Jake—always "Jake" when he wasn't "Dr. Emery"—died peacefully in his sleep after an evening entertaining friends at his home in Modesto, California.
Jake's kitchen table was the epicenter of a diverse social circle: medical professionals, professors, entrepreneurs, craftsmen, teachers, lawyers, building contractors, investment bankers, marketing executives, government researchers, artists, venture capitalists, software developers, philanthropists, musicians, and salespeople were all represented. M.D., L.L.D., Ph.D., high-school dropout, it didn't matter. If you entertained him or he entertained you, you—and your friends—were welcome.
He was a patron of the arts, and painting and sculpture warmed a house ideal for entertaining. He was a talented chef and a generous host, welcoming guests for events ranging from small gatherings to weddings—which he officiated and catered. Friends would appear in his kitchen regularly, often unannounced, to cook together, enjoy a bottle of wine, play backgammon, Boggle or cards, and talk the evening away. Jake could effortlessly and limitlessly elaborate his ideas, but he did not expect others to see the world as he did, nor would he impose his views. Conversation with Jake was friendly and engaging, not argumentative.
Jake had an untamable and incisive wit that was brutal but never cruel. He described his own politics as "one step to the right of Attila the Hun" and claimed to be one of three straight men in Manhattan who owned a KitchenAid mixer in the 1980s. For him, humor was High Theater. Telling a joke masterfully—charismatically embellished by gesture and accent—pleased him as much as it amused his audience. His ability to reproduce regional dialects, both domestic and foreign, was uncanny. Indeed, professional actors and agents encouraged him to become a voice-over recording artist.
Jake read Latin and spoke Spanish, French, and German with native accents. He could discourse eloquently (and had strong opinions) about almost any topic from brain surgery to rocket science, including politics, winemaking, art, woodworking, agriculture, philosophy, economics, religion, pedagogy, history, comparative linguistics, fine china, rock climbing and the appeal of reality television. He completed the Saturday and Sunday New York Times crossword and cryptic puzzles unaided, in pen. He enjoyed an occasional trip to Las Vegas, invariably "at negative net cost." He was a talented fingerpicking and slide guitarist with a rich singing voice. Jake enjoyed golf and hunting, and won awards for trap and skeet shooting. His beloved Labrador retrievers led the life of Riley, complete with "bark-a-loungers" in the pool that was primarily a venue for canine "pool tennis."
Jake was born in New York, New York. He attended both Phillips Exeter Academy and Princeton University, following a family tradition that now includes four generations. He graduated from Princeton in 1979 with an AB in Psychology. He then took pre-medical courses at Bryn Mawr College before attending the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University. Jake was an intern and resident at New York Hospital Cornell Medical Center Department of Neurosurgery from 1985–1991, and practiced at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital Center, NY, from 1986–1992. Before his residency, he was a volunteer health care worker in Africa. He was licensed to practice in New York and California, and certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery. He taught clinical classes at the School of Medicine of the University of California, San Francisco. He belonged to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and practiced neurosurgery at Doctors Medical Center and Stanislaus Surgery Center in Modesto, CA.
Jake found it tragic that patients died waiting for organs because potential donors (or their families) were frightened or unaware they could help. To raise awareness, improve efficiency, and protect donors, he served on the Board of Directors of the New York Regional Transplant Program in 1992, and of the California Transplant Donor Network from 1994 to 1996.
Jake was deeply committed to providing medical care with the highest levels of neurosurgical technique and of compassion. He was a very early adopter of medical office technology: even in the early 1990s, he kept electronic patient files that incorporated video to improve assessment and document changes in patients' health. A physician-scientist, he was a pioneer in surgical treatment for hypertension (cranial nerve decompression). He rarely performed elective surgery, operating only when confident it would improve quality of life by a large enough margin and for a long enough period to justify the risks. He was a vocal critic of managed care and withdrew from the Medicare system, but never turned patients away. Jake would not accept payment from combat veterans, and his house was full of gifts from people whose lives he had improved—or saved.
Jake is survived by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. John M. Emery of Lawrence, NY; his sister, Deborah Emery Maine of Wyndmoor, PA; his brother in-law, Jordie Maine; and their children, Emery, Jack, and Libbie. In lieu of flowers, the family prefers donations to the California Transplant Donor Network (www.ctdn.org) in Jake's memory.
A reception to remember and celebrate Jake's life will be held at Seasons, 945 McHenry Ave., Modesto, CA, on Thursday, 18 December 2008, at 6pm.
P.B. Stark, 13 December 2008