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Albert L. Rhoton, Jr., M.D., 1932-2016

Dr. Albert L. Rhoton died on February 21, 2016 at age 83. Dr. Rhoton was a 1959 graduate of the Washington University School of Medicine and completed his neurosurgical training at Washington University in 1964. After a period as a neurosurgeon at the Mayo Clinic, he came to the University of Florida as chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery in 1972. I had the good fortune to be on the same faculty as Dr. Rhoton and can attest to his skills as a surgeon and as a leader in the academic community. He was able to recruit outstanding surgeons to come to UF and was particularly adept at fundraising such that every faculty in the department has a funded chair. He was a tall man but with a kind and inviting demeanor. His children are all in medicine and his daughter, Alice Rhoton-Vlasak is on the UF faculty in OBGYN. I asked her to write a memorial about her father and I could hardly improve on her words that capture the qualities of this renowned physician.

It is an honor for me to write this short celebration of the life and after life of Albert L. Rhoton, Jr., M.D. (1932-2016). I had the privilege to grow up in a household with Dr. Rhoton as my father. Many of you may know him as an internationally renowned neurosurgeon and pioneering researcher who built a small neurosurgery division at the University of Florida, College of Medicine into a thriving department. He was born in the humblest of circumstances, in a log cabin in backwoods of Kentucky. As a child, he survived a bout with severe pneumonia that left him with lifelong pulmonary problems and bronchiectasis. Even though physicians expected he would have a limited lifespan and activity level, Dr. Rhoton thrived and became a swimmer, college graduate, medical student at Washington University, neurosurgeon, father, and tremendous leader and friend for those practicing medicine.

Dr. Rhoton demonstrated lifelong dedication in spending five decades of his career at the University of Florida training thousands of fellows and residents in the latest micro-neurosurgical techniques, inventing “Rhoton” neurosurgical instruments, writing over 500 papers, and receiving the professions highest recognitions. He remained married for over 55 years and raised four children who all pursued careers in medicine.

There are so many small miracles in Dr. Rhoton’s life, but the most amazing is that his neuro-anatomical studies that spanned five decades are now continuing to enrich the lives of surgeons around the world. The International Rhoton Society had its first meeting in China in 2018 and had over 800 attendees. The iTunes free Rhoton Collection is a living anatomical study area used by millions of surgeons every year. The American Board of Neurological Surgeons has now incorporated the Rhoton top 100 annual neuro-anatomical exam for all PGY 2 residents. He believed in small miracles, and I believe all these are signs of his continued influence in the world of neurosurgery and the practice medicine. The goal and accomplishment of this lifetime of work was to make surgery in the brain "more safe, accurate, and gentle."

My father, Dr. Rhoton, was a role model physician who believed in the Oslerian principles of medicine - teacher, scientist, and leader. My father's leadership as chair of neurosurgery at the University of Florida changed the course of this medical school and pointed it squarely on its journey to excellence. There is now a UF Brain Institute and a neurovascular hospital. My father's greatest legacies are the individuals he trained at UF plus hundreds of visiting neurosurgeons and residents from around the world who came to study in his micro-neurosurgery lab. The amazing Rhoton collection of neuro-anatomic images are still studied and the Rhoton Cranial Anatomy and Surgical Approaches textbook is going to be re-published in 2019 due to continued demand from around the world.

My father, even with all his work demands, emphasized the importance of family life. Throughout our childhood we sat down to dinner together every night, when he wasn't visiting his friends around the world. Later on in life, he established a yearly family reunion. He hoped to keep us altogether as he had seen many families torn apart by disagreements. Three years following his death, these reunions have continued and each year we feel fortunate remembering the example he showed each of us and being amazed at the miraculous ongoing efforts of his work throughout the neurosurgical world. He died peacefully at home, having worked in his lab with his five remaining fellows from Brazil, China, Japan, and Turkey, until the day before he died. He is remembered and missed by all who knew him.