C. Barber “Barb” Mueller, MD, FACS, FRCSC, former Second Vice-President of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) and the 1984 recipient of the College’s Distinguished Service Award (DSA), died February 13 in Hamilton, ON, at the age of 97. Dr. Mueller was awarded the DSA—the College’s highest honor—in recognition not only of his devoted service to the ACS, but also for his contributions to the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, his basic research on breast cancer and renal failure, and his numerous achievements as an academic administrator.
Education and military service
Barb often said that he was born in an Illinois cornfield. For two years, he attended Blackburn College, a work college, in his hometown of Carlinville, IL. He then completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Illinois-Champaign. With the support of a Jack Johnson scholarship, he attended the Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO, receiving his medical degree in 1942.
He interned in surgery at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis and then joined the U.S. Navy in 1943. His naval unit was attached to the Fourth Marine Division, U.S. Fleet Marine Forces, Pacific. Barb often would join the men in training and in the trenches and participated in four invasion landings, the last on Iwo Jima. He was wounded twice, resulting in his receipt of a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.
When he returned from service in 1946, he entered a Rockefeller Fellowship in Biochemistry at Harvard University Medical School, Boston, MA, under the tutelage of A. Baird Hastings, PhD. There, Dr. Mueller began his pursuit of the cause and prevention of acute renal failure. His ultimate contributions, which demonstrated the benefit of pretransfusion hydration and the use of mannitol to prevent acute renal failure, are enduring tenets of renal care.
He completed his surgery residency at Barnes and joined the faculty. He was the last chief resident of former ACS President Evarts A. Graham, MD, FACS, a man whom Barb credited with giving him significant opportunities and great direction. (Dr. Mueller honored Dr. Graham, a thoracic surgeon, by writing the definitive biography, Evarts A. Graham: The Life, Lives, and Times of the Surgical Spirit of St. Louis, published in 2002.*) He was also in the initial group of Markle Scholars in Academic Medicine.
Contributions to SUNY
In 1956, at 39 years of age, Dr. Mueller became the first full-time academic chair at the State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical Center, Syracuse, where he built a fine academic program, continued his research, and developed a course on the history of surgery. This class ignited his longtime interest in surgical history and culminated in his final book, Excalibur: The Sword of Science that Reshaped the World,† which was published when he was 95 years old.
While at SUNY Upstate, Dr. Mueller became interested in the natural history of breast cancer, which led to a publication that further defined breast cancer as a systemic disease early in its course. He was among the first health care leaders to question the cost-effectiveness of screening mammography.
In 1967, he was offered the opportunity to join the faculty of the new and innovative medical school at McMaster University in Hamilton, ON. He relished the opportunity to develop a new problem-based curriculum. He was involved in the building of the university hospital. Dr. Mueller remained at “Mac” after his retirement and continued his teaching and intellectual pursuits. He established the Friends of the Library program at McMaster University, where his noteworthy papers now reside.
A Fellow of the ACS since 1953, Dr. Mueller served in a number of leadership positions in the organization. He served on the Board of Governors (1966–1969) and on the Communications Committee during his term as Second Vice-President (1987–1988).
Dr. Mueller received a number of other honors in addition to the ACS DSA. He received an Alumni Achievement Award from Washington University and honorary degrees from Blackburn College and SUNY. The Association for Academic Surgery honored him with its distinguished service award, and he was an honorary member of the Canadian Association of General Surgeons.
Dr. Mueller is survived by his four children, seven grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife of 69 years, Jean. He leaves a legacy of students, residents, and peers who continue to make great contributions to surgery based on his teaching and example.