Dr. and Mrs. M. J. Jurkiewicz: A distinctive legacy of giving

In my view, the future of the general surgeon, the future of surgery itself, and the future of the College are linked inseparably.

–Dr. M. J. Jurkiewicz, MD, FACS,
1989 American College of Surgeons (ACS) Presidential address*

Dr. and Mrs. Jurkiewicz at his installation as the 70th ACS President in 1989.

Dr. and Mrs. Jurkiewicz at his installation as the 70th ACS President in 1989.

M.J. “Josh” Jurkiewicz, MD, FACS, the 70th President of the College (1989–1990), died in May 2011, leaving behind a distinctive legacy. His extraordinary contributions to the field of surgery, to the education of surgical residents, and to the welfare of surgical patients are but a few hallmarks of his remarkable career and life. The ACS Foundation is honored to highlight Dr. Jurkiewicz, and his wife, the late deForest “de” Freeman Jurkiewicz, as Mayne Heritage Society members. The Mayne Heritage Society recognizes Fellows who have provided a bequest or other “planned” gift of any size to the College through their estate plan.

Rapid rise

Dr. Jurkiewicz was born September 24, 1923, and raised in Bellows Falls, VT. His parents, who ran the local general store, put him on a train bound for Baltimore, MD, to attend the University of Maryland School of Dentistry at the age of 17. He graduated magna cum laude in 1946 and received his medical degree from Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, in 1952. He and deForest married in 1951, and in their 57-year union had two children, Beth Jurkiewicz Wilson of Berkeley Lake, GA (co-author of this column), and Chris Jurkiewicz of Fairfield, CT, and two grandchildren, Colin Josh Wilson and Lucy deForest Jurkiewicz.

Beginning his pioneering career as a surgeon with a residency in plastic and reconstructive surgery and general surgery at Barnes Hospital, Washington University, St. Louis, MO, Dr. Jurkiewicz achieved the position of chief of plastic surgery at both University of Florida and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Gainesville. He then found a longtime home as the chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Emory University, Atlanta, for more than 20 years.

Role model

Dr. and Mrs. Jurkiewicz in 1951, in front of the chemistry building at Harvard University, where they met.

Dr. and Mrs. Jurkiewicz in 1951, in front of the chemistry building at Harvard University, where they met.

One of Dr. Jurkiewicz’s notable accomplishments at Emory was educating some 100 residents and fellows, who called him “Dr. J.” After retirement, he held the title of professor of surgery emeritus at Emory and continued to play an active role in the education of medical students, interns, and associates until his death. Dr. Jurkiewicz also acted as a plastic surgeon consultant at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, from 1971 to 1991 and to the Shriners Hospitals for Children from 1995 to 2000.

In acknowledgment of his excellence as a mentor, his residents and fellows created the Jurkiewicz Society, noting their subsequent contributions to surgery and plastic surgery are a testament to Dr. Jurkiewicz’s legacy. Jurkiewicz Society member Grant Carlson, MD, FACS, said, “Dr. Jurkiewicz, in my mind, is the most influential plastic surgeon in the last 50 years. ‘Dr. J.’ has been the driving influence on my academic career. He was the consummate teacher, and so he will be remembered, and so he lives on.”

Another of Dr. Jurkiewicz’s residents and fellows, Albert Losken, MD, FACS, gave the eulogy at Dr. Jurkiewicz’s funeral, at which he said, “I often asked myself, ‘How did he get people to excel like that? How did he get us to want to do the right thing, and want to make him proud?’ I don’t know, but everyone did it. Perhaps it was that he was one of the most powerful surgeons in America, or was it the fact that he drove a rusted [Volkswagen] Rabbit? We all wanted to make him proud.”

In his remarks at an Emory University memorial, LaMar S. McGinnis, Jr., MD, FACS, ACS Past-President, eloquently summarized Dr. Jurkiewicz’s impact:

Today, Dr. Jurkiewicz’ associates, former students and residents, in aggregate, make up the most distinguished cohort of practitioners and contributors to the discipline of reconstructive and plastic surgery in the world, in my humble opinion. The influence of that collective of careful innovative thought evolved through research into surgical technique and surgical practice and has reached out to impact the field of medicine beyond reconstructive and plastic surgery; broadly including oncologic surgery, vascular surgery, radiation oncology, pediatric surgery, thoracic, orthopaedic, urologic surgery, and on and on. The history of surgical progress will long echo the influence of the man we honor today.

The Jurkiewiczes in 1986, on a trip to Salmon River, ID.

The Jurkiewiczes in 1986, on a trip to Salmon River, ID.

Dr. Jurkiewicz was, of course, more than a surgeon, educator, and mentor. He was a husband, father, friend, world traveler, gardener, and baker. Dr. and Mrs. Jurkiewicz traveled the world together with fellow plastic and reconstructive surgeons in a travel club called The Academic Plastic Surgery Forum, which began in 1969 with an initial 10 academic surgeons, including Paul Weeks, MD, FACS. “Our travel club recognized and appreciated Josh’s leadership and innovative skills early on; he was a ‘regular guy’ with inordinate skills,” remarked Dr. Weeks (personal communication with co-author Sarah Klein, November 12, 2015). Dr. and Mrs. Jurkiewicz also shared their love of travel with their family, who felt spending time with them was the real treasure. His daughter, Beth, said, “I joined him on the trip of a lifetime to Antarctica in 1998, but a road trip to Vermont was just as grand.”

ACS loyalist

Extremely loyal to the College, Dr. Jurkiewicz’s service culminated in 1989 when he was elected to serve as the 70th President of the ACS. He was honored to be the first—and to this date the only—plastic surgeon to serve as ACS President. He was known to often wear his presidential blazer with the College seal. Many College stalwarts were personal friends, including Dr. McGinnis; the late Oliver “Ollie” Beahrs, MD, FACS, ACS Past-President; and C. Rollins “Rollo” Hanlon, MD, FACS, ACS Past-Director.

At the closing of his ACS Presidential Address, Dr. Jurkiewicz said, “Crucial to the success of this enterprise is foundation support, as well as broad support by the Fellows. A greatly expanded educational role of the College will require nothing less.”

He wasn’t just paying lip service to his support for educational programs; he led by example, donating regularly to a number of educational institutions, including the ACS Foundation. The Jurkiewiczes also left a portion of their estate to the College. For their generosity to the College and other nonprofit institutions, the ACS Foundation Board of Directors named Dr. and Mrs. Jurkiewicz the 2006 ACS Distinguished Philanthropists.

It is clear that the Jurkiewiczes had a love of the surgical profession, patients, surgeons-in-training, and the ACS. The estate gift was but one indication of their dedication, and the ACS Foundation is grateful for the enduring mark that they left on the future of surgery. As members of the Mayne Heritage Society, Dr. and Mrs. Jurkiewicz will be listed prominently in honor rolls in both the Foundation Annual Report and other publications.

The leaders of the ACS Foundation encourage you to follow the Jurkiewicz’s example and to consider a bequest through your estate plan. Dr. and Mrs. Jurkiewicz believed that the future of surgery and of the ACS are intertwined. With their bequest, they are helping the next generation of surgeons continue their lifelong learning and surgical education to provide optimal patient care.

New MHS members

The Mayne Heritage Society proudly welcomes new members Ruth L. Bush, MD, FACS, and William A. Fife, IV; Patricia J. Numann, MD, FACS; and Mark T. Savarise, MD, FACS, and Dr. Yvonne Savarise.


*Jurkiewicz MJ. The College, general surgery, and fragmentation. Bull Am Coll Surg. 1989;74(11):11-17. Available at: facs.org/~/media/files/archives/jurkiewicz1989.ashx. Accessed November 30, 2015.

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