Maurice Josh Jurkiewicz, M.D. (Fig. 1), whom we affectionately referred to as Dr. J or simply the J, was a mentor, role model, and father figure to a generation of plastic surgeons who trained at Emory and the University of Florida. I was fortunate to have been among them and privileged to have worked with him on the Emory faculty for 20 years. Behind that austere, quiet, and sometimes unapproachable, aloof facade was a soft-hearted, fair, and likeable man, a man devoted to the care and well-being of his patients and committed to the education of all those around him, not just his plastic surgery residents. At times, I felt that he was perhaps more interested in the medical students and general surgery residents who rotated with us than our own residents. It took me awhile to realize that he was actually evaluating them and looking at them as possible future plastic surgeons. He had an enviable ability to identify “young talent,” recruit them, and provide them with the tools to succeed, to become plastic surgeons, leaders, and to contribute to the specialty. He was dedicated to the advancement of the specialty, not for self-aggrandizement but so that we could better serve our patients.
First and foremost, he was a complete surgeon. He firmly believed, as did many leaders and program directors in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s and dare I say even today, that the specialty of plastic surgery was best served as a part of general surgery. It was this belief combined with a personal friendship and admiration for Dr. W. Dean Warren, at the time the chairman of the Department of Surgery at Emory, which led to the successful establishment of the Division of Plastic Surgery within the Department of Surgery in 1971.
With the support of the department chair, young enthusiastic faculty and residents, together with his own tireless efforts, he was able to raise the Emory program to prominence in a very short period. Josh led by example. He demanded no less of himself than he expected of us. He established a nurturing, friendly, yet competitive environment where he was able to bring out the best in all of us, whether it was to please him, our father figure, or was simply our own wish to succeed. There were no required research laboratory rotations or requirements to write, to publish, or to present at meetings. There was no need for any such mandates; we all knew what he expected of us. Above all, he demanded that we be excellent clinicians and provide the best, most personal, and most compassionate care to our patients whether they were private paying patients at the university hospitals, the veterans at the Veterans Affairs hospital, or indigents at Grady Hospital, Atlanta's city county hospital.
He had no hidden agenda or secret political ambitions, yet he became president of the American College of Surgeons and the American Association of Plastic Surgeons and chairman of the Board of Directors of the American Board of Plastic Surgery. He did not campaign for, plot, push, or self-promote himself into any of these positions. Rather, it was a reflection of his leadership qualities, the respect he commanded among his peers, not only within plastic surgery but within all of surgery. He served organized surgery and plastic surgery well while maintaining his practice and his commitment to the Emory training program, a commitment that he maintained until his failing health prevented him from active participation in conferences, resident selection, and even wards rounds.
His insight and knowledge of medicine and human failings was always evident during conferences, be it general surgery departmental grand rounds or the twice-weekly plastic surgery conferences. When Dr. J spoke, we all listened—or should I say we held our breath. Was he about to praise us, with his dry sarcastic style? Was he going to refute what was said? Was he about to rebuke one of us? Most often, his remarks would demonstrate his vast knowledge of the surgical literature and subtle nuances of the English language. His extensive vocabulary and choice of words, which were a delight to listen to, were often emulated, or rather imitated, by those around him. Regardless of the words, he always commanded our attention and utmost respect, which made him such an effective educator and chief. He did travel a lot, and conferences were never the same without the J.
As one of his residents, I would often wonder what this man was really like. What was he like at home? Did he ever relax? Did he let his guard down? Did he have any hobbies? Over the years, I had the privilege to get to know the boss and the answers to almost all of these questions. He was deeply religious, and his favorite saint was St. Jude, the patron of hopeless cases. Whenever we faced a challenging case, he would encourage us to invoke St. Jude's name. He was a family man, dedicated to his wife Dee (Deforest) and their two children. His wife Dee was a champion dog breeder, Cocker Spaniels, with a room full of trophies to show for it. The room also contained Josh's many awards and trophies. He loved to work in his yard and had an amazing knowledge of trees, shrubs, and plants. We would walk out into his back yard and he would point out various flora and rattle off not only their common names but in most instances their Latin names too. He loved history, literature, and poetry, often quoting T. S. Eliot. I almost blew him away once by knowing Eliot's middle name was Stearns. Josh loved classical music and was often sighted at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performances. He even had a bumper sticker on his Volkswagen Golf that read “Mozart is Truth”—totally out of character!
We have lost a giant whose legacy fortunately lives on. I owe him a huge debt and will never forget him.
Foad Nahai, M.D.
3200 Downwood Circle, Suite 640, Atlanta, Ga. 30327, firstname.lastname@example.org
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