April 20, 2001

O’Neill honored by Scott Society

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O’Neill honored by Scott Society

Vanderbilt will honor one of its own pioneers of surgery and medical education tonight at a dinner as part of the H. William Scott Jr. Society annual scientific sessions.

Dr. James A. O’Neill Jr., the John Clinton Foshee Distinguished Professor of Surgery and director of the Section of Surgical Sciences, will deliver the 49th Barney Brooks Lecture today at 4 p.m. in Light Hall. At 7 p.m. colleagues and guests will toast him at a black-tie dinner at the Country Music Hall of Fame.

The occasion, O’Neill said, will spotlight the achievements of the department he has led since 1995. O’Neill replaced Dr. John L. Sawyers, who retired that same year.

“I appreciate that anybody would care to have a dinner in my honor,” O’Neill said earlier in the week. “But clearly, it has an element of honoring the department and its place in the school.”

The world-renowned pediatric surgeon, one of only a few in the country to head a medical school’s surgery department, is most popularly associated with the surgical separation of conjoined twins, which he did at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He announced earlier this year – shortly after his 67th birthday, he noted – that he will step down as director on June 30, 2001. “I thought it was appropriate for a younger person to take over this seven-day-a-week job,” he said, grinning.

During his tenure as chair, the Department of Surgery increased its number of clinical faculty as well as its research and education grant award funding. Still, the man being honored preferred to deflect the adulation.

All of that has occurred because of a lot of really great people on faculty and staff,” O’Neill said. “It’s not something one person has done. One of the most difficult things a chair has to do is to develop a productive team of people to work together to effectiveness. Then we need to let them do their thing. We’ve been able to recruit fine people who have been enormously productive and who have contributed to the educational program here.”

It is typical for an outgoing faculty member to present the Barney Brooks Lecture, O’Neill said. His speech, “Pediatric Surgery, Then and Now,” will cap off Friday’s series of lectures. Events of the H. William Scott Jr. Society program, honoring the former director of the Section of Surgical Sciences, will continue through Saturday afternoon.

Dr. H. William Scott Jr., chairman of the Department of Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center for more than three decades and a true giant in the field of surgical sciences, died on August 5, 1998 at the age of 81. Dr. Scott was a prominent figure in the field of surgery at the local, national and international levels. From 1952 until his retirement in 1982, he guided Vanderbilt’s Department of Surgery, reorganized in 1975 into the Section of Surgical Sciences. Under his direction, the department grew and gained worldwide recognition for its clinical innovation and educational and research accomplishments.

As for the dinner in his honor, O’Neill said that in general he looks forward most to the collegiality of past and current colleagues. “That, to me, is the essence” of the honor, he said.

However, he alluded, with a wink, to some toasting, or roasting, he might participate in himself. “You couldn’t have an Irishman not have a little fun at a dinner,” he said.