American Surgical Association Transactions

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1922 – 2014

FLETCHER A. MILLER, Sr., M.D., 1922 – 2014

Members of the American Surgical Association lost a great friend, colleague and role model when Fletcher A. Miller, Sr., MD, passed away at his home in San Diego, CA on January 25, 2016, at the age of 92 years. Fletcher had a passion for surgery and innovation that earned him respect and admiration from those privileged to know and work with him. Over the course of his career, Fletcher had many surgical accomplishments including performing the first carotid endarterectomy and placing the second adult pacemaker at the University of Minnesota where he also researched the use of anesthetic gases during surgical procedures. He belonged to many national societies including the American Surgical Association, the American College of Surgeons, the Society of University Surgeons, and the American Thoracic Association. In addition, he served as president of the Ramsey County Medical Society in St. Paul and held memberships in several local societies.

Fletcher was born and raised in Iowa City, Iowa. As a boy, he developed a love for music and while in high school, formed a 10 piece "Flet Miller Band" that he kept intact while attending college at the University of Iowa. After earning his B.S. degree in 1943 from the University of Iowa, he entered medical school at the same institution. Throughout his undergraduate and graduate education, he continued to play music in the University’s bagpipe band and the "Count 11 Jazz Band." After earning his M.D. degree in 1946, he moved east to complete his internship in 1947 at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut. He then became an instructor in Pathology at Columbia University School of Medicine and in 1952, became a Captain in the U.S. Army serving at Fort Knox, Kentucky, until his honorable discharge in 1954. He then pursued his Ph.D. in Surgery at the University of Minnesota under the mentorship of Owen H. Wangensteen, M.D., chairman of the Department of Surgery. From 1955-1958, Fletcher served as an instructor in the Department and collaborated with Richard C. Lillehei, M.D. and Bernard Goot, M.D. to research small bowel transplantation. He coauthored one of the first publications related to the topic.

In 1958, Fletcher was then promoted to Associate Professor of Surgery and appointed as Chief of Surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Minneapolis, an affiliated teaching hospital of the University. Five years later, his widely acknowledged surgical skills and his personal ambition to lead a larger program resulted in an offer to become the Chairman of the Department of Surgery at Creighton University School of Medicine in Omaha, Nebraska, a position he held until 1971. Fletcher was especially proud that under his tenure as chairman, the board scores of his graduates improved annually and eventually achieved a top national ranking. His son, Brian Miller, M.D., noted that his father loved bringing the surgical residents and students to their home for informal get-togethers. For example, Fletcher hosted monthly History of Surgery meetings. One of his father’s most prized awards was the "Golden Apple" presented by the Creighton medical students to honor him as the most outstanding professor. The legendary Claude Organ, M.D., succeeded Dr. Miller as Chairman at Creighton.

At the urging of John Alden, M.D., a prominent community surgeon in St. Paul, Fletcher made the decision to return to Minnesota to serve as a Clinical Professor of Surgery at the University and Director of Surgery at what soon became United Hospital when St. Luke's Hospital and Miller Hospital merged in 1972. I completed my surgical training in 1979 and established an office across the street from United Hospital where I distinctly remember meeting Dr. Miller as the Director of Surgery. He warmly welcomed me as a new staff surgeon and over the ensuing years until his retirement in 1997. He was always available for consultation and professional advice. He clearly loved the role of surgeon mentor.

In his retirement, Fletcher took great joy playing golf with his friends in California. He made two "hole-in-ones" in his life, the second being at the age of 91. Fletcher is preceded by his wife of 44 years, Barbara and survived by his seven children and wife of 21 years, Marjorie. He was devoted to his family and at the time of his death had fourteen grandchildren and three great grandchildren who will cherish the memories of their grandpa. He showed them and us how to live a life of meaning, joy, compassion and enthusiasm. He will be remembered for his sincerity, humility, integrity and many contributions to surgery.