Numann PJ. Claude Organ, a Legend of Advocacy. Arch Surg. 2005;140(11):1041-1042. doi:10.1001/archsurg.140.11.1041-a
Claude Organ was the conscience of American surgery with regards to issues of black surgeons and also women surgeons. I came to understand Claude’s passion for raising these issues when he was writing A Century of Black Surgeons. He called me one day and asked whether I knew any black women surgeons: a strange question coming from him, I thought. He explained that he was writing this book, that he believed it important to point out the valued contributions of black surgeons despite their small number, and that he realized (because, as he acknowledged, his administrative assistant had pointed it out to him) he hadn’t included any women. I told him that of course I knew black women surgeons. We discussed several, all of whom he did know, and discussed the need to remind people of the importance of inclusion.
Claude and I got to know each other well and could always count on one another for support. More than almost anyone I know, he understood the need to recognize those in the minority and advocate for their recognition so others in the minority would be encouraged to pursue their dreams. In subtle, small ways, and sometimes large, very visible ways, he always reminded everyone of our lack of understanding of racial issues. His presentation on the unreliability of our data on prevalence, risk factors, and treatment differences in disease based on racial differences was but 1 example of how he made us aware.
Last year following an American College of Surgeons chapter meeting in Cooperstown, NY, I sat with Claude in the rocking chairs on the porch of the Otesaga Inn discussing the progress that black people and women had made in surgery and the challenges still to be met. He shared with me that there would be a woman president of the American College of Surgeons. He said I would be pleased (I was). We celebrated that just as we had celebrated the first black president. With that sly smile of his, he leaned over and reminded me that the first African American president was white! He preferred the term black to describe his race. We laughed.
That celebration and the joy Claude took in these successes will be my lasting memory of Claude. Bringing women and black surgeons into roles of prominence is an incredible gift Claude made to American surgery and a forever tribute to his greatness.
Correspondence: Patricia J. Numann, MD, Department of Surgery, State University of New York Health Science Center, 750 E Adams St, Syracuse, NY 13210 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Accepted for Publication: August 17, 2005.