May 14, 2004

Surgical oncology pioneer Reynolds dies at age 77

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Vernon H. Reynolds, M.D.

Surgical oncology pioneer Reynolds dies at age 77

Vernon H. Reynolds, M.D., professor of Surgery, Emeritus, died Saturday at the age of 77. His funeral was held Tuesday.

Dr. Reynolds spent the majority of his life on the Vanderbilt campus, from his first year of college in 1944 to seeing patients just last week. Throughout his distinguished career, he was a pioneer in the field of surgical oncology.

“We have just laid to rest one of the great icons of Vanderbilt Surgery. He has been a solid contributor to our medical center for more than a half a century as a wonderful, caring physician, as a teacher and friend to thousands of residents and students, and as an early oncology pioneer leading the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center,” said C. Wright Pinson, M.D., associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs and chief medical officer.

Dr. Reynolds began his undergraduate education at Vanderbilt University, but was drafted into the U.S. Army, where he spent the next 4-and-a-half years. He completed his degree in 1952 and earned his medical degree from Vanderbilt Medical School in 1955, receiving the Founder’s Medal and a variety of other academic honors.

Dr. Reynolds fulfilled his post-doctoral training at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital as a surgical resident and a fellow in Experimental Pathology at Children’s Medical Center in Boston. He spent one year of his training at Vanderbilt as a research associate in Surgery and Microbiology.

In 1962, Dr. Reynolds returned to Vanderbilt with the prestigious Markle Scholarship and took a position as associate professor of Surgery.

“I can remember when I first met Dr. Reynolds — he had just returned,” said James O’Neill, M.D., professor of Surgical Sciences. “I was a surgical resident at the time, and Dr. Reynolds was a breath of fresh air. He was intelligent, full of ideas and informal. He always had an infectious optimism, yet was very serious, doing very serious things. He was an excellent surgeon, a caring doctor, a talented researcher and a fantastic teacher.”

Dr. Reynolds had returned to Vanderbilt to start a surgical oncology service. Not only did he bring a focus on cancer surgery to Vanderbilt, he single-handedly established chemotherapy and clinical trials for the University. During this time, he served not only as a surgical oncologist, but also as a chemotherapist for the community.

“He could not abide leaving patients without hope,” O’Neill said. “He ran the chemo clinic himself. The cancer treatment we have today wouldn’t have eventuated without his efforts.”

On a research front, Dr. Reynolds initiated multi-year, carefully controlled, clinical research studies that have led to world-class contributions to the management of cancer patients. In particular, his development of infusion catheters for cancer chemotherapy and his delineation of the chemotherapy or radiation treatment for cutaneous melanoma, in addition to surgery, have become the standard around the world.

To many, Dr. Reynolds’ greatest accomplishment was his ability to share his knowledge and passion for medicine.

“Vernon Reynolds was a teacher, role model and friend to many of the surgery residents at Vanderbilt from the ‘60s through the ‘90s. I was lucky enough to be one of those,” said R. Bruce Shack, M.D., chair of Plastic Surgery. “In the hospital he taught me diligence, hard work, and how to care for my patients. No one took the treatment outcomes of his patients more personally than Dr. Reynolds. He was a scholar but more importantly a physician and surgeon who truly cared for his patients. Outside of the hospital, he taught me how to love life and how to have a good time, within the confines of our rigid discipline. He will truly be missed and I will always remember him fondly.”

Dan Beauchamp, M.D., John C. Foshee Distinguished Professor of Surgery and chair of the Section of Surgical Sciences, agreed.

“Dr. Reynolds provided the foundation for the currently expanded and thriving division of Surgical Oncology,” Beauchamp said. “I valued his friendship and his phenomenal clinical experience was a tremendous resource to me personally. Dr. Reynolds’ lasting legacy includes all of the hundreds of surgery residents who were fortunate enough to have trained under the supervision of this kind, witty and brilliant gentleman.”

In 1997, Dr. Reynolds was awarded Emeritus status. He is survived by his wife, Bettye, son, Keith, and two grandchildren.