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Dr. Perry Rigby, former LSU medical school leader, dies at 85


Dr. Perry G. Rigby, a specialist in blood and blood-related disorders who was chancellor of LSU Medical Center in New Orleans for nine years, died Thursday (May 10) at his New Orleans home. He was 85.

Dr. Rigby, who was dean of LSU School of Medicine in Shreveport for three years before coming to New Orleans in 1985, moved to Louisiana after holding academic and administrative positions for 14 years at the University of Nebraska College of Medicine in Omaha.

The New Orleans center, which was renamed LSU Health Sciences Center in 1999, includes medical, nursing and dental schools, as well as the schools of Graduate Studies, Allied Health Professions and Public Health.

When Dr. Rigby stepped down in 1994, LSU System President Allen Copping said he accepted the resignation “with a heavy heart” and added, “He has served LSU Medical Center admirably.”

When Dr. Rigby left the chancellorship, he was named the medical center’s director of health care systems to gauge the impact that changes in national health care could have on LSU. In 1987, he was named chairman of the state Medical Education Commission.

Dr. Rigby, who had a private practice, was a professor of medicine and director of the hematology/oncology fellowship program.

“He loved to teach,” said Dr. Donna Ryan, professor emerita of medicine at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge.

“Nothing made him happier than going around with medical students and residents to see the patients and talk to them and teach the residents how to work up the patients who had blood disorders,” she said.

In a profession known for people with sharp elbows and strong egos, Dr. Rigby’s demeanor provided a marked contrast, Ryan said.

“There was something about Perry that was sort of naive,” she said. “He wasn’t scheming or political with ambitions and self-promotion. … He was a straight shooter.”

A native of East Liverpool, Ohio, Dr. Rigby earned an undergraduate degree at Mount Union College (now the University of Mount Union) in Alliance, Ohio, and a medical degree at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

Dr. Rigby had postgraduate training at the University of Virginia Hospital in Charlottesville and Massachusetts Memorial Hospital in Boston.

A fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine and the American College of Physicians, Dr. Rigby received the Southern Society for Clinical Investigation’s Mentor of the Year Award in 2017. Case Western Reserve University designated him a distinguished alumnus in 1987.

As an administrator, Dr. Rigby had to become an expert in gauging the state’s medical needs, Ryan said, so he would know whether LSU’s medical schools were turning out enough physicians.

It became an arcane specialty of his that had no long-lasting solution: A bumper crop of medical graduates could result in a glut, but reacting to that by cutting the size of medical classes could result in a shortage.

Trying to keep track of – and anticipate – such trends is “like counting ducks in a pond,” Ryan said.

Dr. Rigby enjoyed playing tennis and listening to music.

Survivors include his wife, Barbara Commander Rigby; three sons, Peter and Matthew Rigby, both of Richmond, Va., and Thomas Rigby of Alexandria, Va.; a daughter, Martha Rigby Nelson of Middletown, Iowa; and 10 grandchildren.

A funeral will be held at 3 p.m. Monday at St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church, at St. Charles Avenue and State Street. Visitation will begin at 1:30 p.m.

A celebration of his life will be held after the service at the Andrew Jackson Condominiums, 1550 Second St.

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