American Surgical Association Transactions

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1925 - 2016

WILLIAM G. ANLYAN, M.D., 1925 - 2016

The ideal man for his season, William George Anlyan, born October 14, 1925, helped guide Duke University Medical Center and other organizations, to effectiveness and accomplishment. He became a member of the American Surgical Association in 1965, and died on January 17, 2016 at the age of 90.

Anlyan arrived at the then 19-year old Duke University School of Medicine in 1949, just a hair older than the school itself. Freshly-minted from Yale University’s undergraduate and medical schools, Anlyan’s potential as a leader and builder was early identified, nurtured, and put to use. He became a pivotal figure in Duke’s emergence from its founding indenture, that particularly envisioned medical care for blacks and whites of North and South Carolina, to an institution patients sought out for answers and physicians and scientists sought out to explore questions. His role in building Duke University Medical Center derived from convictions, character, and principles that Anlyan brought to the nascent institution.

Anlyan was, no doubt, tempered by factors equally liable to strengthen or to disable: his Armenian grandfather fled Turkey to Egypt amid conflict; in his eighteenth year, Anlyan was, himself, spirited out of Egypt aboard a World War II Liberty ship amidst the growing North African conflict; plagued by painful ankylosing spondylitis that began during his college years, Anlyan persisted in pursuing medicine and then surgery in the face of strong discouragement by pre-eminent physicians. Anlyan saw the quest for academic excellence not as self-determined, but the result of parental expectations. Merely satisfactory performance was not a choice, neither for himself nor for the institutions he joined. His prose writing conveys the warmth, concern, humility, and anguish for others - qualities that also may have been a product of his circumstance.

While his career could be expressed numbers: rise in the ranking of the Medical Center during his leadership (to prominence,) square footage of buildings constructed or renovated during his leadership (4 million for the record,) growth in size of the medical faculty (more than tripled,) numbers are a pale reduction of Anlyan’s contributions. The Anlyan mindset was progress for the communities he inhabited: the humid air of Durham, the disparate educational poverty and wealth of the counties of North Carolina, the conditions of American medical education and American surgery, and health disparities nationally and worldwide.

He lamented the “quantitative rat race” for medical school acceptance and worked to broaden the cross-section of individuals who could capably compete for seats in premier medical schools. He felt that a medical school could only be as good as its department of internal medicine. He freed chairs to run their departments but strengthened the basic sciences and the University generally by taxing and sharing clinical departments’ wealth, and by advancing an architecture of collaboration between university and medical center. Anlyan connected people whose work could advance via the resulting relationships.

He noted deteriorating physician communication and bemoaned the dislocation it caused to patients and the nursing staff. Quiet animation, wit, imagination, humor, and purpose were his qualities. He was a smiling, gracious presence to all as he traversed medical center hallways, engaging - his word - peoples’ “goodness.” He conducted legendarily efficient and incisive meetings, having the self-restraint to listen; the incisiveness to analyze, and the commitment to one goal: “the finest health care for all patients.”

Anlyan decommissioned racially segregated patient facilities, repurposing the space for constructive uses. Racial and gender integration of the medical staff and student body, including gender integration in the Department of Surgery, began under his leadership. He encountered broad and fierce resistance against the decision to build Duke North Hospital, now the main university hospital, placating some and persisting despite others. True to his habit, he spent no energy on grudges. His 1980s collaboration designating Durham, North Carolina as the “City of Medicine” altered the city’s reputation from a tobacco center to health and more closely linked town and gown. Duke’s current Chair of Surgery, Dr. Allan Kirk noted, “[H]e charted an ambitious course for the medical center, aspiring to move beyond Duke’s regional scope to become an influential institution on the world stage,” thus, it is fitting that the patient care core of Duke University Hospital is named for him.

Music pervaded his life, a love initiated by his mother, Emmy Nazaretian. He sang in the Yale Glee Club. He was the creative force (scriptwriter, director, piano player) behind Yale School of Medicine’s first fourth year show, the “Four Years For What Follies (A Tragedy in Four Years.)” Dinner guests at his Pinecrest Road home in Durham joined in choruses of musicals as he led on piano. His arrangement of “On Eagles’ Wings” endures in Duke medical school graduation exercises. Tennis was another passion. He arranged mens’ doubles tennis matches religiously, sometimes at freezing temperatures, exhorting his colleagues to dress for the weather rather than cancel, to humorous effect. Anlyan was born and spent his early years in Alexandria, Egypt, where his father, Armand Anlyan, was a civil servant in the British administration. Anlyan was Head Boy at Victoria College in Alexandria. He drove in the St. John’s Ambulance corps during the North African conflict before leaving for the U.S, arriving in October 1943. He graduated magna cum laude from Yale University in February 1945 and taught science while waiting to begin studies at Yale University School of Medicine. He graduated Alpha Omega Alpha in 1949.

Training in general and thoracic surgery under Dr. J. Deryl Hart, Duke’s first Chair of Surgery and, later, the University’s president, Anlyan earned an NIH grant, completed his surgical residency in 1955, and rose from Instructor to full professor by 1961. As a young faculty member he was awarded a Markle Scholarship, a six-year fellowship that provided leadership mentoring and brought him together with colleagues who would remain lifelong friends and collaborators. Serving briefly as Associate Dean of Duke University School of Medicine from 1963 to 1964, Anlyan became the third Dean of Duke University School of Medicine in 1964. In 1969, he added the title of Associate Provost of the University. In 1983, he became Duke’s first Chancellor for Health Affairs. In 1988, Anlyan was named Chancellor of the University. He handed Medical Center responsibilities to Dr. Ralph Snyderman in 1989. He took emeritus status from the Department of Surgery and Chancellorship of the University in 1995.

Anlyan’s surgical contributions include over 100 clinical and research publications, mainly on thrombophlebitis and thromboembolic disease, and nine books including a memoir, Metamorphoses. Notably, for Duke University and for American surgery, Anlyan hired David C. Sabiston to chair Duke’s Department of Surgery and similarly illustrious chairs of other departments, many of whom went on to lead national organizations and universities. He served as First Vice President of the American Surgical Association in 1979-80. The Physician Assistant profession began under Dr. Anlyan’s leadership, conceived by Duke’s then-Chair of Internal Medicine, Dr. Eugene Stead, to broaden access to care. With Dr. Sabiston, Anlyan supported the planning for the first meeting of the Society of Black Academic Surgeons, which occurred at Duke in 1989, just after he left the executive office. He gave the welcoming remarks at the meeting. Anlyan was a founding member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences; he was a founding board member of Research! America; he helped establish the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, a public, coeducational boarding school that takes distinguished students from each of North Carolina’s 100 counties; he chaired the AAMC in 1970-71, receiving its inaugural Abraham Flexner Award in 1980. He pioneered mass casualty education and preparedness programs including during the Cuban missile crisis in 1961, and served on the American Medical Association Council on National Security. He represented Duke, the World Health Organization, and the United States government in delegations and consultations on health care delivery and medical education to China, Japan, Poland, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia and served several presidents in various capacities. He served on and chaired boards of visitors for Emory, Cornell and Yale medical schools. He served on Yale University Council’s Commission on Medical Affairs and received the medical school’s Distinguished Alumni Service award in 1999. He was inducted as an honorary member in Duke University’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter in 1980. He served 24 years as a trustee of the Duke Endowment. His other honors and areas of service to science, music, North Carolina, and medicine were numerous.

His marriages to Catherine Constance Lucier, the mother of his children; Barbara Echols; and Jean Elder Clayton ended in divorce. Anlyan is survived by his wife, Alexandra Hufty, his children William G. Anlyan, Jr. (Elaine,) J. Peter Anlyan (Harriet;) and Louise Anlyan Harris (Ramsey Dabby) as well as 7 grand and 4 great grandchildren. His ashes are interred in a medical center columbarium space that he reserved situated between those of his friends Drs. Barnes Woodall, his predecessor as Dean, and Thomas Kinney, Duke’s second Chair of Pathology.