Dr. W. Gerald Austin, MGH surgeon and legendary leader in Boston Medicine, dies at 92


As far as any physician can play in multiple roles, Dr. Austin was, at 36, the second youngest faculty member to become a full professor at Harvard Medical School. At the age of 39, he was appointed Chief of Surgery at MGH. By 1983, he was a past president of the American Heart Association and a life member of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he trained to become an engineer.

This strong pace left him unfazed. He told his interlocutor: “I have time.” “Do not rush.”

Nearly 70 years after beginning his residency at MGH, Dr. Austin died of complications from metastatic melanoma on Sunday at the hospital that had been his home for his entire career. He was 92 years old and lived in Boston.

In a joint statement, Dr. David F. and the well-being of his patients, his unwavering commitment to training and supporting the next generation of physicians, and his profound support and love for every MGHer.”

Dr. Austin was also the founder of Partners HealthCare and the founding president and CEO of Massachusetts General Physicians, a multidisciplinary medical group.

A prolific researcher with a lengthy resume of articles, books, and book chapters, he was a pioneer in surgical techniques and played a key role in the design and construction of the heart-lung bypass machine and the intra-aortic balloon pump.

In those endeavors, his bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology came in handy.

“My area of ​​specialization in engineering was fluid mechanics, and it turns out what could be better,” he told Global. “Fluid mechanics is the flow of fluids through tubes, and cardiovascular surgery is also the flow of fluids through tubes and pumps.”

Among Dr. Austin’s countless patients, there were some whose illnesses made the news: Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State; TV news anchor David Brinkley; And actors John Wayne and Kirk Douglas.

“Don’t give the impression that Jerry Austin is a superstar doctor. He’s just a wonderful doctor for everyone in his care,” Brinkley told the Globe in 1983, adding that among his personal physicians, “I am completely devoted to him.”

William Gerald Austin, the youngest of four siblings, was born in Akron, Ohio, on January 20, 1930.

He was the son of Bertha Gehley Arnstein and Karl Ernsteina senior engineer in Czechoslovakia who was responsible for engineering for Goodyear Aerospace Corp.

During World War II, the daughters of Ernestine suggested that their younger brothers would benefit from having a name that sounds like an American. Bertha was fond of Jane Austen novels, so Gerald and his older brother became Frank Austen.

Dr. Austin graduated from Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, Ohio, and went to MIT, intending to pursue his father in engineering.

After graduating in 1951, he went into medicine instead, settling down for a time at Harvard Medical School with his brother, Dr. K. Frank Austin Wellesley, who became Professor of Respiratory and Inflammatory Diseases at the School and a Distinguished Physician and Researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Upon completion of his residency at MGH, in lieu of military service, Dr. Gerald Austin spent two years conducting research at what was then the National Heart Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.

Then he returned to reside in the public mass, where he met the nurse Patricia Ramsdale. They married in 1961 and have four children. His support has been attributed to allowing him to pursue an active and lively career.

He told The Globe in 1969, when he became chief of surgery at MGH, “I have a wonderful wife who understands me and what I have to do, and that helps make that happen.”

Their son Christopher, of Concord, said, “His charm was his great awareness of people: their strengths, their weaknesses, their motivations. He was a wonderful listener and people knew he cared deeply about them.”

His son Carl of Beverly Hills, California said: “Dr. Austin has shared his values ​​with us. He has instilled in us a sense of excellence, hard work, integrity and doing something you love the best you can do. We each do it in different ways.”

Dr. Austin’s daughter, Dr. Elizabeth Austin Lawson of Chestnut Hill, an MGH researcher who teaches at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Austin was Distinguished Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School, in whose name he established a chair in surgery.

Honoring by MIT and MGH for his service as a trustee in each institution, and has also served as a fellow, member, or in leadership roles in organizations including the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American College of Surgeons, and the American Surgical Society.

Referring to his upbringing in Northeast Ohio, Dr. Austin also served for many years, including as Chairman of the Knight Foundation, launched by John S and James L. Knight of the Knight Rider newspaper chain.

Alberto Ibarguen, President of the Foundation, said in a tribute to organization website. He would listen intently and then tell me and the others ‘We’re on the same page.’ I just have a few questions, “Then keep improving everything that was just shown to him”.

In addition to his wife Patty, their children Carl, Christopher and Elizabeth, and brother Frank, Dr. Austin leaves another son, Dr. Jay Austin Beacon Hill, chief of plastic, reconstructive and burn surgery at MGH; and 10 grandchildren.

The family will hold a special service, and the celebration of his life will be announced.

“Dr. Austin was the most important physician at MGH in the second half of the twentieth century,” said Dr. Roman de Sanctis, director emeritus of cardiology at MGH, Hospital Publication When a colleague was honored years ago.

“He was also a wonderful doctor, beloved by his patients,” said De Sanctis, who worked with Dr. Austin to save Kissinger’s life in 1982. And development, I don’t know anyone who compares to Dr. Austin in the half century since I’ve been here.”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.


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