I first met Bob when he was a surgical intern at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (now Brigham & Women's Hospital) in 1954. I was listed as a general surgeon. At that time, plastic surgery in Boston did not exist as a specialty. However, certain types of patients were referred to my care because of my previous experience at Valley Forge Army Hospital during World War II.
Probably influenced by his dad, who was a psychiatrist, Bob recognized the influence of the mind on patients' physical problems. Scholarly and thorough, he decided on a career in plastic surgery. Our surgeon-in-chief, Francis Moore, tried to discourage him from entering the “backwaters of surgery.” Undaunted and strongly motivated, Bob persisted. In his third year of medical school, the first time Bob had to gown and glove in an operating room, he contaminated himself two times within 10 minutes. Dr. Bradford Cannon, the Massachusetts General Hospital surgeon with whom he was scrubbing, sternly suggested that he learn sterile techniques before ever operating with him again. That night Bob called his father and relayed the incident. Bob told his dad he would never go into plastic surgery. His father retorted, “Go back into the operating room and scrub again with Dr. Cannon. And never quit while you are behind!” Bob fully adopted his father's advice, showing his indomitable will that persisted throughout his personal and professional life, including his long battle with cancer. I recall him telling me many times over the past years that he would never give up, sometimes with tears in his eyes.
As a respected professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, Bob added a sense of aesthetics and history to our specialty. With Bob's urging, we decided to form a lectureship in plastic surgery and named it in honor of George H. Monks, the founder and first president of the Boston Surgical Society. Bob's practice was ultimately centered at the Beth Israel Hospital, where he was chief of plastic surgery for 24 years.
The two most defining activities of his professional life have been his inspirational work with the National Archives of Plastic Surgery at the Countway Library at Harvard Medical School and his 25 years as editor-in-chief of the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, a tenure longer than that of any of his predecessors. Both the Archives and the Journal have become treasures of our specialty, used by scholars throughout the world.
Most importantly, Bob was a loving husband and father, in addition to a respected colleague who was generous and kind, never overbearing. He was a loyal, dependable, steady-as-a-rock friend for over 50 years. His professional and personal integrity were monumental and serve as beacon of excellence for future generations. I and my family will sorely miss him.
Here's an excerpt from an email from Greg Ganske, five-term U.S. Congressman from Iowa, and a resident at the same time Bob was active in our service:
“Dear Joe and Bobby,
I know what a wonderful friend Bob was to you and how much you will miss him. So many will miss him! He was a caring person, was erudite, had a great sense of humor, was wise in his advice, and most importantly, had real integrity. I always thought that one of the wonderful benefits I received from your program was getting to know Bob and to be able to call him a friend. The day Ingrid and I were able to take you over to see him last year is a special memory for me. I know you are grieving the loss of a great friend and my thoughts are with you, too.