Driven by immense curiosity, George Ebert’s intellect seemed to know no bounds, traveling as far as the mind could roam in every direction.
“Once he wanted to know how something worked or understand something, he didn’t stop until he understood it, whether it was something to do with medicine, or playing pool, or playing golf, or cars,” said his wife, Charlotte Sue Brody. “He liked to take things apart and put them together again. He was just that kind of guy.”
Never averse to tinkering with anything, including where he lived and worked, Dr. Ebert moved from the Midwest to Boston in the mid-1980s for a residency and fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital and stayed to practice for a decade at Salem Radiology.
When a colleague offered the challenge of moving his career north a couple of hundred miles, he joined the radiology department at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, Vt., where he was vice chairman of technology and informatics, commuting on weekends to and from Milton for five years while his three daughters finished attending Milton Academy.
On July 14, he and his family were in Ames, Iowa, attending calling hours for his mother’s funeral.
While talking with one of his daughters, Dr. Ebert collapsed and died, apparently of heart failure. He was 59 and had lived in Burlington, where his family moved in 2007 after many years in Milton.
Even among physicians and friends from his days as a graduate student, Dr. Ebert’s brilliance cast a long shadow.
“Jokingly, his best friends called him a know-it-all, and the thing is he actually knew everything. He knew a ton,” said Charlie Mills of Marine on Saint Croix, Minn.
The two met at the University of Chicago in the mid-1970s when Mills began doctoral studies and Dr. Ebert entered a doctoral program and medical school simultaneously.
Dr. Ebert graduated with a doctorate in organic chemistry in 1984 and received a medical degree the following year from the university’s Pritzker School of Medicine.
“He intimidated me with his intelligence,” said Dr. James Farrell of Skaneateles, N.Y., a podiatrist whose wife is Brody’s sister. “He was a smart guy. I’m not a dumb guy, but he was a really smart guy.”
Though Dr. Ebert “didn’t hold it over anybody,” Farrell said, his expansive knowledge was such that “if there was something wrong with your car, he would tell you how to get it fixed. If there was something wrong with your golf swing, he knew how you could get it fixed.”
Dr. Ebert’s grasp of facts may have sprung from having researched nearly everything “down to the pretty much cellular level,” said his daughter Emily, but his approach to life was disarmingly down to earth.
He loved watching old movies at night on TV with Emily, playing pool with his eldest daughter, Katherine, and golfing with his youngest daughter, Sarah.
And he was particularly fond of driving around in his grandfather’s 1964 Ford Galaxy, which is black with a white top and white leather interior.
“He was as happy listening to Howard Stern as he was going to the symphony,” Emily said.
George Meyer Ebert was born in Albert Lea, Minn. When he was an infant, his family moved to Ames, where his parents both were on the staff at what is now Iowa State University.
The oldest of three children, he graduated from Ames High School in 1971 and majored in chemistry at Grinnell College in Iowa, from which he graduated in 1975.
He met Brody while at Grinnell, and they married in 1979.
“George loved me unconditionally,” she wrote in an e-mail. “We knew each other so well that we could communicate through eye contact and facial expression.”
In graduate school, “you were always competing for facts,” said Mills, who would test her mental mettle with Dr. Ebert over anything they encountered. In a bar, they might bet on who could mostly closely estimate the number of peanuts in a bag.
Dr. Ebert was a loyal friend, too.
“For 36 straight years, he called me on my birthday without fail,” Mills said. “He never missed a year.”
At Fletcher Allen Health Care, Dr. Ebert’s friend and colleague Dr. Norman Sturtevant, a professor of radiology at the University of Vermont’s College of Medicine, said he was uncommon for more than just being “amazing in his knowledge of science and technology and mathematics.”
“As a colleague, I particularly liked him because he was always eager to say yes for everything and anything,” Sturtevant said. “If you needed someone to cover for you, or if you needed someone to deliver a lecture on fairly short notice, he would say, ‘Sure I can do that.’ That’s not common at all.”
When Dr. Steven P. Braff, chairman of the radiology department at Fletcher Allen Health Care, sent an e-mail informing colleagues of what had happened in Iowa, he called Dr. Ebert “a brilliant radiologist and an excellent emissary for radiology both within our institution and abroad.”
Dr. Ebert’s “work on developing and promoting new technologies allowed us to be at the forefront of technical excellence in diagnostic medicine at our institution,” Braff wrote.
He also “was a perpetually pleasant, optimistic, upbeat guy,” Sturtevant said. “George had a tremendous sense of humor and a very keen wit. He kept me laughing. It was just a pleasure to be around him.”
While spending time with friends or family, Dr. Ebert “could hyper focus, so he would really pay attention to you,” Emily said. “He would just get so invested in a conversation.”
In addition to his wife and his daughters, Katherine of South Burlington, Vt., Emily of Atlanta, and Sarah of Burlington, Vt., Dr. Ebert leaves a sister, Barbara of Jefferson City, Mo.
A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday in the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Burlington, Vt.
Dr. Ebert shared so much knowledge with so many, from the children of neighbors to medical residents and colleagues, that his absence leaves a void.
“He was crazy smart,” Farrell said. “I never said that aloud until recently. After he passed, I realized I was in awe of him. Just last night I said to my wife, ‘We do need to improve our wireless router in our house. George would have done that for us.’ ”