Journal Logo


To Have Some Friends: A Tribute to Robert Goldwyn, M.D., 1930 to 2010—Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Editor Emeritus Dies at Age 79

Rohrich, Rod J. M.D.; Wills, Alma; Mulligan, James R.; Clark, Virginia Ph.D.; Sullivan, Daniel; Tynan, Edward; Stuzin, James M. M.D.

Author Information
Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery: August 2010 - Volume 126 - Issue 2 - p 691-695
doi: 10.1097/PRS.0b013e3181e5049c
  • Free
  • Related Blogs

It is wonderfully fitting that I write this obituary on a glorious spring day brimming with life. Robert Goldwyn, M.D., the man that I and all of us celebrate and remember, would not have wanted it otherwise, because he overflowed with life (Fig. 1). Even the chronicling of his life in the official obituaries in the newspapers—typically dry and terse accounts of a person's life—resounds with the force of a truly great person. Here was a man to be reckoned with, to learn from, to emulate, to enjoy, and to celebrate. He was and continues to be one of my life's role models. I last saw Bob when I had the pleasure of visiting him for almost 2 hours last November. As I walked into his bedroom, he was dictating into a tape recorder notes on what it was like to be dying. He was always learning and teaching us at the same time; he was truly a remarkable human being.

Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.:
Robert Goldwyn, M.D., 1930 to 2010.

First, then, we provide an accounting of Dr. Goldwyn's remarkable life: who he was, his achievements, things summed up by way of lists and comparison. Such a chronicle, however impressive, doesn't truly capture the man. Thus, after our official obituary, several people who knew him well offer personal glimpses of Dr. Goldwyn, snapshots from many perspectives that continue to breathe with the life of one so dearly loved who will not be forgotten.


The entire field of plastic surgery has lost one of its principal guiding forces over the past quarter century. Robert Goldwyn, M.D., Brookline, Massachusetts, long-time editor-in-chief of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, died March 23, 2010, at age 79. Dr. Goldwyn, who served as a visiting professor to more than 70 institutions, universities, and hospitals in the United States and abroad, is credited as the driving force behind the growth and relevance of the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery journal during his 25 years at its helm.

Dr. Goldwyn earned his medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1956, and he completed his general surgery and plastic surgery residencies, respectively, at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, Boston, in 1961, and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, in 1963.

Throughout his distinguished 40-year career, Dr. Goldwyn earned a reputation for his intellect, honesty, high ethical standards, integrity, and compassion. He held several prestigious posts within the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) and the Plastic Surgery Educational Foundation (PSEF), as well as the American Board of Plastic Surgery, the Massachusetts Society of Plastic Surgery (past president), the Massachusetts Medical Society, the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (medical monitor), the American Medical Association, the Harvard Medical Alumni Association, and the International Committee for the Preservation of Catacombs.

In 1972, he founded the National Archives of Plastic Surgery at the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, in Boston, Massachusetts, and served as chair of the PSEF Archives Committee from 1972 until 2005. Dr. Goldwyn was a founding member of Physicians for Social Responsibility and wrote articles on world peace, opposition to chemical and biological warfare, and medical ethics. He also worked with renowned philosopher/physician Albert Schweitzer, M.D., in the 1960s.

Honors and Achievements

Marking his retirement in 2004 as editor-in-chief of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Dr. Goldwyn was presented the ASPS Special Recognition Award during the Plastic Surgery 2004 opening ceremonies in Philadelphia. The Journal's circulation, which was 5100 when Dr. Goldwyn took over in 1980, by 2004 had achieved the no. 1 peer-reviewed impact factor among all plastic surgery journals worldwide. Among the gifts bestowed upon him then was the October 2004 Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery supplement, titled 25 Years of Selected Editorials by Robert M. Goldwyn, M.D. Inside were 107 editorials penned by Dr. Goldwyn, three tribute pieces, and an affectionate introduction written by his successor as the Journal's editor-in-chief, Rod J. Rohrich, M.D., titled “The Shoulders of the Giant.”

Dr. Goldwyn also received the ASPS Special Honorary Citation in 1989, ASPS Special Achievement Award in 1992, and PSEF Distinguished Service Award in 2002. His other awards include the Dieffenbach Medal, the Honorary Kazanjian Lectureship, and Clinician of the Year of the American Association of Plastic Surgeons.

Humble Man, Good Friend

“Dr. Goldwyn epitomizes all that is good about being a scientific journal editor, physician, and friend,” Dr. Rohrich said during a 2004 reception to honor Dr. Goldwyn. “He has become a hallmark of excellence in peer-reviewed academic journals, culminating in PRS becoming one of the widest-read and most respected journals in medicine.” Then-president of the PSEF Allen Van Beek, M.D., added that Dr. Goldwyn “oversaw the Journal's transition from ‘black-and-white’ to color,” and demonstrated an effortless flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances. This is a characteristic of a true leader.

Dr. Goldwyn said during an event in his honor in 2004 that he was grateful for the opportunity to help others. “We help people; that's what plastic surgery is all about,” he said. Typically humble, he added, “We get more than we give.”

Dr. Goldwyn is survived by his wife, Tanya, four children, and six grandchildren. Funeral services were held March 26, 2010, in Boston.


The marvelous essence, character, and vitality of Dr. Goldwyn—things that cannot be captured by way of an obituary—are preserved through the memories of those who knew him and worked with him. Here are a few snapshots of people who were blessed to have known Dr. Goldwyn.

From Alma Wills, Former Executive Vice President for Society Publications, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins

Over my 30+ years in publishing, I have had the privilege to work with the editors-in-chief of many of the most prestigious journals in the world. But the time I spent working with Dr. Goldwyn has always been the benchmark by which I measured my relationships with other editors. In my work as a publisher and now as a publishing consultant, associations often ask what qualities they should look for in an editor. My response is that editors should have a well-established record of research but at a stage in their career where they are more sought after than seeking. Editors should be respectful, kind, and approachable, so that authors do not feel intimidated. They should be diplomatic and have good judgment. And they should have a sense of humor, because they will need it. Dr. Goldwyn possessed all of those qualities. He always made me feel that he was genuinely glad to see me and valued my opinions and knowledge, and offered me a seat at his side in editorial board meetings. I recall meetings in Boston and Madrid, where he hosted meetings with the editors of journals in plastic surgery and related surgical specialties from every corner of the world. Sitting at the table, listening to the discussion, it was clear that every person at the table felt as I did–-that they were honored to work with and call this truly great man a friend.

From James R. Mulligan, Publisher of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery

In my life, only a handful of individuals have made an impression on me that I can truly look back upon and realize that they were truly great human beings. My father was one of those individuals who grew up during the Great Depression; he worked very hard in his life with an incredible work ethic and level of honesty that made him a very successful man who achieved his goals in life.

I saw in Bob Goldwyn many of these same traits that my father cherished so dearly. Bob commanded a room full of colleagues wherever he spoke due to everyone's respect and the honesty of his opinions. He contained this quality in the most gentlemanly manner that was so pure that he never needed to rely upon tactics that diverted him from his core values.

Bob will certainly be missed greatly and will always be considered a major part of medicine and plastic surgery, and mostly as a good friend and role model.

From Virginia Clark, Ph.D., Biostatistician for Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery

I was very sorry to read about the death of Dr. Goldwyn. I always respected him and tried to change my way of writing so it would be at least a little like his. It was a different time when I worked for him. Everything was sent via the Post Office, and with no fixed forms, it seemed more personal.

One thing that I admired about him was his gracious letters. He always ended with a friendly closing line that made you feel that you were important. Even when he did not accept a manuscript, I am sure the authors were not insulted.

In my last letter from him, he noted that Dr. Rohrich and Dan Sullivan had made many brilliant innovations. Despite not being editor any more, he nevertheless was grateful for their efforts to make him feel attached to the Journal he so loved.

It was his expression of appreciation for what people did that made one want to do better. That was a special quality that he had. I am sure his patients must have respected and trusted him.

I always thought that he was a real gentleman in every sense of the word. I am sorry that I am ignorant of his research.

From Daniel Sullivan, Managing Editor of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery

I find it curious that I am writing about memories of Dr. Goldwyn on the seventh anniversary of my own father's death, to the day. In addition to my own wonderful father, I have been blessed with additional “giants” who have mentored me and had powerful formative influences in my life. Even though I had only a limited amount of contact with him, I am glad to count Dr. Goldwyn as one of my mentors.

My first contact with Dr. Goldwyn was at a Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Editorial Board meeting in Chicago. It was the spring of 2004, during the transition period between editors, when the Dallas editorial office was setting up shop and the Brookline editorial office was beginning to wind down and pass the baton of editorship off to Dr. Rohrich. Before the meeting began, we exchanged introductions and then he looked at me across the table, like some detached scientist probing a bug in a Petri dish, trying to figure out what made me tick. For what seemed like an interminable length of time, I quietly squirmed, unable to think of anything pertinent to say. After sizing me up, he grunted, and asked, “So, I hear you're a theologian. A Princeton theologian, no less. Is that true?” I mumbled something about having received my master's of divinity degree from there. Cutting me off, he raised his eyebrows and commented, “Well, that's promising. Hopefully it means you've got some ethics in you! You'll need them in this business!” Then he asked in a withering tone, “Will you see to it that the Journal doesn't sell out to special interests? Will you keep it pure?” Taken completely off guard, I said that I was committed to the academic integrity of the Journal, and promised to try my best to keep the Journal free from the special interests. To which he bellowed, “Committed?! Promise to try?! Hmph! It is a commitment to which you must succeed, a promise you must fulfill!” And with that, he turned to greet other board members who were filing into the room. Thoroughly bewildered, I sat through the meeting, unsure of what to think of this man.

In the fall of that same year, Dr. Rohrich and I visited the Brookline editorial office. We were conducting reconnaissance from Dr. Goldwyn's office, to distill every drop of wisdom possible from Dr. Goldwyn's editorial operation. The office reflected Dr. Goldwyn's character itself: full of books and journals and copies of papers, academic to the core, quiet, peaceful, inviting, and very modest. Expecting to find Dr. Goldwyn sitting behind a gigantic wooden desk in a burgundy leather chair, I was flabbergasted to see him sitting on a folding steel chair at a desk no bigger than a large typing stand. And as seemingly grumpy as he acted toward me in Chicago, he was warm and inviting to me in his own office. He was genuinely pleased to host me on his own turf, and made me feel comfortable and at home. Any resistance I had softened away within a matter of minutes.

As everyone knows, Dr. Goldwyn was an excellent editor-in-chief of the Journal. Knowing him as editor, however, was not my principal experience of the man. My slice of him was primarily as the former editor, and I was one of the chief inheritors and guardians of his baby, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. Dr. Goldwyn was an excellent, exemplary former editor. He never once called or mailed us with advice or suggestions. He gave Dr. Rohrich and me absolute freedom, and time, to transform the Journal as we saw best. Dr. Rohrich and I would keep him informed every other month or so about how the Journal was running. We updated him when we launched the online submission system. We let him know in advance of some initial formatting changes, and then briefed him when we went to a completely new format and sectional organization of the Journal. We apprised him of new Web site initiatives, and of supplements. With every update, we expected him to make some comment or to question us, but he never did. He proved to be an excellent listener, and waited patiently to see the next wave of changes to his former Journal. Soon it became apparent that he was not only content with our modifications and updates, but was pleased to see them. He would call us every so often with congratulations and praise on our latest innovation; he embraced changes fully as if they were his own, but always gave us the credit for them. Content with his own success, he was delighted to see ours. It was as if he saw the Journal as his own cared-for child, now coming into a glorious adulthood under the care of new mentors, and he welcomed the process. He made me feel proud to be the inheritor and shepherd of what he had given a quarter of a century to create, and I was honored to have earned his trust and respect.

In the last year, I have shared some of my own private writing pieces with Dr. Goldwyn, my own tales of family and friends, of providence and loss, sorrow, and joy. With every new story I sent him, he would call me and thank me for sending the story to him. He encouraged me to pursue my writing, and was always very encouraging.

I truly wish I had come to know Dr. Goldwyn sooner.

From Edward Tynan, Staff Editor of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery

At shiva for Dr. Goldwyn, soon after he died, the rabbi asked us to think of a single favorite word to describe him. In honor of his great intellectual caliber, I picked “scholar.” His moral attributes were equally striking, but for me there was not a single word, at least in English, that effectively captured them.

Dr. Goldwyn grew up in a house full of books (as any later home would also be), of classical music (he would later be a faithful adherent of the Boston Symphony Orchestra), and of intelligent conversation; he was an heir of both Jewish and New England intellectual traditions and of a time-honored New England synthesis of simple living and high ideals. He was an exceptional student at Worcester Academy, Harvard College, and Harvard Medical School, but his studies always ranged far beyond any formal curriculum. His learning was broad, as well as deep; it never stopped and hardly ever slowed down. It helped, of course, that his family's DNA included spectacular IQs; articles were written about an uncle who had one of the highest IQs ever recorded.

Novellas by Colette? She was one of his favorite writers. A book about dating methods in archeology? He had read it years ago. Again and again, when he saw me with a book, he would note that he had read it, or that he had read something else by the same author. But he was especially interested if he saw me with something he had not read: How had I chosen that? Was I finding it particularly worthwhile?

Dr. Goldwyn was fluent in French; his German was more basic. I once asked him what language he used with Dr. Schweitzer; fortunately, he said, Dr. Schweitzer was equally at home in both languages. Dr. Goldwyn had trouble with Fang, spoken in Gabon; but he never gave up learning new languages, especially in connection with his travels. After one trip to Africa, he gave me his basic textbook in Swahili.

Dr. Goldwyn was famously affable and unassuming. He was polite, even with very difficult people. A shortcoming someone might have did not blind him to that person's other, more positive characteristics; he always strove for a balanced view. If he heard someone described as “important,” he was likely to say, “Everyone is important.” His “bedside manner” and his patience with authors are well known.

According to Aristotle, a sense of wonder or of curiosity is the beginning of wisdom. According to Confucius, respect for other people is the beginning of wisdom. By either of these measures, Robert Goldwyn began well and traveled far.

From James M. Stuzin, M.D., Co-Editor of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery

Dr. Robert Goldwyn was transformational in his 25 years as editor of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. Under his guidance, the Journal became not only the dominant scientific journal for plastic surgery but also a leader within the entire spectrum of surgery journals. Dr. Goldwyn began his tenure as editor of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery in 1980, and had the vision to recognize the explosive growth of plastic surgery knowledge that was occurring during that time. Under his leadership and direction, the Journal embraced the rapid advancement of subspecialty information, leading to both a larger and a better publication.Recognizing the technical advancements in publishing as well, Dr. Goldwyn also pioneered colorizing the Journal, and he began the online publication of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery in 1999.

To understand Dr. Goldwyn as physician, plastic surgeon, and editor, one only had to visit the Brookline office. On my first visit, I expected a typical corporate-type publication bureau, which I felt would be required to handle the large volume of material the Journal was processing annually. Much to my surprise, the Brookline office consisted of a few rooms in the back of a small office building where Dr. Goldwyn's medical practice was located. Dr. Goldwyn ran the Journal almost singlehandedly, with the help of his trusted assistant Suzy Stoico and Ed Tynan. All manuscripts were processed as triplicate full-print versions, sent to reviewers through standard U.S. mail, and then personally reviewed by Dr. Goldwyn before acceptance or rejection. Dr. Goldwyn proved that quality comes from the internal integrity and excellence of the individual, rather than through a large corporate structure or technologic advancement.

To understand the wisdom of Dr. Goldwyn, one only has to read through the 25 years of his selected editorials, which were published by Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery before his retirement. His insight, humor, and high standards for what medical practice could and should be are exhibited not only in the quality of the Journal but also in his beautifully written and insightful editorials.

Few surgeons have contributed as much as Bob Goldwyn to expand the knowledge base of plastic surgery. All of plastic surgery owes him a great debt, and he will be greatly missed.

* * * *

In closing, all of us in plastic surgery, as can be seen by those of us who knew Bob, were touched by him, by his wit, his humor, his sensibility, and sincerity. Mostly, however, we were touched by his essence and his being Bob Goldwyn. Bob, we miss you, but your memory and legacy live on in each of us and in every page of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.


In October of 2004, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery published a collection of Dr. Goldwyn's editorials. We have made those editorials available on the homepage of the Journal Web site (, free for anyone to view. In addition, we have chosen five representative editorials and have reprinted them here for your enjoyment. We think that these editorials provide a good “slice” of the Bob Goldwyn we knew; they capture his insightfulness and humor, and I hope they make you smile as well.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, I realize that the official obituaries published in this issue cannot remotely do Dr. Goldwyn's memory justice, because they represent only a few, narrow points of view. Because of this, we have added a blog to this Obituary on the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Web site. We invite all of you who knew Dr. Goldwyn to go to the Web site and provide your own stories about Dr. Goldwyn. We want to hear your stories and encounters with him. Our hope is that this online archive will provide everyone with a way to pay tribute to one of the giants of our specialty.

©2010American Society of Plastic Surgeons