Dr. Richard Janeway, the driving force behind Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center becoming Forsyth County’s largest employer, died Sunday after a long illness.

Janeway was 86. He was a neurologist by profession, but long before that he was a child actor, working as an extra on “The Little Rascals.”

It was at the medical school, where he started working in 1966, that his influence was most felt.

Under his leadership as dean from 1971 to 1994, the Bowman Gray School of Medicine, now called Wake Forest School of Medicine, grew from a small regional medical school to a sprawling medical complex that is a national leader in many research fields.

His $200 million program, then the largest of its kind at the medical center, included construction of a 15-story patient tower, the 12-story Clinical Sciences Building, which bears his name, a six-story addition to the Hanes Research Building, and the J. Paul Sticht Center on Aging and Rehabilitation.

The project would be worth more than $809 million in 2019 dollars.

The Janeway tower on the main Wake Forest Baptist campus is named after him.

Much of that growth came from Janeway’s sheer willpower and strong leadership acumen, according to colleagues.

“Dr. Janeway was known as an energetic, determined and dynamic visionary who oversaw great change and improvements at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, including increases in research funding, faculty, medical students and employees,” said Dr. Julie Ann Freischlag, chief executive of Wake Forest Baptist and medical school dean.

Dr. Allison Brashear, professor and chairwoman of Wake Forest Baptist Heath’s neurology department, said Janeway “was a wonderful role model for neurologists.”

“When I first arrived at Wake Forest Baptist in 2005, he was one of the first people to welcome me. He always saw himself as a neurologist. In his later years, we talked about neurological diseases. He always wanted to hear how our department was growing, and get updates about how our faculty and residents were doing.”

Community leader

Janeway held numerous leadership positions in Winston-Salem, particularly in what he referred to as his “semi-retirement,” the years after he left Wake Forest.

Perhaps foremost, Janeway put his visionary talents to work in promoting the formation of what has become Wake Forest Innovation Quarter in east Winston-Salem — one of the largest downtown research parks in the country.

He was a founding director of Forsyth Bank & Trust Co., which was subsequently bought by Southern National Bank of N.C., which was acquired in 1995 for $2.2 billion by BB&T Corp.

Janeway served as a Forsyth County School board member, campaign chairman and chairman of the board of directors of the Forsyth County United Way, and chairman of the Winston-Salem Foundation Committee. He was a founding member of the board of directors of Leadership Winston-Salem, as well as the New Winston Museum. He also served on the board of Senior Services.

“Winston Salem lost a true treasure in the passing of Dick Janeway,” Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines said.

“Not only did he lead the tremendous growth of the medical center, he had a huge impact on the entire community with his leadership of many non-profit organizations. He was a visionary that saw what the medical center and Winston Salem could be and was willing to work to make that vision a reality.”

Dave Plyler, chairman of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, said he first met Janeway in the early 1970s.

“He was one of those handsome leading-role men for whom the word irreplaceable was appropriate,” Plyler said.

“He was at N.C. Baptist during its tremendous growth. His influence and brilliant leadership were respected by everyone.

“Our county, the region of the state, are a much better place to live because of Dr. Janeway.” Plyler said.

Gayle Anderson, retired president and chief executive of Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce, praised Janeway’s intuition in acquiring several former R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. building as the cornerstone of the downtown research park, as well as convincing Wake Forest Baptist and Winston-Salem State University to place research facilities in those buildings.

“Under his leadership, he showed how our educational institutions could collaborate,” Anderson said. “That validated the community’s concept of a multi-organizational research and technology urban park.”

Early years

Janeway was born in Los Angeles in 1933, and as such, received a really early head start on a professional career.

According to his obituary, he became a child actor when he was 6 months old. By the time he was 7, he had appeared in nearly 70 films, mostly as an extra that earned his family $25 a day during filming.

His acting resume included the series The Little Rascals. The career ended when his family moved to Detroit and then Merchantsville, N.J.

Later in life, Janeway was reluctant to discuss his acting career, although in a September 1965 profile in the Journal, Janeway compared acting to medicine by saying “with every patient, you have to assume a different role, and you have to remember what that role is.”

Janeway turned to sports as he grew up, becoming a New Jersey state champion swimmer in the butterfly stroke. He earned a National War Memorial Scholarship to Colgate University and graduated magna cum laude in 1954 and was Phi Beta Kappa. He graduated medical school from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

While in medical school, he met his wife of 54 years, Katherine Esmond Pillsbury, who also was a medical student. She died in 2010. They had three children, eight grandchildren and one great grandchild.

Following a five-year stint as a flight surgeon and captain in the U.S. Air Force in England, he was recruited by fellow neurologist Dr. James Toole to join the faculty of Bowman Gray School of Medicine in 1966.

Six years later, Janeway was named dean of the medical school.

Under his leadership, the medical school’s faculty increased from 197 to more than 700, and from 569 staff employees to more than 2,300. The student body grew from 290 medical students and 55 graduate students in 1971 to more than 600 students in the health sciences.

In 2000, Janeway received the Wake Forest University Medallion of Merit, the university’s highest honor.

Wake Forest President Thomas Hearn Jr. said at that time Janeway “led the school through a period of unprecedented growth and improvement in its educational offerings, clinical services and research programs.”

In 2016, the medical center established the endowed Richard Janeway, M.D. Professorship for the Northwest Area Health Education Center.

Editor's note: This story was corrected to change the date Dr. Janeway became dean of the medical school. 

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