Founder and Longtime Chair of the Department of Anesthesiology Dies

Apr. 21, 2014
Alastair J. Gillies, M.D.

 Alastair J. Gillies, M.D., who established the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry and served as chair for nearly 15 years, died recently after a long battle with cancer. Gillies was a faculty member at the University for more than 30 years.

Gillies first arrived at the University in 1954 and served as an assistant anesthetist. He spent the next five years at Yale, but came back to Rochester in 1959 as a professor of Anesthesiology.

“When Alastair returned to the University, he served as chief of the Division of Anesthesiology, which was part of the Department of Surgery at the time,” said Denham S. Ward, M.D., Ph.D., professor emeritus of Anesthesiology who served as chair from 1992 to 2001 and 2008 to 2011. “Ten years later, in 1969, he created the Department of Anesthesiology, emphasizing research, education and patient care outside of Surgery. He was the first academic anesthesiologist at the University.”

According to Ward, this was an era in which very little research was being done in anesthesiology. Gillies’ passion for research and improving the delivery and management of anesthesia is what led to the Department’s birth. During his tenure as chair, Gillies was involved in the recruitment of faculty, development of the clinical practice and creation of a full residency program. He established a research program and several faculty members participated in both basic science and clinical research. He conducted much of his research with the Department of Pharmacology and published more than 20 articles in medical journals and books.

“Alastair was an excellent teacher; he was very hands on and taught people by showing them,” said Ruth Lawrence, M.D., professor of Pediatrics and a good friend of Gillies. “He was also an excellent department chair–kind, gentle and supportive of all his staff, making sure that their lives were livable while also contributing greatly to the field of anesthesia.”

“With the passing of Dr. Gillies we lose a link to our past. The fact that all of our past chairs were still alive so recently is demonstrative of how young we are as a department and how young anesthesiology is as a clinical and scientific discipline,” said Michael P. Eaton, M.D., chair of the Department of Anesthesiology. “Our youth is also reflected in the evolution of anesthesiology and perioperative medicine that is going on in step with the changes occurring in healthcare. As we look to the future, we should be proud that we go forward as a department strongly based on science and education as envisioned and built by Dr. Gillies.”

Born in England, Gillies did his residency in anesthesiology at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh, Scotland and went on to train at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota before taking a position at the University in 1954.

Ward recalls that Gillies came to the anesthesiology residents’ graduation every year and remained very involved and interested in everything that was happening in the Department long into retirement.

“People liked him, surgeons respected him and those of us who knew him well loved him,” added Lawrence.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made by check to the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge in support of the B. Thomas Golisano Hope Lodge at 1120 Goodman Street South, Rochester, NY 14620 to benefit cancer treatment programs and patients. The University flag will be lowered in Gillies’ honor on Tuesday, April 22 and a remembrance for Gillies will be held in Geneva, NY during the summer of 2014.