Rochester Medicine

Recognition Results in Revelation

Mar. 25, 2019

It all began when I realized that I would be attending a University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry Commencement ceremony for the first time despite a 68 year association with the school. I was to receive recognition for service to the university. The occasion would, finally, allow me to repay a debt to the Professor W. J. Merle Scott, the member of the surgical faculty, to whom I was most indebted for the shaping of my career as an academic surgeon. I had begun my training under the direction of Dr. John J. Morton, Jr., who chaired the department from its inception in 1923 until 1953. After serving two years as acting chair and surgeon-in-chief pro tem, on July 1, 1955, Dr. Scott succeeded Dr. Morton as chair of the department.

Prior to my final year of residency (July 1956-June 1957), my contact with Dr. Scott had been minimal. But, during that final year of chief residency, the contact was intense. The invitation, which Dr. Scott extended to me, to join the faculty was the first of his three actions that afforded significant support for my career.

 The second significant support occurred in1958, when Dr. Scott allocated departmental funds to help underwrite the inaugural University Surgical Residents Conference, the presumptuous idea that I nurtured as an Instructor. In order to counter the parochial posture of many surgical training programs and facilitate the establishment of life-long academic associations and friendships among young academic surgeons, on May 7,8,9,1959, the Rochester surgical department hosted 73 senior surgical residents from 56 programs.* The conference has persisted for almost six decades and has been incorporated in the Annual Academic Surgical Congress.     

Perhaps Dr. Scott’s most definitive action related to my career occurred in his final year as chair of surgery, when he sponsored me as University of Rochester Medical Center’s candidate for the prestigious John and Mary Markle Foundation Fellowship. I was fortunate to benefit from the academic accolade, John and Mary Markle Foundation Fellow from 1960-1965. Dr. Scott was succeeded as chair of surgery by Dr. Charles Rob at the end of 1960.

Merle and SchwartzI would spend less than five minutes more in Dr. Scott’s presence, but those five minutes formed the stimulus for this essay. Those five minutes took place about two years later, in 1962, when Dr. Scott had become a permanent resident of Florida. One early, dark, rainy autumn evening I received a phone call from Dr. Scott, who indicated that he was in Rochester for a brief period and would like to drop something off at my house. About one hour later, I responded to ring of the doorbell by welcoming Dr. Scott with a large package, the contents of which were not visible, in hand. Dr. Scott refused the invitation to enter beyond the entrance hall.    

*University Surgical Residents’ Conference/ A Report on a New Concept and the Inaugural Meeting  Seymour I. Schwartz and W.J. Merle Scott  J. Med. Education, March 1960, p.273-276

Dr. Scott indicated that he was transferring to me the academic robe and hood, which he wore when he graduated from medical school and at the commencements he attended at Rochester and other educational institutions subsequently. He stated that, because none of his children or immediate relatives had pursued a medical career, I would, as a favor to him, wear it at a future University of Rochester event. He left almost my house immediately thereafter. Never again would we meet.

graduation robeImmediate inspection revealed that the package contained a large square zippered soft plastic container, within which was folded an academic robe and hood. The robe was identifiable as signifying “Doctor of Medicine” by three green velvet stripes on the sleeves. Sewn on the upper inner black lining of the robe was a rectangular patch that identified merchandiser of the ensemble, “Cotrell and Leonard/ Established 1832/ ALBANY N.Y. The ownership of the robe was defined by elegant embroidered initials W. J.M.S.

Five and a half decades would pass. The plastic container protecting Dr. Scott’s graduation robe and hood would remain unopened within a closet in each of my two sequential homes. During those five and a half decades, six surgeons would, sequentially and for varying periods of time, serve as University of Rochester chair of surgery. In the spring of 2018, I was informed by the President of the University of Rochester and the Dean of the University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry that I was to be the recipient of the George Eastman Medal, the university’s highest award. The award was to be bestowed at the Commencement ceremony. A most appropriate occasion for Dr. Scott’s robe and hood!

After determining that Dr. Scott’s robe and hood were usable and that dry cleaning removed the intensely musty odor, I realized that, if and when I related the tale of robe and hood to those interested in the robing room, I knew little about the senior surgeon and mentor who had a significant role in shaping my career. I embarked on a quest to learn more about the man whose robe I wore.

The archives of the University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry contain a pitiful amount of printed material filed under the name of “Scott, William Justus Merle, 1891-1973/ Prof. of Surgery, UR Sch. of Med. & Dent. The material condensed on a small index card chronicles Dr. Scott’s academic career from A.B. Oberlin College, 1914 through Professor of Surgery Emeritus.  Also preserved within the file’s jacket is a copy of the summer 1960 column of the Rochester Alumni News announcing Dr. Scott’s retirement and his appointment as Professor Emeritus. The remainder of the jacket’s sparse content consists of three obituaries from local community and campus periodicals, which indicated that he died at Pompano Beach, Florida on October 25, 1973 and “Contributions in his memory may be made to the Surgical Research Fund of the School of Medicine and Dentistry.” (At the time, I administrated those funds.)


scott index card


Dr. Scott’s name appears as an author on approximately 50 articles in peer reviewed journals. The articles provide evidence that his main surgical interests included: intractable venous stasis of the lower limbs for which he devised an Inflatable air pressure stocking, peripheral arterial disease and sympathectomy to treat impaired circulation of the lower limb and also intractable hypertension, postoperative atelectasis and peptic ulcer.

The archives of Oberlin College were more informative. They not only shed light on the life of Dr. Scott, a distinguished alumnus; they also focused on the lineage and pertinent personal associations of the man, who, belatedly, captured my interest. Merle Scott evidenced impressive academic achievement during his undergraduate experience that earned a 20 year old W. J. Merle Scott an A. B. from Oberlin College in 1914 with the distinction of election to Phi Beta Kappa. Four years later, he received an M. D. from Johns Hopkins University. It was at that commencement ceremony that Dr. Scott wore the robe and hood, which was entrusted to my care and I wore with pride exactly 100 years later.  Dr. Scott’s election to Alpha Omega Alpha as a medical student is indicative of persistent excellence of a student in quest of knowledge.

World War I had not ended at the time Dr. Scott received his medical degree in 1918. He was granted a commission of first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Medical Corps and ordered to proceed overseas because of his specific knowledge regarding the use of Carrel-Dakin solution for the management of wounds. His sailing was delayed until after the armistice. From 1919-21, Dr. Scott served as an intern and First House Surgeon (Chief Resident) at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. He proceeded to New York City where he engaged in research as Columbia University and Montefiore Hospital. As a consequence, Dr. Scott was awarded a M. A. in pathology from Columbia University in 1922.

ScottDr. Scott added to his credentials as an academic surgeon during the two years spent in Boston at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital under the supervision of Dr. Harvey Cushing. From 1922-1924, Dr. Scott, as the Arthur Tracy Cabot Fellow, Harvard University was in charge of the experimental surgery laboratory and assistant resident in surgery. In 1923, Dr. Scott assisted Dr. Elliot Cutler in the first successful operation within the human heart. In 1924, Dr. Cutler left Boston to become the professor of surgery at Western Reserve University and surgeon-in chief, Lakeside Hospital in Cleveland. Dr. Scott returned to the city where he had been born when followed Dr. Cutler and assumed the position of Resident Surgeon at Lakeside Hospital and Instructor in Surgery, Western Reserve University. In 1926, several months prior to the opening of the new Strong Memorial Hospital and incorporated Rochester Municipal Hospital was recruited by Dr. Morton as the first additional member of the general surgery faculty. (Fig. 3) Dr. Scott contributed to the University of Rochester’s department of surgery’s reputation for the next 34 years. 

The archivist of Oberlin College, justifiably, also focused on the lineage of Dr. W. J. Merle Scott, emphasizing that four generations of Scotts attended Oberlin. Dr. Scott’s first wife Helen Work graduated Oberlin in 1914. Their three children; William, Margery and James were awarded A. B. degrees from Oberlin in 1937, 1945 and 1950, respectively. Dr. Merle Scott’s mother, née Lucy Brown, had received be A.B. from Oberlin in 1884. She was the daughter of two Oberlin Alumni, Henry Brown and Lucy Sparhawk, both in the class of 1861.   

Dr. W. J. Merle Scott’s father, Nathan Stone Scott, received an Honorary A. M. from Oberlin College in 1895. He was a graduate of Kenyon College and the recipient of a M. D. degree from Western Reserve University in 1895. He was a Charter Member and Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, a member of the American Association of Gynecologists and Obstetricians, Professor Principles of Surgery and Dean Cleveland College of Physicians and Surgeons (later united with Western Reserve University).

W. J. Merle Scott’s paternal grandfather, William J. Scott was born in Culpeper County, Virginia in 1822 and migrated with his family to Ohio in 1830. He studied medicine at Cleveland Medical College and Starling Medical College (Columbus), where he graduated in 1853. William J. Scott served as president of the Cleveland Academy of Medicine, the Cuyahoga County Medical Society and the Ohio State Medical Society. For a period of time, Dr. William J. Scott’s oil portrait accompanied the portraits of other physicians, who were integral to success of Cleveland Medical College (organized in 1843) and merged into Western Reserve University.

 I, finally, have a more complete appreciation of the man who shaped my career. The additions to my previously, inappropriately deficient knowledge about the life and lineage of my mentor had an anticipated effect.  The fulfillment of a request by an individual to whom I was greatly indebted became weightier. Metaphorically, the century old robe and hood, which I wore at the most recent commencement ceremony, became heavier.

Sir William Osler, who was visited while he was Regis Professor at Oxford by Dr. Nathan Stone Scott, my mentor’s father, stated in his address titled The Leaven of Science: “In the continual remembrance of a glorious past, individuals and nations find their noblest inspiration.”


by Seymour Schwartz