American Surgical Association Transactions

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1935 - 2020

Donald P. Becker, M.D., 1935-2020

Donald P. Becker, M.D. died on May 1, 2020 in Maidens, Virginia. He was 84 years of age. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, and a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Williams College, Don received the MD degree from Case Western Reserve University in 1961. He was trained in neurological surgery at University Hospitals of Cleveland and joined the Western Reserve faculty following training.

In 1968, Don moved to UCLA as Assistant Professor and Chief of Neurosurgery at Harbor General Hospital, where he ran a busy clinical service and an active research program. HIs early work in hydrocephalus led to an interest in intracranial pressure dynamics and fundamental studies including use of intracranial pressure monitoring in patients with tumors, vascular disease, and trauma -- foundational work that remains the basis for current treatment.

In 1971, at the age of 36, Don accepted the Chair of Neurological Surgery at the Medical College of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University. In 1985, he returned to UCLA as Chief of Neurosurgery and introduced the concept of neurosurgical subspecialization, with recruitment of superior faculty and establishment of NIH supported programs in each of the major subspecialty areas. Don also served as Director of the UCLA Brain Tumor Program (1998 – 2005), and then as Senior Associate Dean until his retirement in 2008.

Among his leadership roles, Don was President of the Neurosurgical Society of America and a Director of the American Board of Neurological Surgery. Honors included the Fitts Award from the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma (1985), the Grass Prize and Medal from the Society of Neurological Surgeons (1986), the William Caveness Award from the National Head Injury Foundation (1988), the Distinguished Service Award from the National Neurotrauma Society (2003), Legend of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center (2007), and the Cloward Award from the Western Neurosurgical Society (2016).

Don was a model surgeon-scientist and educator, and the quality and success of his trainees are a substantial part of his legacy. To memorialize this legacy, the Donald P. Becker Endowed Chair was established at UCLA in 2019 by a group of those trainees along with his longtime colleagues and benefactors.

Don loved horses, skiing and golf. He was a member of multiple organizations where he was beloved, among them the Deep Run Hunt Club, the Rancheros Visitadores and the Charlie Russell Riders. His loss is deeply felt.