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A Tribute to Richard P. Anderson, M.D., 1934-2009

Friday, January 30, 2009


It was a deep loss for society when Richard Powell Anderson tragically died January 18, 2009. Those of us who knew him well remember him as Dick. I believe he would like to be recalled by that name because he was inherently quiet, unassuming and informal. In his enormous contributions to cardiothoracic surgery and medicine, he was a leader who was consistently excellent, sensible and reliable. In his relations with family and friends, he was considerate, loving and humorous.

Dick and Joanne Downing Anderson were extraordinarily close. Their love was generously shared with their sons Arlen and Alan and their families, and with many friends throughout the world. Dick’s personality emerged best at their traditional family vacation home on the Hood Canal outside of Seattle. He reveled in the beauty of nature, the rich tradition of the Pacific Northwest, and the fellowship that the rural environment encouraged. He and Joanne shared a love of travel, and a continuing appetite for exploration that contributed to their breadth of interests and knowledge. Dick’s demeanor was usually serious, and he tended to be reserved, but occasionally Dick’s sparkling wit and wry sense of humor would emerge and delight those around him. It was a pleasure to be with Dick Anderson because he radiated quiet confidence and he was a really nice man.

In 1959, after election to the AOA Honor Society, Dick graduated from the University of Washington (UW) School of Medicine. Henry Harkens, from the University of Chicago, and later from The Johns Hopkins Hospital, was the Chairman of the Department of Surgery. He was no doubt instrumental in sending Dick to Baltimore – a world renowned center of excellence, particularly in cardiac surgery. Dick’s education included a fellowship at the National Heart Institute of the NIH. From Hopkins, he returned to the West, and in 1974 became the Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery at The Virginia Mason Clinic (VMC) in Seattle. There, he won the coveted Joel Baker Teaching Award and the James Tate Mason Award for Professional Excellence. He became Chief of Surgery at VMC, where he also served with characteristic distinction in a dazzling ascendancy of administrative responsibilities. In addition, he served as Clinical Professor of Surgery and Public Health at UW. It was not surprising that VMC prevailed upon him to continue to serve in leadership roles even after his retirement from active clinical practice. Dick Anderson was a model of clinical competence and leadership.

Dick gave to organized medicine so generously and effectively that it would be excessive to summarize his wide variety of demanding leadership roles. Three organizations deserve special mention.

In The Western Thoracic Surgery Association, he served as Treasurer and President. Thereafter he served as Chairman of the Ethics Committee. This illustrates that his peers considered him consummately fair, and it shows Dick’s willingness to take on new responsibility when others might want to rest.

During his term as a Director of the American Board of Thoracic Surgery (ABTS) he served as Chairman of the General Thoracic Surgery Examination Committee. When his term as a director was about to end, ABTS invited him to extend it so that he could serve as Chairman of the Examination Committee. This meant supervisory responsibility for the examination in cardiac surgery, added to his pervious responsibility for general thoracic surgery. This is evidence of Dick’s breadth within cardiothoracic surgery, and of the high regard in which he was held by the other directors.

In 2004, The Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS) honored Dick with its Distinguished Service Award – a recognition that few achieve. Yes, he had been the STS Secretary and the STS President. Although the high level of service Dick gave to those demanding positions no doubt helped to earn this award, I believe it was his service to the STS Database that gave him the added worthiness. In 1983, more than a quarter century ago, Dick served on the STS Cardiac Surgery Registry. This was one of the key seeds of the Cardiac Surgery Database, acknowledged by the government, insurance companies, industry and the press to be a model of how a medical specialty should monitor the quality of care rendered by its members. The purpose of the database was and is to allow surgeons to assess themselves in comparison to their peers and to provide benchmark information about the quality of care to patients and others. In 1998, 25 years after he started working with the Cardiac Surgery Registry, Dick served 4 years with distinction as Chairman of the Database Liaison Committee – the group that directly supervises the database activities. During his term as chairman, the database was expanded to include general thoracic surgery. This is evidence of Dick’s long range vision, of his perseverance, of his attention to detail, and of his unusually strong command of the management of numbers. Dick Anderson’s contributions to the STS database, that many people consider the most important single function of the STS, were legendary and exemplary. He richly deserved the Distinguished Service Award he was given.

Dick contributed in a most fundamental way to the founding of The Cardiothoracic Surgery Network, CTSNet, 11 years ago. He led the development of many of its features, culminating in his outstanding service as its President. His work for CTSNet underscored his talents in technology, and his gift for vision.

We shall miss Richard Powell Anderson, but the fruits of his work shall continue to live, and to grow, through his children and grandchildren, and the many people for whom he served as a mentor and a role model and a friend.

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