American Surgical Association Transactions

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ERWIN R. THAL, M.D., 1936-2014

Dr. Erwin R. Thal was a world renowned trauma surgeon, a passionate teacher, and consummate role model for medical trainees and colleagues. He energetically met the daily challenges of medicine and life with an extraordinarily positive attitude. He demanded excellence from himself and others, but was kind, considerate, and always available to lend a helping hand. Erwin had an inherent knack for using his easy-going manner, seasoned with the right amount of humor (and a few practical jokes), to motivate others.

Erwin was born in Columbus, Ohio on August 31, 1936 and was educated at The Ohio State University where he received both undergraduate and doctor of medicine degrees in 1959 and 1962. As an undergraduate, he was the manager of the baseball, basketball, and two national championship football teams, and he remained an ardent Buckeyes fan traveling to Columbus for almost every home football game. His contributions to the University were recognized by an Alumni Achievement Award from the Ohio State University College of Medicine and a musical tribute at his memorial service by 12 members of the Ohio State Marching band.

Erwin may have been an Ohioan, but he made his mark in Texas. He completed a general surgery residency at Parkland Hospital, Dallas in 1969 and then, with the exception of two years of service in the United States Air Force as a flight medical officer, remained there for his entire career rising to the rank of Professor of Surgery at UT Southwestern Medical School in 1982. As director of the Parkland Surgical Emergency Room (1970 to 1994), Erwin developed expertise and a national reputation in trauma surgery. This culminated in long-term involvement with the American Colleges of Surgeons Committee on Trauma and his appointment as chairman from 1986-1990. Later in his career, he served as medical director of the Day Surgery Unit at Parkland and of the Willed Body Program at the UT Southwestern Medical School. Erwin’s many personal and professional recognitions and awards are exemplified by The United States Air Force Commendation Medal for Meritorious Service, a dozen awards for resident and medical teaching excellence, the 1992 Distinguished Service Award by the American Trauma Society and the Scudder Orator at the American College of Surgeons annual meeting, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center 2000 Minnie Stevens Piper Professor Outstanding Service Award, and an honorary fellowship in the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. His many contributions to his community were recognized by an appointment as an Honorary Dallas Fire Chief and a 1985 Extra Step Award Nomination from the American Red Cross.

He is greatly missed by his surviving family including his son James Gordon Thal, his daughter Barbara Thal Potts, his daughter-in-law Kathy Duran, and his grandchildren Gordon, J.R. and A.J. Thal, William and Carolyn Potts, and Camille, Stephen and Alex Duran. He was preceded in death by his wife Carolyn and son Jeffrey. However, Erwin's influence extended well beyond immediate family. He was beloved and is missed by hundreds of surgeons and thousands of medical students who appreciate the profound influence he had on their professional development as physicians and surgeons, a gift he continued giving until he became critically-ill while staffing a Parkland surgical clinic two days before his death on December 13, 2014.