LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr, MD, and Claude H. Organ, Jr, MD.
Leffall LD. Claude H. Organ, Jr, MD, FRCSSA, FRACS. Arch Surg. 2005;140(11):1033-1034. doi:10.1001/archsurg.140.11.1033
When I returned to the Howard University College of Medicine as a surgical faculty member in 1962 after a 2-year stint in the US Army Medical Corps, Munich, Germany, I attended the annual meeting of the National Medical Association, where I met Claude Organ. Both of us were young surgeons committed to careers in academic surgery. What immediately strengthened the bond between us was that we had Texas roots: both Claude and my father were born in Marshall, Tex. Thus began a valued friendship that enhanced and enriched my life immeasurably. Further, I remain in his debt for the pivotal role he had in my experiences with the American Board of Surgery and American College of Surgeons.
We would meet at major surgical meetings to discuss the state of the union with reference to African American surgeons. Claude often mentioned that the playing field was not yet level, but if we continued to do our part well, it would help us achieve the parity we sought. He insisted that we must be first rate in all our endeavors and could not resort to excuses for lack of achievement.
Endowed with high qualities of mind and spirit, Claude consistently measured up to high standards. Recognized as a leader in surgery both nationally and internationally, he represented the highest standards and ideals of the consummate surgical academician: excellent teacher, superb surgeon, and accomplished clinical researcher. As editor of the ARCHIVES, he elevated it to a position where it was considered by many colleagues to be first among equals of the surgical journals. In his scholarly presentations before various groups, he always emphasized the role of primacy for the patient, stating that we must continue to train safe, competent surgeons to render the best patient care. He was coauthor of A Century of Black Surgeons: The USA Experience, acknowledged as the authoritative work about the role of African American surgeons in all specialties.
Our department’s major educational program at Howard is the annual Charles R. Drew/Burke Syphax lecture. Claude delivered this on 2 occasions, in 1986 when we celebrated the 50th anniversary of our residency program and again in 2004 when he was president of the American College of Surgeons.
He was blessed to have a wonderful life partner with whom he shared his surgical experiences and triumphs. When he spoke of his wife, Betty, the love between them was readily apparent. His children and grandchildren also brought him great joy.
Claude had a great capacity for friendship—those relationships that one chooses for himself, not dictated by anything other than the desire to know the person better. The beauty of our friendship was reflected not in the frequency of our meetings, but in the nature and quality of those occasions. No matter how long it had been since we had seen or talked with each other, there was no need to readjust for the pace of our conversation, and discourse would resume without diminution because that is how Claude was. If you were a friend, you were a friend.
I shall miss his presence—his laughter, his sense of humor, his quips. More selfishly, I will feel the absence of his support, for his good opinion of my work meant much to me. Our friendship makes me think just how difficult it is to let a friend know in what high esteem you hold him. You don’t want it to appear as though you are trying to curry favor, and you certainly don’t want to descend to some level of mawkish behavior. However, I wish I had been more forthright in letting him know my feelings. Maybe he knew. I hope he did.
Correspondence: LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr, MD, Department of Surgery, Howard University College of Medicine, 2041 Georgia Ave NW, Suite 4000, Washington, DC 20060 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Accepted for Publication: August 18, 2005.