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In Memoriam – Harold C. Urschel, Jr, MD

Friday, November 16, 2012


Harold Clifton Urschel, Jr, passed away on November 12, 2012, aged 82. He was born in Toledo, Ohio on February 17, 1930 to Loma Elizabeth Powell Urschel and Harold Clifton Urschel Sr. His was an interesting and unusual childhood in large measure the harbinger of his remarkable life. His father was an engineer, an inventor and entrepreneur who founded the Urschel Engineering Company. During Hal’s early childhood the family moved to rural Arkansas where his Father developed a zinc and copper mining company. His Mother homeschooled Hal and instilled in him the desire for learning as well as for the morality and faith of her Father, Hal’s grandfather, a Methodist Bishop. Hal nurtured his love for the outdoors, which continued throughout his life exemplified by his passion for hunting and fishing . His Mother recognized the need to civilize the nativist young boy, and they returned to Bowling Green, Ohio where he spent his high school years. His Father died of heart disease at the age of 41, leaving Hal’s Mother with 3 children to manage. They moved back with her family, and Hal was greatly influenced by the academic environment provided by Bowling Green University. Bowling Green also happened to be where the Cleveland Browns professional football team began their football season. Under the indirect influence of Paul Brown, the legendary coach of the Cleveland team, Hal became an outstanding football player, becoming an all state selection in football in Ohio. He was recruited by several major college teams, but his Mother thought Princeton University was the best fit for her son, who was also an outstanding academic student. Hal went to Princeton, along with another Ohio football player, Dick Kazmaier, who won the Heisman Trophy. Hal’s Princeton football career was successful and his teams were undefeated his freshman and senior years. He went on to Harvard Medical School, and trained in surgery at the Massachusetts General Hospital.

The most significant event of an eventful life was the almost chance opportunity to spend time with someone else’s date when he injured himself with a ski pole during a ski trip in New England. Elizabeth Bradley (Betsey) was a Wellesley undergraduate, the daughter of two physicians. Her Mother was an internist, her Father a Navy career physician who rose to the rank of Admiral in the Navy Medical Corps. Betsey was Hal’s anchor, to use a Navy term. She moderated his enthusiasm with exquisite diplomacy and good taste, became an important member of the Harvard University community, and was every bit as much of an achiever as was her husband. In between all these activities she became Mother to 5 fantastic children, who, with their Mother, survive Hal: Harold C. Urschel, M.D. (wife Christi Carter Urschel), Bradley Van Fleet Urschel (wife Bonny Urschel), Sterling Locke Urschel, Amanda Elizabeth Goldstein (husband Robert Goldstein M.D.), and Susanna McKinley Urschel. Hal and Betsey have 7 grandchildren: Everest Goldstein, Haley Urschel, Chancellor Urschel, Rush Urschel, Bear Goldstein, Carr Urschel, and Liam Walters. His sister-in-law, Virginia Byers Urschel, cousins Mary Beth and Louis Horvath, and many nieces and nephews also survive him. He was preceded in death by his brother, William Powell Urschel and his sister, Elizabeth Ann Urschel.

It is no easy task to sum up the life of this remarkable man, it had so many different facets. Just about the time you focus on his brilliant surgical career one is reminded to recall the devotion to his family. When you remember the iconoclastic curmudgeon, you find yourself remembering as well the man of a thousand genuinely profound quotations. He was at one time or another, sometimes all at once, aggressive, kind, caring, brutally honest, and diplomatic, but above all devoted to his family, his friends, his faith and his profession. He had enough energy for 100 surgeons. He and Betsey were tireless in their professional activities, and at the time of his death he was at the American Heart Association meeting in Los Angeles, where he was presenting material on his latest research interest, the use of stem cells for the treatment of a heart failure. He was a Past President of the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, the Southern Thoracic Surgical Association, the American College of Chest Physicians, and the Texas Surgical Association. He has been a Governor of the American College of Surgeons, Chairman of the American Board of Thoracic Surgery, Chairman of the Residency Review Committee for Thoracic Surgery, and a member of every important national and international medical and surgical society. His death leaves an empty place in the hearts of his family and friends, but we live on blessed by the warmth of our long association with him.

Hal’s favorite quotation is that of Hippocrates inscribed on the wall of Building 5 at the Harvard Medical School:


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