gathered to celebrate the publication of “The Teeming Brain,” the autobiography of Dr. John Y. Moossy, Joanie’s father.

The book is the story of an internationally renowned neuropathologist, who was born in 1925 to Lebanese immigrants in Shreveport, La., and became fascinated by the mysteries of the brain and how it functions. He saw the field as one in which all had not yet been discovered. He eventually became an editor, researcher, and professor at various universities.

The publication of any book is cause for celebration as it often marks the end of months or years of planning, writing and editing, but “The Teeming Brain” is especially poignant for Joanie.

Joanie came to live with her father in Shepherdstown and help him finish the book in the last months of his life, gaining a closer relationship with him in the process. Dr. John Moossy passed away in June of 2012. Joanie published the book on her own months afterward.

Though his colleagues and friends knew him as a man of science, Joanie Moossy considers one of his greatest legacies his love of art.

John Moossy’s parents owned a grocery store in Shreveport. When he was seven years old, his father passed away, and he helped raise his three younger siblings while working at the store.

During the Depression, John’s mother was one of the only store owners who offered credit at the grocery store in exchange for music and art lessons for her children. At 12 years old, John was first introduced to sculpture. It became a passion that remained constant throughout his life, and his home and garden in Shepherdstown are filled with his sculptures. The materials vary from a softer plaster to a harder, volcanic rock.

In 1950, John attended Tulane Medical School in New Orleans and later completed his residency at Columbia University in New York.

He led a successful career as a physician specializing in the field of neuropathology. He taught at Tulane University, Columbia University, Louisiana State University, Wake Forest University, University of Pittsburgh and Institute Bunge in Belgium.

John’s career led him and his family all over the world. In 1993 he retired with his wife, of 51 years, Yvonne, to Shepherdstown. Yvonne died in 2002.

Joanie Moossy said she was always closer with her mother growing up.

“When my mom died, suddenly I was afforded this opportunity to get to know my father better than I ever had in my life,” Joanie said. “I was suddenly learning all these things about my dad and really discovering how much like him I was.”

One of the things she and her father shared was their love for art. Joanie grew up in a household where her father was a doctor and her mother a nurse, but she was always taught to appreciate the arts. John took Joanie and son, John L., to various arts shows when they were young, letting them pick out pieces of art for their rooms. Joanie remembers him asking her why she liked one piece of art instead of another and helping her to refine her appreciation.

Joanie has spent the last 30 years in NYC as a writer and actress in multiple film, television and theater productions and has been the co-host on a weekly radio talk show, Let Them Talk.

In January of 2012, Joanie received a call about her father’s health.

“I thought I would get him back on his feet and go home. Just like I had so many other times,” Joanie said. “It just got more complicated, and he got sicker.”

Joanie stayed in Shepherdstown from January 2012 until June, when her father died.

During the last six months of her father’s life, Joanie dedicated her time to making him as comfortable as possible in his own home. John became more focused on his sculpture. He sculpted with various materials such as wood, marble, volcanic rock and more, but as he got weaker, Joanie made him plaster blocks that could be sculpted with less intense manual labor. When he finished pieces, she had them dipped in bronze.

During his last months, John also spent a lot of his time writing his book.

The idea for the book came from an international journal, The Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology, for which John was the editor-in-chief for 10 years. When John retired, one of the editors at the Journal asked him to write an essay on his successful career. After the essay was published, Joanie and John L., encouraged him to write an entire book.

“It’s not surprising for people who retire from professional life to, if they live long enough, look back and consider putting it all together and leaving a book for heirs and old friends and other to contemplate,” said Dabney Chapman, John’s friend in Shepherdstown. “But John’s one of the few who actually did it.”

The memoir focuses heavily on his challenging and successful career in the medical field, but also elaborates on his family life and his life outside of being a doctor. Friends and family knew him as a man equally valued by his colleagues and his family.

While teaching in Belgium, John met Thomas Martin, who remained his friend until the end of his life. Martin and his wife retired to Shepherdstown, influencing John and Yvonne to retire there as well.

“The man was extremely smart, interested in everything,” Martin said, “[he] had an inquiring mind about the world, about people, about art.”

“Despite the fact that he was a giant in his field of neuropathology and internationally acclaimed as a brain expert, he never tried to impress anyone with his professional reputation,” Chapman said.

Joanie Moossy organized multiple book release parties for friends, family and the community. She recently finished publishing the book herself and has already sold multiple copies to people in the Pittsburgh area and now the town of Shepherdstown. In the spring, she has plans to have another release in New Orleans, where John went to medical school, met and married his wife and where his children were born.

Joanie is taking $20 donations for the book, and all proceeds go to four local charities that her father supported greatly during the last years of his life. The four charities are Good Shepherd Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers, Hospice of the Panhandle, The Shepherdstown Public Library and the Shepherdstown Volunteer Fire Department.

“[Joanie] could have done anything with it,” Martin said, “but she picked four [charities] that people in Shepherdstown sort of have a feeling for, so I thought it was an inspired idea she had.”

Chapman said Dr. John Moossy completed the book and his life around the same time.

“I admired his persistence and his resolve to do it, and he really carried through,” Chapman said. “He willed himself to finish it in grand style.”

Chapman, who has read the book, says it is highly readable and could be appreciated and loved by anyone, including those who didn’t know John.

John left his house to Joanie, who has tentative plans to use it in a way to give back to the close-knit community while she continues her career and life in NYC.

Joanie has an artistic vision for the house, and she wants to use the many books her mother and father obtained to make a small, community library and a place to display her father’s sculptures as well as sculptures from different artists.

“I hope that it is always a welcoming, warm place for people to come,” Joanie said.