Claude (second from right) and Betty (third from left) Organ with my wife, Anne Terblanche (left), and our hosts in Manila, the Philippines, December 1996.
Claude and Betty Organ in a game park in South Africa (courtesy of Claude Organ).
Claude (left) and Betty (right) Organ and Anne Terblanche (middle) at Chapman’s Peak, Cape Peninsula, Cape Town.
Terblanche J. Claude H. Organ, Jr, MDInternational Surgical Giant. Arch Surg. 2005;140(11):1039-1040. doi:10.1001/archsurg.140.11.1039
While on sabbatical leave with Tom Starzl, MD, PhD, in Denver, Colo, in 1978, an old friend, Ben Eiseman, MD, with his usual wisdom, arranged for me to meet Dr Organ during the Surgical Boards Examinations. Thus started a close friendship, which was to grow later that year during a visiting professorship to his department in Omaha, Neb. Here my wife and I first met and were charmed by Betty Organ and recognized Claude Organ’s pride in his close-knit family. Claude and I had in-depth discussions on various aspects of surgery, and I would later incorporate many of his innovative methods of departmental chairmanship when I became chairman in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1981.
In May 1986, at the admission ceremony in Cape Town, Claude Organ was awarded the Honorary Fellowship of the College of Surgeons of South Africa by the president, the late Phyllis Knocker, ChM. With his well-known support for women in surgery, he was delighted that the then president of the multidisciplinary Colleges of Medicine of South Africa (Rondebosch), was a female surgeon. He was proud of this award. Two pictures of the ceremony were included in the chapter on his life in the book A Century of Black Surgeons.1 He was also typically not frightened to defend his position as a visitor to South Africa. In 1988, he wrote an editorial in Oncology Times entitled “Apartheid and Medicine”2 in which he praised the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa for their college credo, which had been adopted by the College Council in 1986. He quoted the whole credo and pointed out that it included the following: “The College is opposed to all forms of discrimination on the grounds of race, religion or sex, and believes that such discrimination is incompatible with the ethical practice of medicine.”2
Dr Organ was one of international surgery’s truly great intellects, a superb teacher, and a master surgical innovator. Couple this with his personal charm, humor, friendliness, and concern for others, and one can begin to appreciate what a remarkable person Claude Organ was. I truly valued his friendship. Over the years, Dr Organ and I shared an interest in the development of international surgical links and dialogue and the potential of surgical assistance to developing countries. We met frequently at surgical meetings and events in many interesting places. I was always privileged to share special time in intellectual discussions with Claude, and my wife and I had memorable social contact with Claude and Betty. One example is shown of us in Manila, the Philippines (Figure 1).
Typical of Claude is the story that follows. During 2 bus trips at successive meetings in 1994 in Sydney, Australia, and then in San Francisco, Calif, he and I worked out a plan to establish a “Fellowship in Academic Medical Leadership” for previously disadvantaged (ie, black) South African physicians. He supported the proposed program with his typical enthusiasm and helped to set up meetings with various potential donors in the United States. Unfortunately, this fellowship eventually did not come to fruition, but this was in no way Dr Organ’s fault.
When a new visiting professorship and memorial lectureship was created in the name of my predecessor in Cape Town, J. H. Louw, ChM, Claude Organ was our choice as the first incumbent. He agreed, and he and Betty were our guests in Cape Town in October 1994. Claude Organ made many lasting contributions during his visit. His memorial lecture, entitled “Charlie, Sam, and Jack: America’s Heritage,”3 was delivered to an enthralled audience. As usual, he fit in an incredible amount of teaching, time in the operating room, and counseling of staff and students. Prior to Cape Town, the Organs visited a game park (Figure 2), and we had wonderful times touring the Cape on the weekends (Figure 3).
My wife and I had the pleasure of attending his presidential meeting of the American College of Surgeons in New Orleans, La, in October 2004, and we also spent a wonderful informal evening at dinner with some of Claude’s international colleagues and the Organ family. In December that year, he visited South Africa, as leader of a “People to People Ambassador ”program. He was to have visited us again for the International Society of Surgery Société Internationale de Chirurgie meeting in Durban in August 2005. Unfortunately, his untimely death prevented this. At the meeting, all congress delegates received a copy of the South African Journal of Surgery, which contained an obituary for Dr Organ.4
Sadly, he has left us, but the memory of Claude Organ, international surgical giant, lives on.
Correspondence: John Terblanche, ChM, University of Cape Town, 14, Balfour Rd, Rondebosch 7700, Cape Town, South Africa (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Accepted for Publication: August 31, 2005.